Despite once again being interrupted by the ongoing global pandemic, another season of the Supercars championship has been run and done, culminating in the Great Race at Mount Panorama.
As Daniel Ricciardo basks in the glory of victory at Monaco, teammate Max Verstappen returns to his Principality apartment lamenting another missed opportunity from an unforced error.
The Australian’s second victory of the season contrasts to Verstappen’s fraught campaign to date, which has yielded just a single podium from six starts, despite convention suggesting that the Dutchman would form the nucleus of Red Bull’s next championship bid.
The 20-year-old has endured incidents of varying significance each event at his own hands and following a lowly ninth place on the weekend – having started at the rear of the grid after missing qualifying due to a crash in the closing minutes of the final practice session – his title prospects appear remote.
Now over two years and 66 Grands Prix starts since Verstappen’s whirlwind ascension to a Red Bull seat and famous victory on debut for the Milton Keynes outfit, he continues to make mistakes associated with rookies to the degree that a clean weekend is now surprising.
Even Helmut Marko is growing restless on account of his most recent setback, remarking to the BBC, “He has to learn not always to drive flat out”, while describing his accident – a near carbon copy of his 2016 shunt – as “a very unnecessary one”.
Marko said Verstappen “needs to be more patient, judge the situations better”, though the Austrian stopped short of admitting that his protégé has a fundamental problem, reiterating his belief that his indiscretions “are all because he is impatient”.
At a time when his teammate is negotiating his options beyond 2018, Verstappen’s performances – or lack thereof, as Ricciardo repeatedly extracts optimal results – have created a headache for Red Bull in settling its future direction.
Having collided with former driver Sebastian Vettel at China, and displaying stubborn combat with Ricciardo at Azerbaijan, culminating in inevitable friendly fire, Verstappen is on an increasingly short leash, with the team consigned to a distant third in the constructors’ standings.
It’s unthinkable that it will come to pass, that just as Daniil Kvyat was ejected one race following a podium, Verstappen has enjoyed considerably more reprieves without repercussions, yet Red Bull would be reluctant to promote Pierre Gasly from Toro Rosso too soon, despite the Frenchman’s impressive results.
Hypothetically speaking, Carlos Sainz’s presence at the junior outfit – the Spaniard having debuted alongside Verstappen in 2015 – could have facilitated a like-for-like temporary switch, which would have allowed the Dutchman to cool his heels in a familiar environment.
Whether this would have entailed a single race, until the midseason break, or in the most extreme instance – for the balance of the season if Red Bull really wanted to prove a point – is another question. Alas, Sainz is ‘on loan’ at Renault so any discussion is moot.
Red Bull look as dangerous as at any point in the hybrid era, though remains wanting due to the prophesied wunderkind still not appreciating his time and place, and until he does so – whether autonomously or forcibly instilled in him – will continue to confound.
It can take years for champions to emerge and conversely weeks and days for pretenders to be chewed out. Verstappen sits firmly in the former camp at the moment, but this shouldn’t be mistaken for a lifetime pass to be reckless.
Soon enough the buck will stop with him and he better be prepared.