Damon Hill thinks Red Bull might be suffering from a "fundamental design weakness" on their Formula 1 cars this year.
The RB19 machines appear to be in a league of their own, in terms of on-track performance. Plenty of their rivals have said as much including Mercedes chief Toto Wolff and driver George Russell, and those statements were backed up by Red Bull's dominance in Bahrain.
Max Verstappen won that race without breaking a sweat and came into this weekend in Jeddah as the man to beat. He went fastest in all three practice sessions and looked a certainty to take pole position for the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix.
But he was thwarted by a mechanical issue. A suspected drive shaft problem during Q2 on Saturday meant he could only qualify 15th for the race, as his mechanics could not fix the problem quickly enough for the Dutchman to set a representative lap time.
The silver lining for Red Bull was that, in Verstappen's absence, Sergio Perez stepped up to take pole position. But 1996 world champion Hill thinks the team might have bigger things to worry about – pointing also to the gearbox issues that both drivers have experienced.
The Sky Sports pundit said of Verstappen's misfortune: "That has put the cat amongst the pigeons. He did have a problem yesterday, with slow shifting and I said something to the effect of sometimes, when that happens, you get damaged gearboxes."
Red Bull changed the gearbox prior to the qualifying session, as Hill pointed out, but he thinks the fact another problem occurred might be indicative of a deeper-lying issue. He added: "If that has happened again, then they have got some sort of fundamental design weakness there."
Sky had another former champion giving his verdict in the form of 2016 title-winner Nico Rosberg. The German struggled to hide how thrilled he was about Verstappen's mechanical issue – not because of any ill will towards the Red Bull racer, but because it might mean more of a competition during the race itself.
Rosberg said: "Unbelievable. This sport, isn't it crazy? When you least expect it, here comes the curveball and Verstappen out of qualifying. He was on for a certain pole position."2023-03-18T21:06:06Z dg43tfdfdgfd