Max Verstappen, Red Bull, Jeddah Corniche Circuit, 2023

Verstappen reveals how hard virus hit him ahead of Saudi Arabian GP

2023 Australian Grand Prix

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Championship leader Max Verstappen says he is looking forward to the break in racing between the Australian Grand Prix and Baku after admitting his illness before Jeddah affected him more than he expected.

Verstappen missed Thursday media commitments in Saudi Arabia after Red Bull announced he had been battling a stomach bug. He returned to the paddock on Friday and completed the race weekend without incident.

Speaking ahead of the Australian Grand Prix this weekend, Verstappen admitted he has still not completely recovered from the effects of his illness and will use the long gap before the next race in Azerbaijan to recover.

“A couple of weeks ago I would say that I was not looking forward to [the break],” Verstappen said. “But then I got really ill and I’ve just been struggling a bit since that time, especially the last race.

“So for me now those three weeks is just getting back to like full fitness, getting a full programme in. So in a way it’s probably nice now.”

The large break in racing was caused by the cancellation of the Chinese Grand Prix due to ongoing logistical complications over Covid. Verstappen says that if he had not been sick, he would not have welcomed the gap in competition.

“Normally if you just feel well, I think I would also prefer to keep racing,” he said.

“It has nothing to do with looking into the car, trying to make it faster – I think that’s a natural process – but it’s a bit weird to have like three weeks off and especially that early on in the season.”

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After missing media day in Jeddah on Thursday, Verstappen dominated the early weekend in Saudi Arabia, topping all three practice sessions and Q1 before a driveshaft failure dropped him to 15th on the grid. In the race, the Red Bull driver recovered to finish on the podium in second behind team mate Sergio Perez.

Verstappen says he underestimated the impact his illness in the lead up to the race weekend in Saudi Arabia would have on his fitness in Jeddah.

“I refused to believe it myself for a long time, because at home I was really ill – I could barely just walk around,” he explained. “I felt like I was just missing a lung.

“I got to the weekend really believing that it was gone, because normally when when you get sick, like two or three days after, you’re normally alright, you can just do your workouts. But then when I jumped in the car in FP1, even just one performance lap I felt like I had to recover for two laps to be able to breathe normally.

“So it definitely did affect me throughout the weekend, which I didn’t like because it was one of the first races where I just felt like I was physically limited and that’s really frustrating when you’re on the car.”

He says he is in better condition for this weekend’s race. “I’ve been trying to work on it, trying to improve it and I do think that it has improved a lot. So normally this weekend should be alright.

“I think it was just all coming together and Jeddah is quite a tough track in general – when you don’t feel well, it hits hard on you. But these things unfortunately happen, you catch a virus and stuff. So hopefully from now onwards for the rest of the year, I should be okay.”

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2023 Australian Grand Prix

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Will Wood
Will has been a RaceFans contributor since 2012 during which time he has covered F1 test sessions, launch events and interviewed drivers. He mainly...

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9 comments on “Verstappen reveals how hard virus hit him ahead of Saudi Arabian GP”

  1. A summer-break-long gap in an early-season phase is abnormal.
    However, this one-off gap is ultimately down to not replacing the Chinese GP despite some limited alternative options existing, even Chinese GP reinstatement after the zero-covid policy ended.
    Oh well, only a one-off thing, so not the world’s end.

  2. I’m guessing they’re all avoiding using the c word? Seems the likely cause of his illness.

    1. No, he didn’t have covid.

    2. Sounds like it, but other sources claim they have tested elaborately and it was not the case. But neither did they state what they did find. So, my colored view is that it was COVID (one of its many variants) but the test just aren’t good enough.

    3. Impossible to tell as it isn’t explicitly stated here. Some COVID-19 variants do cause stomach problems in patients, though fatigue is typical of more “classically” gastrointestinal ailments as well. The comment about “missing a lung” is interesting though.

      Has Max had COVID-15 before? It is known to have deleterious effects on the immune system (among other things) and thus other subsequent infections may present more severely. COVID-15, as a potentially cardiovascular, neurologic and multi-organ disease also presents varied long-term effects.

      Quite early in the (ongoing) pandemic, a “return to play” protocol for professional athletes was devised. Great care should be taken in increasing exertion – slowly. It’s not as simple as merely “pushing through” symptoms or lost performance as sometimes this aggravates the damage.

      There are currently ~25.000 studies on “long covid” but much remains unknown.

    4. How many letters in the c-word?

  3. So, let’s list all his “reasons” for being behind Perez at the end:
    1. Drive shaft and annoying whine
    2. #1 meaning he started 15
    3. Annoying whine during race
    4. Alleged after effects of some bug

    Never mind, the cost cap breach benefits still mean the car is so much faster than all the other teams that even a sick man starting 15th can finish on the podium.

    1. Steve, the message is clear. But I rather turn it around. 13 others could not stop a sick man driving from fifteen’th to second place. I suppose that you are driving 200 MPH in your multi million car and you hear a noise from the back a second time you just say: it is nothing, happens all the time. To the garage? Nah, they would say I am only whining.

    2. I struggle to see why people hold on to this breaching the cost cap advantage narrative. Do people really feel 0.7 to 0.8% overspend delivers such difference? Then Mercedes should have been 15 seconds faster over a single lap vs for instance the Haas in every session before the cap was introduced. I think it is safe to say it is rather the Newey effect, don’t you think?

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