Verstappen looking for reliability in Australia as Perez lurks

Red Bull's Max Verstappen celebrates with his team after finishing second place in the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix. PHOTO: REUTERS

MELBOURNE – Two-time world champion Max Verstappen is banking on Red Bull ironing out their reliability issues as he targets a second Formula One win of the season at Sunday’s Australian Grand Prix – a race he failed to finish in 2022.

The Dutchman, who won the season-opening Bahrain Grand Prix, drove superbly in an action-packed race in Saudi Arabia a fortnight ago, slicing through the field to finish second behind teammate Sergio Perez.

The 25-year-old was, however, fuming when a driveshaft issue in qualifying forced him to start from 15th.

Conscious that an engine fire ruined his Melbourne race last season, Verstappen is desperate for a trouble-free weekend.

“I recovered to second, which is good and, in general, the whole feeling in the team, everyone is happy. But, personally, I’m not happy because I’m not here to be second,” he said, ahead of the third grand prix of the season at Albert Park.

“It’s not only about the pace of the car, we need to make sure we are reliable without any issues.

“When you’re fighting for a championship and especially, you know, when it looks like it’s just between two cars, we have to make sure that also the two cars are reliable.”

Perez reeled off a masterful triumph in Saudi Arabia to hold off his charging teammate and convert pole position to his first win of the season and fifth overall.

Team boss Christian Horner called it his best-ever drive and the Mexican intends to keep the pressure on Verstappen in Australia.

“I don’t know if it’s my best weekend so far with the team, but I’m sure Melbourne will be even better,” he said.

“At the moment, I am feeling very comfortable with the car.”

With Red Bull already dominant, finishing 1-2 in both grands prix this campaign, they could benefit further by the introduction of a fourth drag reduction system (DRS) zone in Melbourne – already one of the fastest tracks on the calendar.

DRS allows drivers to open a flap mounted on the rear wing to increase top speed and aid overtaking manoeuvres, and Red Bull’s scintillating straight-line power will potentially mean new lap records.

The real battle on Sunday is likely to be among the best of the rest, with veteran Fernando Alonso in prime position in his vastly improved Aston Martin.

The 41-year-old Spaniard, who won in Australia 17 years ago when piloting a Renault, finished third in Jeddah to clock the 100th podium of his career – only the sixth driver to achieve the feat.

A flawless Charles Leclerc led all the way for a commanding win in Australia a year ago.

But it has been a sobering start to 2023 for Ferrari as they struggle with power and reliability issues.

Leclerc managed only seventh in Jeddah, leaving the team with their work cut out.

Mercedes – who won eight successive constructors’ titles before Red Bull claimed their crown last season – took positives from the last race, where George Russell finished fourth and seven-time world champion Lewis Hamilton came home fifth.

“I think we saw some performance gains to Bahrain, which is encouraging,” said team chief Toto Wolff.

“It shows us that the development trajectory is going in the right direction.” AFP

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