The Italian Grand Prix at Monza is always a spectacle, with its high-speed straights and challenging corners. However, for Max Verstappen, the 2023 race was about more than simply battling his opponents on the track; it was also about dealing with a severe issue with his car.
The Unexpected Challenge
Despite leading the race and looking set for a comfortable victory, Verstappen received an “urgent” radio message from his team, Red Bull Racing, in the closing stages of the Grand Prix. The team instructed him to back off and maintain a distance from the backmarker, Pierre Gasly. This abrupt shift in strategy raised eyebrows and fueled discussion about potential issues with Verstappen’s car.
The Temperature Dilemma
Red Bull’s motorsport advisor, Helmut Marko, later clarified that the concern was related to rising temperatures in Verstappen’s RB19. The team wanted to ensure that certain temperatures remained within a specific window. Marko stated, “It was about keeping the temperatures from rising any further,” Marko explained. There was no need to push the car or take needless risks with Verstappen holding a 12-second advantage. Verstappen’s choice also stopped him from attempting a late fastest lap, which may have put even more strain on the car.
The Bigger Picture
While there was no immediate threat to Verstappen, Red Bull team principal Christian Horner stressed that the decision to slow him down was based on possible concerns if he began following other cars closely, especially in the “stinking hot” circumstances of the day. Running in other automobiles’ “dirty air” may have exacerbated the temperature issues.
Honda’s Power Unit Concerns
The race also began with concerns about the reliability of the Honda power units. Yuki Tsunoda’s AlphaTauri failed to start the race due to an issue during the formation lap. Given that Red Bull also employs Honda engines, there was some concern that Verstappen would suffer similar issues. These worries were soon disregarded, with Marko noting that Tsunoda’s problem was unique to his vehicle and not a widespread Honda issue.
The 2023 Italian Grand Prix emphasised the numerous challenges that drivers and teams experience during a race. It’s not just about speed and strategy; it’s also about dealing with unforeseen situations and making crucial decisions in real time that might be the difference between win and defeat. Verstappen and Red Bull’s ability to immediately adjust to the situation and achieve a safe finish, despite possible hazards, proves the team’s resilience and experience.