Max Verstappen escapes his RB18 after retiring from the Australian Grand Prix. He is already 46 points behind championship leader Charles Leclerc in the Ferrari after just three races
Max Verstappen’s title defence took another blow on Sunday when he retired from the second of three races this season.
Unable to get near race leader Charles Leclerc as the Ferrari driver romped to his second win of the season at the Australian Grand Prix, Verstappen pulled off the track with 11 laps of the Albert Park circuit remaining with flames coming from the rear of his Red Bull Racing car, believed to be stemming from an external fuel leak.
There was reason to celebrate for the Tilbrook squad though, with Sergio Perez taking a confident second spot, benefitting from Verstappen’s retirement while also passing Mercedes pair Lewis Hamilton and George Russell en route to the podium.
Having retired from second in the season opener in Bahrain too, world champion Verstappen is already 46 points behind championship leader Leclerc and after another failure in the RB18, he admitted there will be no quick fixes to get his title defence back on track.
“It doesn’t look like there is an easy fix so we need to work hard as a team, there are a lot of things to work on,” Verstappen said. “It’s of course very disappointing to not finish today’s race, I don’t really know what happened to the car yet, we’ll take it back to the factory and regroup.
“I already knew there was a possibility ahead of the race that we might not finish but I tried not to think about it. This is not what you need when you want to fight for the championship, the gap is already pretty big.”
Perez also retired from the opening race of the season in Bahrain, but avoided any issues in Melbourne en route to second spot. Running third after overtaking Hamilton in the early stages of the race, he dropped down to fifth when a safety car came just after his pit-stop, but he fought back past the Mercedes duo into third, which became a comfortable second when Verstappen pulled over.
He said: “It was a good result but, unfortunately, we lost Max and it would have been great to have a double podium for the team. On the other hand, it is a good result after so many unlucky moments in the first couple of races for me. It was a very complicated race with the start I had and the safety cars but we managed to overcome it.
“We got a few things wrong across the weekend and we were battling more with Mercedes than Ferrari so the pace wasn’t where we want it to be, but we will work on it.
“The fastest guys out there are Ferrari, we want to be up there fighting with them and today that wasn’t the case. If we can improve the car a little, then we can be more confident.”