Verstappen suddenly pulled over to the side of the Melbourne circuit on lap 39 while chasing leader Charles Leclerc, saying he could “smell weird fluid” and that the car was “*****ing itself”.
His race over with a fuelling problem, it was the second time in three grands prix this season that the reigning World Champion had failed to finish as a breakdown also cost him a certain second place in Bahrain.
In between, the Dutchman had shown the RB18’s potential by inflicting Leclerc’s only dropped points of the campaign in Saudi Arabia, beating his Ferrari rival by half a second.
With the two DNFs, Verstappen is only sixth in the Drivers’ standings, already a massive 46 adrift of runaway leader Leclerc.
Former F1 driver and now pundit Surer does not think a successful title defence is beyond Verstappen already, but suspects his cause might not have been helped by how his car was put together in Australia.
“With 23 races, it’s actually not that much,” said the 70-year-old Swiss about the 46-point gap during a video interview for formel1.de.
“It sounds like a lot, it makes a bad impression, but on the other hand we have to say he won a race. That means he’s capable of winning and I think that’s the most important thing to learn from it.”
And what of the team?
“Red Bull also know how to make a car fast,” added the man who finished fourth in the 1985 Italian Grand Prix for Brabham.
“They already know where their weaknesses are. So I’m not really worried they will catch up again 100% sooner or later.”
Regarding the specific issue at Albert Park, he added: “What happened is that a line broke, so either they have a weak point in there or it’s been badly fitted. That shouldn’t really happen.
“Either the part was simply too weak or not properly constructed, or what I rather believe, because one [Red Bull] car finished, that probably the assembly was simply sloppy.”
Surer has also noticed Verstappen’s cantankerous mood in the cockpit at this season’s first three races, which he believes is a result of not being fully happy with his car.
“During testing, I thought he seemed incredibly calm and relaxed,” said Surer.
“But now in the races, he is impatient. I think that also has to do with the fact he doesn’t have the superior car he was hoping for.”