Having looked strong in testing, during qualifying, and challenging for the race lead, world champion Max Verstappen was struck first with a steering issue and then power failure from his RB18 in the final stages of the 2022 Bahrain Grand Prix.
With Verstappen having ceded a podium, his teammate Sergio Perez then suffered total engine shutdown while defending from Lewis Hamilton, spinning out at turn one as the rear axle locked and handing Red Bull a sickening double retirement.
Earlier in the race, sister team AlphaTauri saw one of its cars go up in flames as Pierre Gasly retired with instant power failure, flames licking at the engine cover of his AT03.
Three ‘Honda’ engined cars going pop, then. Strictly, Honda has left the sport so the engines are now rebadged as Red Bull Powertrains, but they’re still Honda by descent. So, what went wrong?
Red Bull team boss Christian Horner said: “It looks suspiciously like the failures are related to each other, and it may be an issue with the fuel system.” The fuel feeder pump itself is an FIA-mandated part that’s identical for all the cars, but there has been chatter in the paddock that the new E10-rated fuel (which is 10% eco biofuel) can get rather hot in the later stages of the race while lying in the tank, and cause a failure in the fuel supply system.
This would explain why Verstappen and Perez both seemed to go from running on top pace to having power failure so rapidly. Gasly’s cause of retirement is currently down as ‘overheating.’ Well, yeah. The car was on fire.
Perez said: “It was going to be a great start to the season, but unfortunately, we didn’t manage to get the result we were hoping for. It is very disappointing to not be able to execute the result we wanted; we had the podium in our pocket until the last lap.
“A couple of laps before the end, I could feel I was losing power, we knew there was an issue and we knew what had happened with Max. I had a similar issue to his car, at the moment we think it was a fuel system problem and basically the engine just stopped.”
Verstappen echoed his colleague’s disappointment, saying: “The problems started initially with the brakes—they were overheating so I had to lift off and as a result I lost pace and had to let Charles [Leclerc of Ferrari] go. After that, there were still a few issues with car balance, and after my final pit stop, my steering wheel was locked.
"That made it very difficult to drive, so defending from Carlos [Sainz Jr. of Ferrari] at the restart wasn’t easy. The final issue looked like a fuel system problem, which is why I had to retire and it was extremely painful for both our cars to DNF.”
After Ferrari scored its first one-two finish since 2019, Mercedes grabbed more points than expected with a three-four result, and Red Bull struck out, the 2022 championship is already a bit more topsy-turvy than last year’s.
Who’s your money on after the first race? One down, 22 to go…
NOTE: This article first appeared on TopGear.com. Minor edits have been made.