Christian Horner heaps praise on Max Verstappen despite Australian GP DNF

The Red Bull ace retired on Lap 5 of the 2024 Australian GP

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The Australian Grand Prix is not the happiest of hunting grounds for Max Verstappen as he suffered his first mechanical DNF in two years in the 2024 race around the Albert Park Circuit, coincidentally where the 2022 DNF also took place.

Verstappen had taken pole and defended the lead successfully into Turn 1 and 99% of the time, when he does that, it means he’s going to win the race, often in cruise control mode on the trend since the second half of 2022.

But viewers were left stunned when Carlos Sainz slammed his DRS shut and went around the outside of the world champion at Turn 11 to seize the lead for Ferrari before he managed to begin to pull away.

Then it transpired that Verstappen had some kind of reliability problem, but it was unclear if it was a brake issue or an engine problem. Nonetheless, it caused him to dramatically lose speed before he crawled back into the pit-lane, where his brakes then exploded. That was the end of his race.

“A driver is always going to be frustrated when they get out of the car from a retirement,” Red Bull’s team principal, Christian Horner, said to Sky Sports F1. β€œHe’s been very gracious with the team.

β€œThat DNF hurts everyone in the same way. It’s a matter of learning from it and understanding what caused it.

“It’s remarkable after three races he’s still leading the world championship even with that DNF. A lot of lessons learned today.”

Verstappen has 51 points after three rounds and leads Charles Leclerc by four points, with the Monegasque having been able to take the lead of the race on Sunday if he had beaten Sainz to victory.

Max Verstappen Red Bull leads Carlos Sainz of Ferrari into the first corner at the start 2024 Australian Grand Prix | Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool
Max Verstappen Red Bull leads Carlos Sainz of Ferrari into the first corner at the start 2024 Australian Grand Prix | Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool

Horner reveals Perez damage

With Verstappen out of the race, all eyes turned to Sergio Perez to see what sort of impression he could make if he valued trying to win the world title at all in 2024, but he was disappointing slow as he battled Fernando Alonso’s Aston Martin for much of the race.

The Mexican looked poised to fight for the win when he passed Alonso but then he made no further progress, and it seemed as though he slipped into his 2023 habits of being miles off the true pace of his car.

But according to his boss, that was not the case as he sustained damage that compromised the remainder of the race by affecting his floor.

β€œHe’s probably not aware of it,” Horner added. β€œBut he picked up some damage and lost a significant amount of downforce from the floor of the car when he passed Fernando.

“As soon as you get that, your tyre deg gets worse. We were just not good at the end of the stints, which is an unusual trait for our cars. We need to understand that.”

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