“We are behind,” the Dutchman said after qualifying. “We lack grip and engine power.”
The team has been warning for weeks that it is not on the top two teams’ pace yet, but the situation may have been made worse by news the FIA recently told Red Bull to remove its trick suspension system.
“No, for us it didn’t matter. Everything is exactly the same,” Verstappen insisted when asked about the suspension situation.
“The fact is that the suspension did not change since the winter tests. We need to analyse everything and try to do it all better.”
One problem, for instance, is that Renault is still struggling with its winter reliability problems, while a major performance upgrade has now been delayed from May to June.
And according to Italy’s Autosprint, team boss Christian Horner said after qualifying in Melbourne: “Mercedes and Ferrari have their ‘magic button’ and we don’t have one yet.”
But team official Dr Helmut Marko admitted the problem is not just Renault’s fault.
“We have problems with the chassis,” he told Auto Motor und Sport. “In the tests we realised that our car is incredibly sensitive, with only the slightest deviation in setup leading to a serious loss of laptime.”
Verstappen added: “At the moment we don’t know all the reasons for our problems. If we knew, we would already be fixing it.”
Daniel Ricciardo succumbed to the Red Bull’s handling by crashing in qualifying, but Marko said the team can now react to its issues “in a reasonable amount of time”.
However, Verstappen warned: “We’re missing a second, and you normally don’t solve that overnight.”