After Max Verstappen’s RB19 struggled in qualifying at the Jeddah Circuit, Toto Wolff joked that Red Bull prepared him to show the world he can “win from the start”.
Red Bull’s RB19 has been the choice of the field so far this season, with Verstappen winning the season-opening Bahrain GP by 11s ahead of teammate Sergio Perez.
The Dutchman was favorite to take pole position for the second round, the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix, having dominated all three practice sessions with his best time in FP3, six tenths ahead of sister Red Bull. But then disaster struck.
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Making a quick lap of Q2 on Saturday night, Verstappen reported a suspected engine problem and returned to the pits, parking his car with Red Bull later, confirming it was a driveshaft failure.
He will line up 15th on the grid with Wolff joking to Sky Sports: “Perhaps they did it on purpose to get a win from the back.”
Karun Chandhok joked, “A deal from Stefano [Domenicali, F1 chief] to put on a good show, maybe?”
To which Wolff replied, “Exactly.”
Alonso expects Verstappen to reach the podium at least
Verstappen’s problems, along with Charles Leclerc’s engine penalty, mean Fernando Alonso will join Sergio Perez on the front row of the grid.
But the Spaniard warned that it will only be a matter of time before Verstappen becomes involved in the battle for the podium, such is the pace of the reigning world champion.
“I think Max will eventually come into the race,” he said. “They have that advantage.
“I don’t know which race it was last year that he started last, so he changed the power unit and still finished second or even won the race.
“So I think there’s no doubt that he will be on the podium probably at the very least.”
The Aston Martin driver has made it clear that he does not expect to fight the Dutchman or Perez for the win, he just wants the best possible result from his own car.
“When we launched the car on February 13th, I remember very well a conversation with Mike Krack, with Lance, with the top management of the team, defining the goals for this year, and the goals were not to fight Red Bull for the title. . win,” he added.
“So let’s keep it simple. Let’s keep our feet on the ground, and not make mistakes. Even though we are competitive we can’t leave these weekends that are so good for us without points, you know, that would be our biggest mistake. So whatever is available, I’m sure we’ll take it.”
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Perez will not line up on the grid thinking about what Verstappen can do
Pole-sitter Perez says he will not base his race strategy on waiting for his team-mate to catch up and run.
“I’m not going to approach the race thinking about Max,” he said. “First of all I have to make sure I can keep the lead for the first few laps. And if I manage to do that, keep that lion behind, it will be good because I think I can focus on my race.”
He, however, believes that his teammate will join the fight soon.
“As Fernando says, a lot of things can happen in a race, you know, but I hope he comes back. Our car, our race pace, was very strong on Friday, so we’ll see. We’ll see,” he added.
“I hope the team can come back and add as many points as possible because these weekends are very important. The competition will only get closer. So being able to maximize maximum points will be important.”