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Australian GP shows Red Bull face a season-long PROBLEM

Australian GP shows Red Bull face a season-long PROBLEM

Australian GP shows Red Bull face a season-long PROBLEM

Australian GP shows Red Bull face a season-long PROBLEM

Max Verstappen's class-of-the-field racing performances have become a given in recent seasons.

The Dutch racer now boasts three world championships, with two won in some of the most dominant fashion the sport has seen.

READ MORE: F1 team boss teases SHOCK 'talks' with Verstappen

It's no surprise that Red Bull Racing looks equally as controlling as their 26-year-old ace, but the 2024 Australian GP suggests it's not as clear-cut as the results show.

The Milton Keynes team suffered their worst point score in Melbourne on Sunday since their pointless season-opening 2022 round.

READ MORE: Marko hits out at POOR Ricciardo pace compared to team-mate

Problems for Perez

Perez finished Australia in P5

After a busy day for Sergio Perez, the Mexican crossed the line in P5, overtaking both Aston Martins and George Russell's Mercedes, but only finishing one place higher than he started.

When the team become a one-car squad with an Adrian Newey-designed feat of engineering underneath their remaining pilot, a distant P5 isn't a good look.

It's not breaking news that Perez does not turn in performances like Verstappen on anything like a regular basis, so it's no surprise he didn't win.

However, the team reported their sole remaining car suffered underfloor damage in Australia, somewhat explaining the discrepancy.

In an era where the downforce generated by ground-effect aerodynamics is essential for cornering, it's undeniable that a car won't perform as strongly with underfloor problems.

The culprit Red Bull Racing's Team Principal Christian Horner pointed to was a stuck tear-off under the car.

While the number of ruined races these small flaps of plastic have caused continues to grow, the sceptic in me can't help but wonder how Verstappen would've coped in the same scenario.

The Dutchman had smoke billowing from his right-rear wheel, which eventually met a fiery and explosive end.

And yet the reigning champion kept close to Carlos Sainz for the entire lap after the Spaniard passed him — despite essentially racing with a three-wheeled car.

READ MORE: Ricciardo set to be replaced at Japanese Grand Prix

Damining data from Down Under

Perez's lost Melbourne performance

Checking the lap times that Perez clocked around the tear-off's unwelcome addition to his car doesn't help the Mexican's cause.

Perez enjoyed the benefits of the slipstream and DRS in his recovery drive forward after his pit stop, taking times (mostly) in the mid-high 1:21s aside from the Lewis Hamilton-induced Virtual Safety Car period.

Following his pass on Fernando Alonso, when the underfloor damage reportedly came, those laps dropped into the low 1:22s, around half a second slower than when he had cars ahead of him.

As well as not enjoying any tow, distant or otherwise, the 34-year-old also had hard compound tyres with 13 laps of use to their name.

For comparison, he (mostly) ran in the mid-1:20s for the first 15 laps of his final stint before slowing to mid-1:21s as the race approached its ending under the Virtual Safety Car - a one-second drop with no new underfloor damage reported.

I don't have the data Red Bull has, so I can only look at the lap times by Perez, but I'm not sold that his lack of pace is solely due to downforce loss.

Whether or not it's true, it's a convenient line for the team to use on their worst weekend in over two years.

Especially when another possible explanation might make their future success seem terrifyingly fragile in such a turbulent driver market...

READ MORE: Mercedes driver suggests Hamilton struggles could be irreversible

Red Bull Racing is a one-man team

Verstappen is Red Bulls champion

The level Verstappen operates in F1 right now is approaching alien readings; he's twice achieved nine consecutive race wins so easily that it feels inevitable he'll beat his own record of 10 successive victories.

In Verstappen's latest period of domination, Perez has claimed just three podiums, two in 2024.

Perez also hasn't secured a pole position since Miami in May last year, even though his all-conquering teammate failed to qualify first on seven occasions since.

Rubens Barrichello and Valtteri Bottas also could not best their championship-dominating teammate.

Yet they were the safe pair of hands to call upon should the driver on the other side of the garage suffer a mechanical problem or have an off weekend.

You got the impression that either could have an Eddie Irvine-esque push for the championship if the circumstances called for it and the team put all their energy behind them, but I don't see that at Red Bull Racing with their number two driver.

Judging by Perez's performance, tear-off or no tear-off, the 2024 Australian GP would put the championship-winning team around par with, or just below, Ferrari and McLaren.

It's already been said that Verstappen made the difference in 2023, not Red Bull. F1's Melbourne afternoon suggests that's still the case in 2024.

The team must hope this shock mechanical unreliability for Verstappen isn't the start of more woes because they already have something unreliable in the cockpit on the other side of their garage.

READ MORE: Mercedes F1 star will 'MISS' Japanese Grand Prix

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