Max Verstappen’s first race as world champion must rank as one of the most frustrating of his career.Charles Leclerc for the lead.
His misery deepened in the final laps as he attempted to take on Leclerc by making an extra pit stop, only for the Safety Car to be deployed, which allowed the Ferrari driver to fit fresh tyres and stay ahead. Making matters worse for Verstappen, his steering suddenly became very heavy after his last pit stop.
Then, to cap that misfortune, a power unit problem ended his race. Having looked like a contender for victory when he headed the practice sessions earlier in the weekend, Verstappen left the first race point-less.
As a race of almost unrelenting misfortune unfolded, Verstappen’s exchanges with his race engineer Gianpiero Lambiase grew increasingly heated.
Team radio transcript: Max Verstappen, 2022 Bahrain Grand Prix
Verstappen lined up second behind Leclerc and the pair kept their places at the start with Carlos Sainz Jnr in pursuit. They started on soft tyres, Verstappen favouring used rubber so he had a fresh set to switch to later.
Lambiase soon told him to begin moderating his pace to conserve the car and tyres. However Verstappen soon encountered problems with his engine braking.
|1||Lambiase||Your brake bias offset Max.|
|1||Lambiase||Mode seven please Max. Mode seven. Display eight and forwards on your brake bias offset. Straight into management.|
|1||Lambiase||Strategy info, Leclerc is on a new set of softs.|
|1||Lambiase||B-bal four, Max, B-bal four.|
|1||Lambiase||Max we believe both Ferraris on new soft.|
|2||Lambiase||OK Max so just focus on that management beginning of stint as discussed, gap behind 1.5.|
|2||Lambiase||DRS is active.|
|2||Verstappen||Engine braking is doing funny things mid-corner.|
|2||Lambiase||Understood it. Increase torque if you need it.|
|2||Lambiase||We’re looking at the engine over-run Max and we’ll get back to you with an update.|
|3||Lambiase||Gap behind 2.2.|
|3||Lambiase||Engine 13 position one, engine 13 position for that engine braking.|
|3||Lambiase||Increase lift-off as well, please, Max, just while we’re behind Leclerc, increase lift-off for the brakes.|
|4||Lambiase||Gap behind 2.5.|
|4||Lambiase||Strat five, strat five.|
|4||Lambiase||Okay increase lift-off please, Max, increase lift-off.|
|5||Lambiase||How’s the engine braking, Max?|
|5||Verstappen||Yeah more normal.|
Verstappen’s braking problems began to clear up, though he had to significantly reduce how hard he was hitting the pedal. His soft tyres were also dropping off quickly, and the team began to prepare for his first pit stop.
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|6||Lambiase||So increase your lift-and-coast a bit more please, Max.|
|6||Verstappen||Mate I’m barely braking.|
|6||Lambiase||Max can I have a front wing update for the next stint please.|
|6||Verstappen||Yeah that’s all good.|
|6||Lambiase||Understood. Gap behind four seconds.|
|8||Lambiase||Things improving on the brake side Max so good job with that. Just continue what you’re doing at the moment and I’ll let you know when we can reduce it.|
|9||Lambiase||Okay Max, just think about lifting, go to partial throttle slightly earlier at turn and less of a lift. You’re just leaning on front-left a little bit too much. So bring your throttle lift earlier.|
|9||Verstappen||I really have zero traction.|
|10||Lambiase||Mode six, mode six.|
|11||Lambiase||PU one position two please Max, one position two.|
|13||Verstappen||Traction is completely gone.|
|13||Lambiase||And a front wing update now.|
|13||Verstappen||Front wing is fine, I don’t know, just need more traction.|
Verstappen was advised not to push his fresh tyres too hard after leaving the pits. However, as he had pitted before Leclerc, he also had an opportunity to use the extra performance to jump ahead of his rival.
He fell short of doing so, but nonetheless had an opportunity to pass the Ferrari. He managed to do so, but only temporarily, Leclerc re-passing him each time.
The Red Bull could only sustain the pressure temporarily, however. “I was overheating a lot if I wanted to attack,” Verstappen explained afterwards. “So after the fighting I had with Charles I had to let him go.”
|13||Lambiase||Box and pit confirm Max. Strat 12 in pit lane.|
|14||Lambiase||Okay strat eight torque nine at the white line on the exit, white line on the exit.|
|14||Lambiase||Okay so do not hit these tyres hard, Max.|
|14||Lambiase||Torque 10, torque 10.|
|15||Lambiase||Okay so Leclerc ahead of you at pit out.|
|15||Lambiase||Okay Max I think we’ll have one go at him before we have issues with the brakes again.|
|16||Lambiase||He’s down on SOC [state of charge], Max, he is down on SOC.|
|17||Lambiase||Mode seven, mode seven.|
|17||Lambiase||Eyes on dash for the brakes please Max, we need a lift off at this stage.|
|18||Lambiase||Max, the overtake to four is available as well.|
|18||Verstappen||Yeah but mate I can’t stay close through turn one.|
|18||Lambiase||Okay Max increase lift off, please Max, increase lift off.|
|19||Lambiase||So just try to bring the brakes down at this stage Max, just focus on that.|
|20||Lambiase||Engine seven position three, engine seven position three.|
|20||Verstappen||It’s really impossible to brake like this with these brakes.|
|20||Lambiase||Okay, understood Max.|
Verstappen got his overheating under control again, but it cost him time to Leclerc. The gap opened up between the pair of them, and soon Verstappen was indicating to his team that it was time for another fresh set of rubber.
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|21||Lambiase||Okay so Leclerc last lap 37.8. Sainz behind 37.7. Checo on the medium 37.6.|
|21||Lambiase||Max can we try engine 13, engine one three position nine, just let me know if you have any issues with engine braking.|
|21||Lambiase||Brake info, under control again.|
|24||Verstappen||Well it’s such a shit balance, everywhere on entry I’m understeering and then on throttle I have no traction.|
|24||Lambiase||Okay understood Max thank you. Mode six.|
|24||Lambiase||B-bal three, b-bal three.|
|26||Verstappen||They’re almost done again, the tyres.|
|26||Lambiase||Okay copy that. Last lap was just a tenth behind Leclerc.|
|26||Lambiase||Sainz behind same lap. Checo 38.7. Currently at diff seven. You’ve got six available for the entry.|
|27||Lambiase||Leclerc last lap 38.8.|
|28||Lambiase||So it’ll be blue flags for Hulkenberg ahead.|
|28||Verstappen||I’m completely stuck with my tools. I can’t get a balance in the car.|
The gap between Leclerc and Verstappen had opened so wide that Red Bull knew they wouldn’t be able to jump ahead of him however quick the world champion’s out-lap was. Lambiase made that point to Verstappen, but after Leclerc came out in front of him again the frustrated driver made it clear to his team he felt the ‘undercut’ had been possible.
|29||Lambiase||Box pit confirm please Max, box pit confirm. Start 12 in pit lane.|
|30||Lambiase||Okay strat eight and white line on the exit. You have to bring these tyres in gently this stint please Max. I expect Leclerc to pit as well. White line on the exit.|
|30||Verstappen||What was the gap to him?|
|30||Lambiase||Too big for the undercut.|
|31||Verstappen||OK, this is now two times that I take it easy on the out-lap that when I could have easily been in front. I’m never, ever doing it again.|
|31||Lambiase||Strat five, strat five.|
|32||Lambiase||You are free to push, Max. Free to push.|
|33||Lambiase||OK, so info both Sainz and Checo have pitted on that last lap as well.|
|34||Verstappen||How many laps are there to go?|
|34||Lambiase||23 including this one.|
|38||Lambiase||Engine 14 position three. Engine one four position three.|
|41||Lambiase||Just mode five for the moment please, Max. Mode five.|
Exploiting every avenue to take the fight to Ferrari, Red Bull brought both their drivers in together for a final stop. But bad luck struck again: Soon after leaving the pits Verstappen reported his steering had deteriorated.
Team principal Christian Horner explained what had happened after the race. “I think he bent the track rod when the car got dropped off at the final pit stop,” he said.
“That made the car inconsistent between left and right. So he did a great job with that.”
Lambiase chose his words very carefully in his communications with Verstappen. Red Bull were clearly at pains not to give the race director or rival teams any indication there might be a safety problem with the car, which might lead them to have to retire it.
“It wasn’t a safety concern,” Horner confirmed after the race. “It was just very uncomfortable for him to drive.”
Verstappen said the car was “not easy to drive because of just not having a feeling for what the car was doing” after the breakage.
“It was not natural. You can lose power steering or whatever, and it’s just heavy, but it was almost stuck in some places. So really difficult to drive.”
|42||Lambiase||Okay box and pit confirm please Max box. Box and pit confirm. Strat 12 in pit lane.|
|43||Lambiase||And strat eight, strat eight. White line on the exit.|
|43||Lambiase||Blue flags for Stroll.|
|43||Lambiase||Back to strat five.|
|43||Verstappen||Oh mate my steering wheel is suddenly really heavy. Oh my god it’s almost locked.|
|43||Verstappen||I almost can’t steer.|
|43||Lambiase||Let me know if you need to box Max.|
|43||Verstappen||No just fucking tell me what’s wrong. I’ll try to handle it.|
|43||Verstappen||Tell me if something is loose or not.|
|43||Lambiase||Negative for the moment.|
|43||Lambiase||Stay out one more lap.|
|44||Verstappen||Just getting into fast fill or something?|
|44||Lambiase||Max is the oil heavy in both directions, so both left and right-hand?|
|44||Verstappen||Everywhere, everywhere. It’s not even smooth. Like I have to fucking… even on the straight.|
|44||Lambiase||Max, this is a 14-lap stint so just look after these.|
The next blow came when the Safety Car was deployed in reaction to Pierre Gasly’s AlphaTauri came to a stop as its power unit caught fire. Red Bull’s tactical move against Ferrari was thwarted.
|45||Lambiase||Virtual Safety Car deployed Max. VSC deployed. Dash positive. Dash positive, target plus one.|
|45||Lambiase||Safety Car deployed, Max, Safety Car deployed.|
|45||Verstappen||Ah, for fuck’s sake.|
|45||Lambiase||Target plus one.|
|45||Verstappen||What position are we?|
|45||Lambiase||Current P2. Sainz and Checo pitted.|
|45||Verstappen||How did my lap time look with that steering?|
|45||Lambiase||It looked fine for the moment. Pace looked okay.|
|45||Verstappen||Just keep checking what it can be, if something is stuck or whatever.|
|46||Lambiase||So currently the Safety Car is at turn 10 exit. Leclerc did pit for a fresh set of soft tyres. Just continue to follow your delta. So use this opportunity to bring your brake temperature down Max, bring the brake temperature down.|
|46||Lambiase||Okay Max so steering update. We are staying out. We don’t believe it’s a reliability concern at this stage, but we can go through it a bit later.|
|46||Lambiase||I’m not saying it’s not affecting, your performance or balance but we do believe it to be safe.|
|46||Verstappen||Yeah it’s just super-hard to drive because of the inputs I’m doing, it’s like a [unclear].|
|47||Lambiase||So that’s 47 laps complete, 10 laps remaining. Brake temperature coming down nicely. Engine seven position two, please engine seven position two.|
|48||Verstappen||Yeah it’s more and more difficult to steer with speed.|
|48||Lambiase||Copy that Max.|
|48||Lambiase||From what we can see the situation is stable, so nothing’s getting worse. But it is what it is. May have to live with it. Obviously if it becomes un-drivable you know the situation. Lapped cars might now overtake. Expect six cars to come through. So just stay on your racing line.|
|48||Lambiase||That’s all of those cars, Max.|
|48||Lambiase||Mode three please Max, mode three.|
|49||Lambiase||Okay Safety Car in this lap, Max, Safety Car is in this lap.|
When the Safety Car came in, Verstappen was more preoccupied with keeping Sainz behind him than attacking Leclerc ahead. But then came the power unit failure which ended his race.
“You always say to yourself and the team as well, we have to score points,” said Verstappen after the race. “It doesn’t matter if it’s first or second in the first race. You could see that in turn one at the start – I didn’t risk too much.
“But to lose so many points also for the team is very disappointing because in the championship, where sometimes it can be really tight to the end. These are very important points.”
|49||Verstappen||How many laps to go?|
|49||Lambiase||There will be seven racing laps when we get going, seven racing laps. Front tyres are on the cold side so just think about your bias offset for turn one. And a reminder you cannot overtake until the line.|
|49||Lambiase||So you’ve already switch changed Max, we’ll be recharge off.|
|50||Lambiase||Bias offset when you need to.|
|50||Lambiase||Mode seven, mode seven.|
|52||Verstappen||What’s the gap behind?|
|52||Verstappen||Mate what’s going on with the battery?|
|52||Lambiase||Gap at 1.2 behind. Battery fine.|
|53||Verstappen||No it’s not. Mate I have no… What the fuck is this?|
|53||Lambiase||Stand by Max.|
|53||Verstappen||It’s just shitting itself.|
|53||Lambiase||Yeah, copy Max, it’s not battery-related.|
|53||Lambiase||We can see the issue, Max, it’s not battery related.|
|53||Verstappen||What do you want me to do?|
|53||Lambiase||There’s not a lot we can do.|
|53||Lambiase||OK try to make it into the pit lane please Max.|
Verstappen suffered a year’s worth of misfortune in a single race in Bahrain and left his race engineer in no doubt how he felt about it. But despite the occasional strong words on the radio, the relationship between the pair remains strong according to the driver.
“I don’t hold back, I say what I think in the car,” said Verstappen. “I was not happy with what we were doing or the balance of the car I had, with the strategy.
“It was not necessarily directed to GP because I have a really good relationship with him. But of course, he’s the only one I can talk to. But we have to analyse quite a few things.”
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