Max Verstappen lamented an “unfortunate” gearbox failure that caused him to retire his Red Bull Formula 1 car from the US Grand Prix last weekend.
The problem forced the Dutch driver to slow to a crawl on the Circuit of the Americas’ main straight on lap 28 of the 56-lap event, and he then pulled off and stopped at the exit of Turn 18.
Verstappen had been providing much of the action during the race as he caught and passed Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen after falling behind the 2007 world champion at the start, and then told his Red Bull team he was “not here to finish fourth” following a warning about preserving his tyres while running in that position behind Mercedes’ Nico Rosberg.
When he entered the pits for his second stop on lap 26, Verstappen caught his Red Bull mechanics completely unaware by coming in without being called and he lost almost ten seconds waiting for them to fit his car with medium tyres.
Although the gearbox failure meant any time lost at that pitstop would not ultimately matter, the 19-year-old was left wondering what might have been as he was running within striking distance of the podium during the early stages.
“It was a very unfortunate way to end the race, especially as the first part was so positive,” he said. “The start was OK, being on the harder compound means it is always going to be tricky but we managed to get away and stay in front of Seb [Vettel].
“I was happy with the pace and I felt good out there, it was a nice battle with Kimi who I was glad to pass. I’m sure there was the ability to race the Mercedes today but it is just very hard to pass them due to the straight-line speed.”
Red Bull team boss Christian Horner explained that Verstappen’s misinterpretation of a call to push hard in an effort to undercut Rosberg as an instruction to pit caused the pitstop confusion.
He said: “He thought he heard a call the previous lap but got himself confused. It’s something that is totally unusual. He just arrived in the pitlane and said, ‘I’m in the pitlane!’
“We’re not very good at fitting tyres when we don’t know he’s coming in. He hadn’t heard anything on that lap, so it was basically the previous lap. He had been told to push, which was to close the gap to Nico [Rosberg] because we were going to try for the undercut on him.”
Just two laps after the slow pitstop, Verstappen’s stricken RB12 at the Turn 18 run off area triggered a Virtual Safety Car, which allowed Mercedes to pit Rosberg and keep him ahead of the other Red Bull of Daniel Ricciardo thanks to a “free” pitstop as the field were forced to run at a slower speed due to the VSC.
The gearbox problem had begun to take effect shortly after Verstappen had left the pits from his unexpected stop and it ended his race as he accelerated onto COTA’s main straight on lap 26.
Verstappen appeared to be attempting to drive back to the pits and he passed a number of places to stop the car where it could be safely recovered by the marshals.
But he explained afterwards that it was his Red Bull team that had told him to try and keep going before instructing him to pull over. When he did stop, a problem with the neutral safety button on the car’s cockpit prevented the marshals from moving it quickly, which activated the VSC.
“The team told me to keep on going, they said there is a serious issue,” he said. “And then at one point they decided ‘OK Max, stop the car over there’.
“It was in neutral, but the car got stuck. You can press a button on the top [of the cockpit] but that didn’t work. So that’s why the Virtual Safety Car came out, otherwise you can just push the car into the gap.”
After the race, Both Verstappen and Horner were focusing on the positive aspects of the weekend in Austin where the Dutch driver had attracted a lot of interest after the FIA decided to implement a regulation that formally made it against the rules for drivers to move in front of an opponent in braking zones, a move Verstappen has used on a number of occasions this season.
Before the race at COTA got underway, Verstappen described the criticism of his defending from other drivers as “funny”, but welcomed the clarification.
He said: “It is good to make it more clear to everyone what is allowed and what is not so let’s see how it is going to turn out.”
Ricciardo: “we were looking good for P2” before VSC
Although Ricciardo scored his sixth podium appearance in eight races by finishing third in Austin, he was also left lamenting what could have been a better result after the VSC allowed Rosberg stay ahead when making his final stop.
Ricciardo had seized second from the championship leader as the pack charged into Turn 2 on the opening lap. He had been able to hold onto second from the first half of the race but had conceded track position by pitting for a second time on lap 25, five laps before the VSC came out.
“I think we were looking good For P2 but then the Virtual Safety Car didn’t work in our favour today,” he said. “I’m not going to be too disappointed, it’s just cool to be on the podium here.
“I love coming here, the anthem was pretty awesome before the race, I had goosebumps, I’m not going to lie, and then the podium after was great. It’s another big bag of points and we at least had Nico’s pace so that’s encouraging.”
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