Apologies to regular readers, but yesterday saw this Judge fail to publish anything due to personal commitments, and besides the day was full of testing and Mick Schumacher – a youngster with far too much attention on his young shoulders and not for the right reasons.
I must not digress too much, but Mick is rather an unremarkable driver, for now. That may change and the boy clearly has potential, but the media are already eating into his chances of being a decent grand prix driver with rhetoric that could see him race in Formula 1 far too early.
On the note of that, we turn to Max Verstappen. A driver clearly with bags of talent, and with probably more ‘narcissism’ (if you believe Nico Rosberg). But one must wonder if he’s starting to feel hard done by, and genuinely so, by Red Bull.
Back in 2017, Verstappen upset the apple cart at Red Bull by signing a deal that’ll see him stay there until the end of 2020, forcing Ricciardo into rethinking his position within the setup. This, of course, led to the Australian’s decision to leave and race for Renault this year. A move already looking to be a rather ‘iffy’ one at best.
“Red Bull has always shown their faith and belief in me.” said Verstappen at the time,
“I’m very happy to commit further to them and I’m looking forward to working together to enjoy more success in the years to come.”
During that period, Red Bull were using Renault engines and were capable of winning races. Admittedly we’re only two races into the new partnership with Honda, but the new car with the new engine really doesn’t look capable of winning, yet.
In Australia, Ferrari rather gifted the podium to the Dutchman as the SF90 was clearly not operating as it should, and the fact that Pierre Gasly in the other Red Bull’s very much struggling to achieve the speed expected of a Red Bull driver. Then we have the more RB chassis experienced Verstappen who’s not able to stay on pace with the sharp end, all of which points toward a bad car.
Yes, in the past seasons it’s taken a while to for Red Bull to get up to speed, but we’ve already heard team boss Christian Horner recently admit that the new Red Bull is “a tricky car at the moment. Our operating window looks quite narrow”.
Not a great start, particularly when in past seasons the only supposed achilles heel admitted by the team was the poor Renault power unit. But this year, we could be experiencing the perfect storm of poor engine, relative to Mercedes and Ferrari, plus an uncharacteristic poor chassis.
TJ13 published an article two days ago highlighting that sonic analysis during Q3 last weekend at Bahrain see’s Honda well behind the Mercedes and Ferrari power outputs.
One cannot help but feel 2019 will be a real test of Max Verstappen’s patience and ability to not publicly denounce the team and engine partner should things continue to head south.
If 2019 becomes ‘a learning year’, and Honda still need to increase power along with Red Bull better understanding what went wrong with their car, it’s unlikely 2020 will fair much better for the Dutchman in terms of title challenge.
How he conducts himself during this difficult time will have a bearing on other options after 2020. And I’m sure F1 fans will be eager to see how that turns out because Verstappen could elect to break contract early and leave Red Bull for a possible seat elsewhere (Ferrari anyone?).
Wild speculation yes, but what’s not been widely publicised since Verstappen signed up to Red Bull in 2017 are some performance clauses thought to be relevant to the Honda package. If Red Bull took them (and they did), and Honda end up being dire, Verstappen might be able to break contract early before 2020.
Let’s see how Chinese Grand Prix is, it is clear Red Bull Honda need to up their game if they wish to keep their man.