Frustrated Verstappen bullish about Saudi Arabia recovery

JEDDAH, Saudi Arabia – World champion Max Verstappen hopes to put his season-opening disappointment behind him and show the true potential of his new Red Bull car at the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix.

Just days after an enforced retirement, while running second behind Charles Leclerc of Ferrari in the Bahrain Grand Prix, the 24-year-old Dutchman said he wants to return stronger and faster at the high-speed Jeddah Street Circuit.

“Last weekend was a tough one for all of us to take,” said Verstappen, who gave vent to his frustrations during the race in a radio exchange with his team before fuel supply problems halted him with four laps remaining.

“It was disappointing. You always say to yourself, and to the team as well, that we have to score points. It doesn’t matter if it is first or second in the first race weekend.

“You could see that. In turn one, I didn’t risk too much in the fight with Charles. It was all clean and I was like ‘I’m happy with second here’, but to lose so many points was very disappointing.

“You know in a championship where sometimes it can be very tight, at the end, these are very important points.”

Leclerc won ahead of Ferrari team-mate Carlos Sainz in a resounding one-two for the Italian team with Lewis Hamilton taking third place for Mercedes as Verstappen was followed into retirement by Red Bull team-mate Sergio Perez.

It was Ferrari’s first win since 2019 and installed them as leaders of the embryonic championship.

“The Jeddah track is still very new for us. Last year, the humidity was challenging,” said Verstappen.

“It’s a really quick track with high-speed straights and this year’s cars are slightly heavier so it’s going to be interesting to see how they perform.”

Last season’s inaugural Saudi event, in December, was the penultimate race of the championship and delivered high drama with two red flag stoppages and fiery competition between Verstappen and Hamilton before the Briton won to set up a furious and controversial finale in Abu Dhabi.

Red Bull team chief Christian Horner said he hoped his team can avoid more reliability issues, but conceded Ferrari showed in Bahrain they were fast.

“We may have made some strategic miscalculations, but Ferrari had the pace,” Horner said. 

“It was encouraging for us that we took the fight to them. Max was obviously very disappointed, but he’s pragmatic too and it’s a long year. He knows we’ve got a good car. We’ve just got to get on top of understanding this issue.”

‘A lot of everything’

Mercedes admitted they have work to do, even though they were third and fourth in Bahrain.

Trackside engineering boss Andrew Shovlin told the F1 Nation podcast that their new car was beset by many problems but hoped to upgrade for Jeddah.  

“There is a lot of everything,” said Shovlin. 

“There’s bouncing. The balance is poor. There is a lack of low-speed grip. We’re struggling on traction. The drivability could be better. The tyre warm-up is not good enough … and the car is a bit on the heavy side.”

The opening race delivered a shake-up to the hierarchy and plenty of wheel-to-wheel racing.

The outfits that stepped up included Ferrari’s customer team Alfa Romeo where China’s first F1 driver Zhou Guanyu made a point-scoring debut.

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