Red Bull’s ‘Mad Max’ Ver­stap­pen adds flair and drama to F1

Malta Independent - - SPORT -

It’s been a wild sea­son for young Max Ver­stap­pen. The tal­ented Dutch teenager has been pro­moted to Red Bull, be­come the youngest win­ner in For­mula One his­tory and bick­ered with some of the top teams and driv­ers in the sport. His ag­gres­sive tac­tics have even prompted a rules clar­i­fi­ca­tion for safety. “Mad Max” is brash, won’t be in­tim­i­dated and to many, he’s a much-needed dose of ex­cite­ment for For­mula One and a fu­ture cham­pion. The kid seized on his chance to be fast and fa­mous and won’t let go. “Why wait?” Ver­stap­pen said. “I have a great car, a great team, and I want it all as quickly as pos­si­ble.” Ver­stap­pen is squeez­ing ev­ery­thing he can into this sea­son as For­mula One races this week in Mex­ico City. At the U.S. Grand Prix in Texas last week, Ver­stap­pen pro­vided days of drama wor­thy of a 19-year-old still learn­ing how to nav­i­gate a grown-up sport. The teams had barely left Ja­pan two weeks ear­lier when Mercedes con­sid­ered, then opted not to file a com­plaint over his de­fen­sive moves against Lewis Hamil­ton in a brak­ing zone. Ver­stap­pen fin­ished sec­ond and Hamil­ton’s third-place fin­ish pushed him fur­ther back in the 2016 ti­tle chase against team­mate Nico Ros­berg. By the time driv­ers got to Austin, sev­eral used their Fri­day meet­ing to com­plain about their pre­co­cious ri­val. Hav­ing heard sim­i­lar com­ments sev­eral times this sea­son, For­mula One of­fi­cials is­sued a rule clar­i­fi­ca­tion: block­ing dur­ing brak­ing would be deemed il­le­gal and pun­ished. It took about 10 min­utes for the me­dia to call it the “Ver­stap­pen Rule.” He shrugged. “Maybe they can get past (me), now,” Ver­stap­pen said. Con­flicts have also flared in the Red Bull garage. After get­ting an early warn­ing dur­ing the race to save his tires, Ver­stap­pen barked over his car ra­dio that he’s “not here to fin­ish fourth!” A few laps later, he mis­tak­enly went into a pit stop with­out a team or­der. He was out of the race a few laps later with a gear­box prob­lem. Even that dis­rupted team­mate Daniel Ric­cia­rdo. Un­able to race but still mo­bile, Ver­stap­pen tried to nurse his car around the track be­fore he even­tu­ally pulled over and stopped. That brought out a yel­low flag, which meant Ric­cia­rdo lost valu­able time in his bat­tle for sec­ond with Ros­berg. Ric­cia­rdo fin­ished third. “When I saw Max out there, I thought, ‘Ah hell, my boy’s done it again.’ That was a dev­as­tat­ing mo­ment, but we’ll keep sol­dier­ing on,” Ric­cia­rdo said. Team lead­er­ship was amused. “We have 80 en­gi­neers and strate­gists, but it’s all use­less if a driver de­cides alone to come into the pits,” Red Bull rac­ing con­sul­tant Hel­mut Marko told Au­toweek. Ver­stap­pen is the son of race driver Jos Ver­stap­pen, who made 106 ca­reer For­mula One starts, and his tal­ent caught a lot of at­ten­tion from teams grow­ing up. Mercedes team prin­ci­pal Toto Wolff tried to sign Ver­stap­pen when he was 14 be­fore Red Bull snagged him. Wolff, whose driv­ers are chas­ing each other for the team’s third con­sec­u­tive cham­pi­onship, has not al­ter­nately called Ver­stap­pen “re­fresh­ing” and “dan­ger­ous” and has even com­pared him to For­mula One’s revered Ayr­ton Senna. “He comes in here with no fear, no re­spect, puts the el­bows out,” Wolff said ear­lier this sea­son. That ap­proach has worn thin on some teams, most no­tably Fer­rari and its two for­mer world cham­pion driv­ers Se­bas­tian Vet­tel and Kimi Raikko­nen. Raikko­nen has warned Ver­stap­pen could cause a “mas­sive ac­ci­dent” with his driv­ing. But Ver­stap­pen’s crit­ics have done most of their shout­ing at him from the rear. Be­fore his car failed him in Texas, Ver­stap­pen fin­ished sec­ond in Malaysia and Ja­pan. His five podium fin­ishes in the last 10 races are three more than Vet­tel and Raikko­nen com­bined. And back in Spain, when the Mercedes cars knocked each other out in a first-lap crash, Ver­stap­pen leaped to the front and doggedly held off Raikko­nen for his first ca­reer vic­tory in his first race for Red Bull. Ver­stap­pen drives with swag­ger and a win Sun­day in Mex­ico would come on his 20th birth­day. His crit­ics have done lit­tle dam­age to his con­fi­dence or skills be­hind the wheel. “No,” Ver­stap­pen said. “I am a grown-up boy.”

Max Ver­stap­pen had a bril­liant sea­son Photo: AP

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Malta

© PressReader. All rights reserved.