Max Verstappen’s Bahrain GP debacle not only a function of reliability issues…

 

Max Verstappen’s race in Bahrain was nothing short of a disaster. On the surface, it does appear that if not for the reliability issues encountered by the car, the Red Bull driver might have been able to even win the race after the safety car period.

To an extent, yes, there is a sense of truth attached to it. Verstappen did have superior straight-line speed and, if not for a disfunctioning steering wheel, he could have mounted a challenge against Leclerc in the latter stages of the race.That, however, did not happen.

So it’s not worth fussing over. What is worth noting, however, is what happened before he retired from the race because if you are a Red Bull or a Max Verstappen fan, you should be worried!

In this piece, we talk about why the disappointing end to Verstappen’s outing at the Bahrain GP was more than just the reliability issues and why the team will need to refocus itself in the upcoming races.

 

There were suggestions coming into the race that Red Bull probably had the best car on the grid followed by Ferrari. During the first free practice sessions, that did appear to be the case as well. Red Bull was quicker out of the blocks while Ferrari, on the other hand, kept plugging away at the gap.

By the time we reached qualifying, however, there was no longer a gap.Both Max Verstappen and Charles Leclerc exchanged times at the top of the sheets before Q3 and it did appear that it would all come down to final lap shootouts.

On the final lap, it was Leclerc’s Ferrari that pulled off a magnificent lap that got him pole while Verstappen could only salvage second.Now, even though there might not have been much to choose between the two cars in qualifying, during the race it became clear that the Red Bull of Max Verstappen could not keep up with the Ferrari of Charles Leclerc.

 

In the first stint, the Red Bull driver had to pull back because of brake issues. In the second stint as well, the Red Bull driver tried to almost manufacture the overtakes but ultimately fell back.

During all of this, Leclerc was able to securely pull out the gap in a metronomic manner, so much so that Verstappen just could not keep up.In retrospect, it did appear that the Ferrari, with maybe a tenth or two in hand, was a piece of better machinery on the day as Verstappen ultimately found out during the race.

Some F1 pundits had an objection to Max Verstappen’s rather desperate lunges into Turn 1 after the first round of pitstops. If one analyzes carefully, however, there seems to be some method to this madness.

 

Verstappenknew he did not have the pace to match Charles Leclerc during the race. He also knew that his Red Bull could not run in the dirty air of the car in front for far too long or else it would encounter severe brake overheating issues. Keeping those factors in mind, the only possible way to win the race was to dive down the inside into the first turn, take the lead and then try to manage the race from there.Sure, it was risky and sure, it was a bit desperate as well, but it gave the Dutchman the only possible chance to win the race.

The very fact that Leclerc was able to bounce back and overtake him at Turn 4 was something that Verstappen did not account for. The ease with which Leclerc was able to come back and take the lead left Verstappen feeling a little helpless in the battle.

Throughout the 2021 season, if there was one thing that was a hallmark of Max Verstappen’s races then it was his calm demeanor on the team radio.

 

He would ask questions and if there was anything wrong, he would relay it. Unless there were some extreme circumstances, you wouldn’t see him shouting on the radio.It was this calmness during a very intense championship battle that had surprised everyone watching.

The Bahrain GP, however, for the lack of a better word, was a bit surprising to watch. For a change, the reigning world champion wasn’t as calm and collected as he tends to be in a race.He was shouting on the radio, complaining all the time, and even agitated at his race engineer.

Did it have something to do with the plethora of issues that he was having to manage? Surely they didn’t help.It does appear, however, that all these mannerisms were a result of one key factor — that Max Verstappen did not expect the Ferrari-Leclerc challenge to be this commendable. The Red Bull driver took on the might of Mercedes and Lewis Hamilton last season and beat them.

 

Coming into this season, Mercedes is still struggling to come to grips with the new regulations and is not in contention for race wins.

This leaves Verstappen with a challenge from Ferrari and Leclerc. Verstappen could have even thought that after beating Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes, beating Leclerc and Ferrari would have been easier.He was probably first surprised when Leclerc beat him to pole position in qualifying.

He would have been even more agitated when he wasn’t able to make the move for the win stick against Leclerc, or when he could not cut down the gap to Leclerc. Having so many issues to deal with at the same time only added to his discomfort.

Thelevel of challenge put together by Ferrari and Leclerc was a flawless one. While Red Bull and Verstappen might not have underestimated them, they might have been surprised by the level of performance the Scuderia put together.

This level, this intensity, and this flawless approach to a race weekend, if sustained, can make Ferrari the benchmark team in F1.

 

For Red Bull and Max Verstappen, if there was a scenario where they underestimated the level of performance that Ferrari can deliver, then those estimaties need to be recalibrated.After the first race of the season, the reigning world champion is already 26 points behind in the championship and will need all the consistency that he can muster to climb his way back. The biggest takeaway from the Bahrain GP is not the reliability concerns that Red Bull had over the weekend, it’s the level of performance delivered by the Leclerc-Ferrari combination. Both Red Bull and Max Verstappen need to be on their A-game because, by the looks of it, Ferrari and Charles Leclerc are ready for the battle and will not be going away without a fight.

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