'It was like I was missing a lung' – Verstappen reveals sapping illness hit Saudi hopes as champion eyes F1 break
Max Verstappen is relieved there is a break in the Formula One calendar coming up as the drivers' champion battles back from an illness that left him feeling as thought one lung was incapacitated.
The Red Bull driver, seeking a third consecutive title this season, was left stricken ahead of the last race in Saudi Arabia and only just hauled himself together to be able to compete.
In the end, he pulled out something special, finishing second after starting in 15th place on the grid, having dropped out in Q2 due to a mechanical failure.
Verstappen also retained his place at the top of the drivers' season standings by recording the race's fastest lap right at the death, so he leads the way heading into this weekend's Australian Grand Prix.
After competing in Melbourne, there will be a break before F1 resumes in Azerbaijan across the April 28-30 weekend, a gap that was created by the cancellation of a planned race in China.
Three clear weeks without competition should allow Verstappen to get back on an even keel, although he signalled the worst of the illness has already passed.
"I was not looking forward to the break, but then I got really ill and have just been struggling a bit since that time, especially last race out," Verstappen said.
"So I think for me now these three weeks are just about getting back to full fitness, getting a full programme in."
Reflecting on his tough experience prior to racing in Jeddah two weeks ago, Verstappen said: "At home I was really ill, I could barely just walk around. It felt like I was just missing a lung, and I got to the weekend really believing that it was gone.
"Normally when you get sick like two, three days after, you’re normally all right – you can just do your workouts – but then when I jumped into the car in FP1, even just one performance lap, I felt like I had to recover for two laps to be able to breathe normally."
He added: "It definitely did affect me throughout the weekend, which I didn't like. It was one of the first races where I felt I was physically limited, and that's really frustrating when you're in the car.
"Since then I've been trying to work on it, trying to improve it, and I do think it has improved a lot, so this weekend should be all right."
Verstappen has yet to have a win at the Australian Grand Prix, with third place in 2019 being his best finish to date.
The 2020 and 2021 editions were cancelled because of the COVID-19 pandemic, and last year Verstappen retired from the race at Albert Park as Charles Leclerc claimed a dominant victory for Ferrari.