Supercars enjoyed its annual winter vacation, escaping the cold of the southern states of Australia to the Northern Territory for yet another eventful Darwin…
There’s an old saying in horse racing that while you can’t win the race in the first 100 to 200 metres you can certainly lose it.
The same applies to motorsport, in particular winning world titles.
And for Max Verstappen and Red Bull, their DNF in the Australian Grand Prix last weekend might well be curtains for their title defence in the drivers’ championship.
The Dutch driver is now 46 points behind Charles Leclerc after scoring in just one race this season, which was a win, and having two failures to finish.
Now, while there are 20 races to go in the title race and the season is still young, history would suggest that it might be a challenge already for Verstappen to win.
And here is why.
Only twice in the past 20 years has a driver won the drivers’ world title after having three or more retirements during the season.
Verstappen currently has two and by the law of averages in his career, 27 retirements in 144 races, which is one in six, he will have at least another one or two before the season ends.
If he has four, he will become the first driver in the past 20 years to win from that position.
In 2010, when Sebastian Vettel won, and in 2014 when Lewis Hamilton won, both had three DNFs during the season.
In the year Hamilton won, though, his team Mercedes won 16 of the 19 races, so it was either Hamilton or his teammate Nico Rosberg, who won the title.
In the 2010 decider Vettel came back one of the largest deficits in Formula One history to win (more on that later).
The other factor not in Verstappen’s favour is the fact the car has already had mechanical issues and Red Bull and AlphaTauri, their sister team, have also had them with their other drivers.
Teams only have so many power units, gearboxes and other parts they can use before penalties occur when they need to use more than the allotted ones allowed by the FIA.
Verstappen towards the end of the season could be at the back of the grid rather than the front as the reliability impacts the team and they get penalised.
It could hurt his chances of getting much-needed wins.
So, not only does reliability already impact his chances of success historically, it could also be detrimental to his title chances later this year with grid place penalties.
2. Points deficit
Historically, Verstappen is out of the title race if you consider how far back he is.
No one in the history of Formula One has come back from 46 points to win the title.
Not in any era has it happened.
The closest was 39 in 2012 when Vettel came back in the last seven races to claim the title in a dramatic final race.
In 1976, James Hunt came back from 35 points down to beat Nikki Lauda but Lauda did miss races after almost being killed at the German Grand Prix.
In 2010, Vettel came back from 31 points down to win the title with half a dozen races to go.
But in that instance the Red Bull was the fastest car and it was all about putting it together.
You’d argue right now that Red Bull is the second-best team in Formula One behind Ferrari and Ferrari is clear by a little bit.
So, Red Bull need to close the gap and then hope that Ferrari fall behind, which looks unlikely at this stage.
3. Ferrari and Mercedes
While you don’t doubt Red Bull will improve their package to take the fight to the front, the worry is Ferrari and Mercedes might have their match as the field heads to Europe.
Let’s start with Ferrari.
The team has been dominant so far, winning all but one race with Leclerc coming second in that race in Jeddah. And the future races look good for them.
Formula One heads to Imola next, a home ground for Ferrari, before heading to Miami, Spain, Monaco and Azerbaijan.
Ferrari last year claimed pole at Azerbaijan and Monaco, so with a better car you’d expect them to be better and dominant there.
Miami should also suit the Ferrari after the Prancing Horse just found success at similar street circuits in Melbourne and Jeddah.
Spain could be where Red Bull or Mercedes bounce back but Ferrari should still be strong there.
How Verstappen closes the margin is going to be the challenge with the next few tracks suiting Ferrari more after their success last year.
Ferrari will also work hard to maintain their advantage and with Leclerc leading over Carlos Sainz right now, he will get the advantage of being the lead driver, so he will be the favourite to gain the most points and extend his lead.
Then there is Mercedes.
Mercedes, you’d expect, will improve the car and have new upgrades ready to go by Imola.
It is a team that won’t rest on its laurels and will work to get to the top.
Considering that Mercedes is already ahead of Verstappen, with both Hamilton and George Russell, in the drivers championship, and that is bad news for the Red Bull driver.
To get back into the title race you need to win races and hope others steal points from others below.
At the moment it seems that Ferrari is ahead of them and Mercedes might be joining them, it looks a tough challenge for Red Bull and Verstappen to get ahead.
And that makes getting two races back a difficult task.
It isn’t impossible for Verstappen to win but there are a lot of things against him right now.