In the closing stages of the Monza Grand Prix, Max Verstappen, the Dutch Red Bull driver, was seemingly positioned to claim victory. Taking the lead after a tenacious battle with Ferrari‘s Carlos Sainz, his comfortable position of authority in the race seemed unquestionable.
However, his seemingly assured win was endangered near the climax of the race when his team urged him to slow down and avoid proximity with slower backmarkers. The abrupt counsel from the pit lane left Verstappen, the race leader, battling to maintain his pace and to ward off the advancement of trailing Pierre Gasly.
The precise issue leading to Red Bull‘s radio directive was not communicated to Max while racing, though it reportedly involved an increase of the ‘lift and coast’ strategy on his laps. The shift in driving tactic was intended to guard against the potential effects of a looming problem, costing Max several racing seconds.
In spite of the unexpected and unplanned predicament, Helmut Marko, Red Bull Motorsport advisor, saw a silver lining to the situation. He postulated that the unexpected situation inadvertently protected Verstappen from taking unnecessary risks to record a late fastest lap.
During his commentary, Marko said, “It was about the temperatures, to avoid them from going up further. We had to keep some of the temperatures within a certain window. Max was also 12 seconds ahead, thus there was no need to push for speed or take any inherent risks. It also prevented a conflicting idea for a later fastest lap from surfacing.”
Commenting on the matter, Red Bull team principal Christian Horner detailed there was no imminent threat to Max from the thermal conditions. The decision to rein him in was based more on preventing an unsuitable following of other cars.
Horner said, “He was managing some temperature issues, and we simply didn’t want to take any risk. It was oppressively hot that day, and we had a few temperature readings that were within manageable levels. There was a group of cars ahead of Gasly, and we didn’t want to run in their disrupted airflow. Hence, we made the decision to dial it back a notch for the last few laps.”
Post-race, the disappointing late concerns over Verstappen’s performance arose on the heels of pre-race worries about the reliability of the Honda power units. The apprehension stemmed from Yuki Tsunoda’s AlphaTauri stalling on the formation lap, triggering an aborted start to the Italian GP.
Considering Red Bull utilized the same Honda power units, the situation gave rise to fears of similar problems affecting their racers. However, such fears were dismissed soon as it was found that the problem was specific to Tsunoda’s vehicle.