First he had a stomach bug that delayed his arrival at the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix. Then a mechanical failure in qualifying dropped Max Verstappen deep on the starting grid.
So recovering for a second-place finish should have been reason to celebrate, right?
Not for the two-time reigning Formula One world champion.
Verstappen barely even praised Red Bull’s second straight 1-2 finish after he rallied from 15th to finish behind teammate Sergio Perez at the Jeddah Corniche Circuit on Sunday. Verstappen won the the season-opener in Bahrain, with Perez second.
Not even earning a bonus point for logging the fastest lap of the race — a point that kept Verstappen atop the F1 standings — could ease his frustration.
“The whole feeling in the team, everyone is happy. But personally, I’m not happy,” Verstappen said after the race. “Because I’m not here to be second, especially when you are working very hard back at the factory to make sure that you arrive here in a good state, and basically making sure that everything is spot on.”
The 25-year-old Dutchman had to delay his trip to Jeddah by a day because of a stomach bug. Then, a driveshaft issue hindered him in Saturday’s qualifying and prevented him from challenging for the pole.
Starting 15th would have meant simply trying to squeeze out a solid finish for most drivers. But not Verstappen, who charged through the field as if his rivals were parked.
Even so, a distracted-sounding Verstappen complained about feeling weird sensations from the driveshaft late in the race.
All those factors ranked higher to him than how he clawed his way back to a near-victory. He didn’t even seem to care that his fastest lap nudged him one point ahead of Perez in the championship lead in what looks increasingly likely to be a straight Red Bull shootout for the title.
“If that’s the case it’s fairly simple, right?” said Verstappen. “We are allowed to race, so the best one will finish in front.”
Verstappen is a perfectionist on the track and so he struggles handling imperfections. He has the fastest car on the grid but it grates him — and perhaps overly so — when there are glitches beyond his control.
It got to him last year when reliability issues forced him to retire from two of the first three races, and several times in previous seasons he’d also struggled to contain his temper when mechanical or engine problems affected his races.
His frustration in Jeddah was compounded by the fact he led all three practice sessions leading up to qualifying.
“It’s not only about the pace of the car, we need to make sure we are reliable without any issues. After three positive practice sessions, I have an issue in qualifying,” Verstappen said. “Of course, I recovered to second, which is good.”
Yet the manner of how he finished second bugged the driver who won a record 15 F1 races last year.
“You have to do a recovery race, which I like — I mean, I don’t mind doing it,” he said. “But when you’re fighting for a championship, and especially when it looks like it’s just between two cars, we have to make sure that also the two cars are reliable.”
Next up is the Australian Grand Prix on April 2 — a race where Verstappen’s never won and retired twice.
“We have to do better,” Verstappen said. “Just have a cleaner weekend. I think that would be nice as well.”
Jerome Pugmire, The Associated Press