Ver­stap­pen ready to play desert ‘king­maker’

Kuwait Times - - SPORTS -

A teenager who passed his driv­ing test lit­tle more than a year ago, Max Ver­stap­pen is the ex­trav­a­gantly-tal­ented ‘out­sider’ set to cre­ate an up­set in the fi­nal out­come of this year’s For­mula One world cham­pi­onship this week­end.

If the 19-year-old Red Bull racer can win to­day’s keenly-an­tic­i­pated Abu Dhabi Grand Prix or split Mercedes duo Nico Ros­berg and Lewis Hamil­ton, who are duelling for the ti­tle, he may well be cast in the role of ‘king maker’ in F1’s chron­i­cle.

Ger­man Nico Ros­berg, who has won nine races this year, needs only to fin­ish on the podium to clinch his maiden cham­pi­onship even if Lewis Hamil­ton claims his 10th win of the sea­son. If not, and Hamil­ton wins, de­fend­ing cham­pion will claim his fourth. “I think Max might be­come one of my best friends,” this week­end, joked 31-year-old Bri­ton Hamil­ton. Ros­berg, also 31, man­aged a wry grin. He knows that if Hamil­ton is lead­ing the race, it may be quite a battle to keep the young Dutch­man and his Red Bull team-mate Aus­tralian Daniel Ric­cia­rdo be­hind him.

“I am only in­ter­ested in win­ning and noth­ing else,” said Ver­stap­pen. “It is up to the cham­pi­onship con­tenders to run their own races. I want to beat them and win and what­ever hap­pens, the cham­pion will be the one who de­serves it in the end.”

Ver­stap­pen, the son of a for­mer F1 racer, has proved al­ready that he has the abil­ity to win races, break records and em­bar­rass for­mer cham­pi­ons and se­nior team-mates with­out break­ing sweat.

In May this year he be­came the youngest win­ner of a Grand Prix when he tri­umphed at the Cir­cuit de Catalunya in Spain at the age of 18 years and 228 days, one of only two races not won by a Mercedes driver - the other went to Ver­stap­pen’s Red Bull team-mate Ric­cia­rdo in Malaysia. That achieve­ment meant he dis­placed four-time cham­pion Se­bas­tian Vet­tel, who has many times since clashed with the young Dutch­man and fre­quently lost his tem­per. If his Span­ish win was a vic­tory gifted by a col­li­sion be­tween the two dom­i­nant Mercedes cars, he has long since shown he needs no spe­cial favours to suc­ceed and im­press. In a se­ries of spec­tac­u­lar drives, he has mixed ag­gres­sion with pre­ci­sion and provoca­tive block­ing moves with out­stand­ing skill to es­tab­lish him­self as a cham­pion-in-wait­ing just six months af­ter switch­ing from peren­nial mid­field­ers Toro Rosso to for­mer cham­pi­ons Red Bull. His win in Spain was de­liv­ered with as­ton­ish­ing aplomb on his de­but with his new team and came af­ter only 23 out­ings in an F1 car. Many ob­servers be­lieve that a sim­i­lar per­for­mance or, if needed, a re­peat of his stun­ning wet weather rush to the podium in Brazil could carry him into a po­si­tion to in­flu­ence the des­ti­na­tion of this year’s drivers’ ti­tle. His per­for­mance in Sao Paulo where he re­cov­ered from 16th to fin­ish third in tor­ren­tial rain was praised as one of the great­est wet-weather drives in the his­tory of the sport.

On Fri­day, he was less spec­tac­u­lar as he strug­gled slightly with tyre de­grad­ing and en­gine power prob­lems to take fourth place at the end of two free prac­tice ses­sions. He was also blocked on one of his best laps, an in­con­ve­nience that he said cost him at least twotenths of a sec­ond and left him half a sec­ond off Hamil­ton’s fastest pace.

“I think it will be tight here,” said Ver­stap­pen. “Fer­rari is look­ing quite strong here this week­end, but I am sure we can be stronger.”Ver­stap­pen is try­ing not only to claim a podium fin­ish, or win. He is also keen to claim fourth place in the drivers’ cham­pi­onship in which, be­fore the race, he is just five points be­hind Vet­tel - the man with whom he has had a se­ries of run-ins and rows.

The most no­table came in Mex­ico last month when Vet­tel erupted into a wild rant lit­tered with swear words af­ter Ver­stap­pen had moved to de­fend his po­si­tion in the fi­nal laps when the Fer­rari driver was at­tempt­ing to pass him. In the end, both men were de­moted from third place af­ter the race and Ric­cia­rdo in the sec­ond Red Bull was pro­moted to fin­ish be­hind the two Mercedes men.— AFP

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