FILE PHOTO: Formula One F1 - Pre-Season Testing - Bahrain International Circuit, Sakhir, Bahrain - March 10, 2022 Red Bull's Max Verstappen during testing REUTERS/Hamad I Mohammed
March 24, 2022
By Abhishek Takle
JEDDAH (Reuters) – Formula One world champion Max Verstappen goes into Sunday’s Saudi Arabian Grand Prix keen to get over Red Bull’s “double-DNF” hangover and get his title defence going after starting the season with a blank in Bahrain.
The Dutchman was on course to finish second at the Sakhir season opener after engaging in a race-long battle with Ferrari’s winner Charles Leclerc.
But his car expired three laps from the end with Mexican team mate Sergio Perez following him into retirement on the final lap.
Red Bull identified a fuel system problem as the cause but have not given details about an issue that handed them their first double non-finish (DNF) since their home 2020 season-opening Austrian Grand Prix.
“Last weekend was a tough one for all of us to take, we win and lose as a team and we’ll come back stronger this week,” said 24-year-old Verstappen.
“We have a good package and we were competitive in Bahrain, so there are positives to take from the weekend, and we have a very long season ahead.”
Verstappen will also want to banish the memory of last year’s race around Jeddah’s fast and unforgiving street circuit.
The Dutchman crashed in qualifying and finished a chaotic race second behind Briton Lewis Hamilton after another controversial collision between the pair.
Hamilton is unlikely to be caught in such a tussle this year, however, with once-dominant Mercedes still wrestling with 2022’s rules overhaul.
The constructors’ champions were only third fastest in Bahrain behind Ferrari and Red Bull, although Hamilton still salvaged third thanks to the retirement of the Red Bulls.
“We know the W13 has potential,” said Mercedes boss Toto Wolff.
“We need to continue learning, find out how to unlock it, and maximise our opportunities for points in the meantime.”
Resurgent Ferrari, meanwhile, will be out to prove that their season-opening one-two in Bahrain, ending a 45-race winless streak, was no fluke.
“I think we should not forget that they (Red Bull) are still the favourites,” team boss Mattia Binotto said after Bahrain.
“Jeddah in a week’s time can be a completely different picture.”
The Red Sea port city’s 6.1km Corniche layout is made up mainly of high-speed sweeps hemmed in by blind corners and flat-out blasts along the city’s waterfront.
Organisers have made changes to give drivers a better line of sight around the corners after safety concerns last year.
Sunday’s race will also be important for British team Aston Martin who are sponsored by Saudi energy company Aramco.
The team’s four-times world champion Sebastian Vettel missed the Bahrain opener after testing positive for COVID-19 and remains doubtful for the weekend.
The German, replaced by compatriot Nico Hulkenberg in Bahrain, has yet to return a negative test to fly to Saudi Arabia. The team will make a decision on their driver line-up on Friday.
(Reporting by Abhishek Takle, editing by Ed Osmond)