Red Bull Formula One driver Max Verstappen has had horrifyingly bad luck this year, having finished only half of his races this season. His last retirement was only eight laps in to his home race, to boot. But perhaps the most frustrating thing about it is that it’s always something different that seems to break.
[Full disclosure: Mobil 1 and Red Bull Racing wanted me to go to Monza’s media day so much that they tossed me a pass to Thursday’s pre-race-weekend festivities, let me chat with the drivers and team staff, and paid for travel, lodging and food.]
Verstappen’s most recent DNF result at Spa-Francorchamps—his infamous 8-lap race—was because of a software problem, he explained.
“We had a software issue—kind of a safety thing on the engine to prevent it from breaking down,” Verstappen told Jalopnik. “ Normally we also know how to switch it off, but that button didn’t work somehow in the software. And yeah, I had to stop the car.”
Had he been able to reset the fail-safe system that failed, he could have continued the race. “It’s actually quite simple, because the car came back, and [the team] started it up and it was fine. It was running,” he added. “That’s why—yeah, it’s quite painful.”
“Even if I wanted to break the car, it’s just not possible with the safety things on the car,” Verstappen said, referring to his software issue at Spa. “So, there is no explanation. Also, Daniel, you know, he got the question a few times if he’s doing something different, and stuff, but it’s not. He’s lucky. For me, it’s very unlucky that it’s on my side. Generally, we don’t want any retirements, but like, let’s say, 85 percent, 90 percent of the time it’s on my side of the garage unfortunately. But yeah, we don’t know why it happens.”
When I asked Verstappen if he could take us through all the reliability issues he’s had this year, Verstappen joked, “Do you have an hour?”
But he did list off a considerable number of mechanical mishaps along with in-race damage that’s taken him out:
“Bahrain, that was the first time [a problem happened in a race this year]. That was the brakes—rear brakes, they got too hot, so I lost brake pressure.”
“China, I had an issue in qualifying. Actually, that was the same issue that I had now in Spa,” referring to the lack of ability to reset his engine’s power modes. That time, it wasn’t software—a bad engine coil left Verstappen down on power and unable to reset the car himself.
“Then Russia was fine. Spain, I had a collision.”
“After Monaco, I had Canada. I had—well, basically, the battery blew up.”
“Baku—Baku, a lot of things happened, so I also retired.” After a crash and an electircal problem in practice, he had an issue with the limiter in qualifying and his race ultimately ended early with engine problems there. Yikes.
“Austria, there was something with the clutch, and then I got hit in turn one, so then the race was finished.”
“Silverstone was fine. Hungary was fine. And then we had a failure again in Spa.”
He concluded, “It’s always something else, that’s the problem.”
At this point, he’s not even sure what he can do different beyond not crash.
“So, we solved the previous issues,” Verstappen said. “But then sometimes something else breaks down, but we always stay positive. So, let’s say that this weekend, nothing will happen.”
Verstappen did reiterate—albeit in front of his press handler—that he wasn’t to the point of giving any ultimatums about having to switch away from the team’s Renault power unit or leave. For one, several of his in-race issues were from contact, after all—just bad, unlucky contact.
“I mean, you have a contract, and you can’t just get rid of the contract,” he explained. “That’s not possible. Also, I believe in the team as well, since they won four world championships for a reason. But at the moment, of course, I’d say the complete package is not race-winning. So, yeah, we’re working hard to solve that, and hopefully we can do that for next year.”
After our interview, Verstappen qualified second on the grid in front of his teammate Daniel Ricciardo, but the two were moved way to the back of the field with 20- and 25-place grid penalties for swapping out engine components, respectively.
Red Bull team advisor Helmut Marko told Autosport that he doesn’t regret giving both drivers new power units and giving Ricciardo a new gearbox as well. They’re glad the two drivers qualified so well, and looking ahead to the next few races on the calendar where they hope they can win. Plus, Verstappen mentioned to Jalopnik that they’ve been working on next year’s car for months already.
In the meantime, Verstappen was stuck driving back up through the field for this weekend’s race. Even that was tough, as a racing incident with Felipe Massa punctured Verstappen’s tire and damaged his car early in the race.
Verstappen did cheer up a bit when I mentioned Ricciardo’s hilarious suggestion that cars need foreplay in order to, ahem, cooperate with a driver. “I actually quite liked his...explanation,” Verstappen said. “His explanation was pretty good, but unfortunately it doesn’t work like that.”