Max Verstappen’s engine upgrade was not kept as a secret from Daniel Ricciardo says Red Bull, even after the Australian heard about it from the media.
Verstappen was fitted with Renault’s new-spec engine which has a few 2018 development parts. The upgrade is expected to be worth up to two-tenths of a second when coupled with the right fuel components. Ricciardo got to know about the upgraded package only after the qualifying race and was surprised to hear about the small performance advantage of the new engine.
The secrecy surrounding the upgrade has given rise to a conspiracy theory about Red Bull playing favourites with Verstappen while ignoring Ricciardo. Verstappen signing a new contract with Red Bull intensified the rumour.
The Austrian team asserted that they did not inform the Australian about the new engine as they expected the gain to be very minimal.
“It is very difficult for us to measure what the difference is,” said Red Bull boss Christian Horner. “Renault have only made one engine available to each team and Max was due a change here.
“So obviously it made logical sense for that to go in his car this weekend and then take the penalty.
“The intention with Daniel, and it is still the intention, is to not to have to take a penalty between now and the end of the season.”
When asked if the team intentionally hid the engine change from Ricciardo because of the performance gain, Horner said: “The spec is so marginal. We cannot measure the difference. It is within a fuel flow meter, so it is the same.”
In Austin, Ricciardo’s engine shut down due to an oil leak and was forced to retire. If the oil leak had not happened, Ricciardo would have surely got a podium finish, says Horner.
“Daniel was losing oil with the engine and then it went into a safe mode. So I hope that that engine is salvageable.
“It is a great shame because he was hustling Valtteri [Bottas] very hard and looked very competitive at the beginning of the race. I think he would have been on the podium quite straightforward.”