Max Verstappen’s slow start to the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix was caused by his Formula 1 Renault engine going into a “safe mode” due to overheating, according to Red Bull.

Verstappen started the season-ending race at Yas Marina sixth on the grid and was expected to make early progress given he was the only driver in the top six to start on Pirelli’s fastest available compound, the Hypersoft.

But the Dutchman bogged down shortly after his launch and was swamped into Turn 1 by Romain Grosjean, Charles Leclerc, Nico Hulkenberg and Esteban Ocon’s Force India as he fell to 10th.

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Red Bull believes a long wait for the lights to go out on the grid played a role as Verstappen’s Renault engine temperatures rose beyond the limit and triggered an extra ‘safe mode’ installed by the French manufacturer to help combat reliability issues.

“It was a tough race,” Red Bull team principal Christian Horner said.

“It was a long holding grid and the engine temperatures started to creep and creep and creep, and his engine, all the alarms were supposedly disabled.

“I think Renault have put in a couple of extra safety issues or software stuff, which actually happened with Daniel [Ricciardo, who stopped at the end of FP3] when we had the issue on Friday as a precaution on the engine.

“Unfortunately his engine crept up to the limit and it went into a safe mode. He had initially a very good start but went into a safe mode, then passed Ocon and then it went into a safe mode again.

“It was only when things got running properly that the temperatures all came under control and obviously by that point Renault were able to disable the alarm as well.”

Verstappen ultimately recovered from his poor start to complete the podium in third place, capping off a strong end to the season with his fifth consecutive rostrum appearance.

“The launch was good but then the engine went into like a safety programme and I had it again on the re-start afterwards,” Verstappen explained.

“It was not easy but we managed to go back into a good position, putting pressure on the guys ahead.”

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