Max Verstappen had yet another horrendous weekend in Australia after he suffered his 2nd DNF among the 3 races this season, as his hopes of a title defence have started to wane bit by bit. In fact, the Red Bull cars have finished only in 3 attempts out of 6 this season.
It was on lap 39 of 58 of the Australian Grand Prix that the world champion’s Red Bull engine gave away, the car stopped by the exit of turn 2 owing to a sudden loss of power from his Red Bull Powertrains-powered RB-18 and eventually catching a small fire, after running comfortably in P2 for a while.
This was the Dutchman’s 2nd DNF after his first at the season opener of Bahrain where he stopped track-side in a very similar fashion. So, what is going wrong and why is that Red Bull so unreliable right now?
It was understood from initial investigations that the cause behind Verstappen’s latest DNF was once again something related to the fuel system, as was the root for Bahrain as well. Most F1 pundits are in unison as to what could be one of the major reasons behind the RBPT engine’s failure at Melbourne: a fuel compatibility issue. But, anyone could be asking is why is this so recurrent and why is only Red Bull affected with it?
The answer that most are pointing to is: The E10 fuel. If you are well versed with this year’s regulation changes, you’d know FIA has mandated a new kind of petrol to be run in these cars, the E10 fuel. To the uninitiated, this is normal Petrol mixed with 10% ethanol (for lesser emissions). Now, ethanol is not really a friendly substance, be it in cars or in the human body. This ethanol here created a vapour ‘bubble’ inside the fuel lines when the engine was running in certain low power modes (like in Melbourne’s case, behind the safety car, right before it conked out). The bubble then blocked the fuel flow to the engine, cutting the latter off because, obviously, it no longer got the fuel needed to burn.
Another school of thought is that there was a fuel leak which made the car have its slow, creeping stop. With a fuel leakage, there was a loss of pressure and eventually a loss of power. This fuel leak would even explain the fire in the engine, which was very clearly visible. In fact, during the incident, Verstappen had even radioed to his team that he was smelling some “weird fluids” and that “everything was **** itself”.
Now to answer the 2nd question: why is it only Red Bull reeling under this? Actually, any other team could face the problem as well, but in the case of Red Bull, it is just way too major of an issue. Each team on the grid has its own fuel supplier; ExxonMobil in Red Bull’s case. It might even just be that the E10 fuel from Mobil is not one hundred percent compatible with the car’s systems YET, and the other fuel suppliers have been able to deal with this problem better.
The dutchman was visibly frustrated after the race, and had gone as far as to say the team has “no reason to believe” in the title right now, even.
Whatever it is, it’s still way too early to determine the cause of these mishaps. But one thing is for sure: if this form continues, Red Bull will be nowhere near to defend their title against a charging Ferrari of Charles Leclerc. With 20 more rounds left to be raced, the team has plenty of time to make up for its lost ground.
Formula 1 returns to Imola in just 10 days, and you can catch up on the Australian GP right here.