Max Verstappen endured what was possibly his toughest race of the season so far, as the championship leader failed to claim his second Drivers’ Championship at the first opportunity.
Whilst Verstappen finished seventh, the majority of the questions he was asked by the media had nothing to do with the race or even the World Championship, with ‘Cashgate’ being the dominating topic throughout the weekend.
It is believed that Red Bull and Aston Martin exceeded the budget cap last season by some margin, something which has been denied by the Austrians.
Team principal Christian Horner is certain that everything is fine, whereas Mercedes and Ferrari both believe that the Milton Keynes-based side are guilty.
The FIA are set to award certificates this Wednesday to the teams who successfully kept within the budget cap; only then will the paddock truly know if the Constructors’ Leaders are guilty.
Should they be found guilty of exceeding the budget cap, then a punishment will be decided on by the FIA.
These range from fines to a reduction in wind tunnel time; however, the big problem for Red Bull and Verstappen is that another potential punishment is a points deduction.
Should this punishment be awarded, then there is the possibility that Verstappen will be stripped of his 2021 Drivers’ Championship, making Sir Lewis Hamilton an eight-time World Champion.
The Dutchman was asked if he’s concerned over the growing speculation, and the prospect of having his first title taken away from him.
“What I hear from the team is that everything was done correctly,” Verstappen is quoted by De Telegraaf.
“I don’t value it. I know where it comes from and which people are complaining about it.”
The situation which has been dubbed ‘Cashgate’ has dominated both print and online media, with it set to be one of the biggest scandals in the history of the sport.
It could, as previously said, have huge ramifications on the 2021 World Championship.
Verstappen has “no fear” of his title being taken, and criticised the English media for explaining the possibility that he could be dethroned as the 2021 World Champion
“Yes, especially in England I am not surprised,” he said, when asked if he’s not surprised at the rumours he might lose his championship.
“But I have no fear of it. It is the other teams talking when they cannot have all the information.
“I think that’s a bit stupid. What do I think? Just shut-up.”
Whilst it was chaos for Red Bull off the track, it was equally chaotic on the track for Verstappen.
The Dutchman had a very messy race by his impeccable standards, which included, dropping from eighth to twelfth after at first narrowly avoiding going into anti-stall, but then cutting across the first corner to avoid a collision.
Verstappen was almost then pushed into the wall by Kevin Magnussen on the exit of Turn 11, before settling into a rhythm and making his way through the field to sixth.
The race nearly ended for the championship leader again when behind Lando Norris, after the Red Bull driver attempted to time the ending of a Virtual Safety Car to perfection, but instead nearly went into the back of his friend.
Norris proved a real stumbling block for Verstappen, who ended up dropping outside the points with 34 minutes of the race remaining following the end of a full Safety Car after Yuki Tsunoda crashed.
At the time of the restart all the remaining drivers were on a dry compound; however, this meant that Verstappen locked-up massively when attempting to dive down the inside of the McLaren driver at Turn Seven, after having to go on the wet side of the circuit.
This saw the 25-year-old go straight off at the corner and into the runoff area, where he performed a brilliant U-turn before hunting the pack once again.
By the end of the race he had managed to salvage seventh place but saw his chance of winning the championship incredibly early end.
He can still win the title at the Japanese Grand Prix; however, will need to beat both Charles Leclerc and Sergio Pérez to do so.
The Dutchman would’ve most likely been fighting for victory had it not been for a catastrophic mistake in qualifying, which saw him abort his final Q3 flying lap.
Red Bull made a monumental error in that they failed to put enough fuel in Verstappen’s RB18, which resulted in the team calling their number one driver into the pits before he completed his final lap.
Had he completed the lap, then he would’ve been unable to produce a fuel sample, which would’ve resulted in a disqualification from the session.
Red Bull advisor Dr Helmut Marko explained the issue and admitted that it’s “not just Ferrari” who makes mistakes”.
“We had only refuelled for five laps,” Dr Helmut Marko explained.
“If we hadn’t come in, they would have disqualified us.
“Things like that can happen – it’s not just Ferrari,” he joked. “But here of course it is doubly bitter.”
Verstappen was absolutely livid over the radio and was heard shouting at his side for the enormous error.
The language Verstappen used over the radio certainly wasn’t PG, has he explained after qualifying on Saturday that he predicted a tough race, after the “unacceptable” blunder.
“I don’t think I can get on the podium. It’s so difficult to overtake here,” the Dutchman told Canal Plus after qualifying.
“It’s a bit like Monaco. You have to try to follow and try something on the strategy. I think tomorrow I will be saying that I was blocked by the cars in front of me.
“Of course I’m not entirely happy with what went on. I know that Formula 1 is a team sport and I can make a mistake, the team can make a mistake.
“But this is always unacceptable.”
The way he spoke to his team was shocking, even though, his anger was understandable.
It gave the impression that Verstappen wants this championship wrapped up as soon as possible, with every race it gets delayed by increasing Leclerc’s minute chance.
Despite his reaction on Saturday, the Red Bull driver is admant that he doesn’t “feel any pressure”.
“I let it all come to me. I don’t feel any pressure,” Verstappen insisted.
“I also think it is right to take a critical position. If I screw up, the team can tell me about it too.
“We want to be perfect. Not just good, but perfect.”