3 MAX VER­STAP­PEN BREAKS THROUGH

Motor Sport News - - Top 50: Defining Moments -

WHEN: ALL YEAR WHERE: EV­ERY­WHERE

Just over two years ago, the world was ask­ing whether teenager Max Ver­stap­pen was ready for F1. At the end of the 2016 cam­paign, the ques­tion is whether F1 was truly ready for the Flying Dutch­man.

He al­ready had an im­pres­sive maiden sea­son for Toro Rosso along­side Car­los Sainz un­der his belt and scored 31 more points than his Span­ish ri­val.

But the whirl­wind was about to hit top gear in 2016 – thanks, in part, to Daniil Kvyat’s strug­gles with Red Bull. The Russian’s clumsy home grand prix, where he twice can­noned into Se­bas­tian Vet­tel’s Fer­rari dur­ing the fourth round of the sea­son, spelled the end of his time with the top team. He was forced to per­form a swap with Ver­stap­pen and headed to Toro Rosso.

The col­lat­eral dam­age of Ver­stap­pen’s rising star was both Kvyat and Sainz. Both had been leapfrogged in the peck­ing or­der, and it is hard to see how ei­ther of them will truly re­cover from that.

The Ver­stap­pen fairy­tale didn’t stop there: just 10 days af­ter join­ing his new team, he was a grand prix win­ner, prof­it­ing when Lewis Hamil­ton and Nico Ros­berg de­cided to have each other off at the Span­ish grand prix.

From there on, Ver­stap­pen’s star loomed large over F1. Al­though he only out­qual­i­fied team-mate Daniel Ric­cia­rdo six times dur­ing their 17 races to­gether, he did land six other podi­ums along­side his Barcelona break­through and fin­ished fifth in the points ta­ble.

But it wasn’t just the pure re­sults that set Ver­stap­pen apart this sea­son. It was his race­craft – and he wasn’t afraid to ruf­fle feath­ers when he was do­ing it ei­ther.

There had been signs of his prow­ess in 2015, when he had put his Toro Rosso in places that very few other driv­ers would have tried.

But there was even more of that in 2016. Some of the most mem­o­rable mo­ments of the sea­son are the epic over­tak­ing moves, such as the one he pulled on Nico Ros­berg at Sil­ver­stone and the run around the out­side of the world cham­pion elect at In­ter­la­gos.

There were hushed tones af­ter the way he ripped up the race­track in Brazil. His mas­tery in the change­able con­di­tions drew com­par­isons with some of the sport’s truly legendary driv­ers, in­clud­ing Ayr­ton Senna.

He played down those com­par­isons him­self. “It’s very nice that peo­ple say those things, but for me the most im­por­tant thing is just to fo­cus on my­self and stay very neu­tral on all those com­ments,” he said.

“Al­ways try to im­prove your­self and fly high. It’s im­por­tant in the car to stay with two feet on the ground – not only try, just do it.”

Then there was his de­fend­ing that, iron­i­cally, also stirred up mem­o­ries of Senna. He rewrote his own in­ter­pre­ta­tion of the ‘one move un­der brak­ing’ ethos that F1 driv­ers have to ad­here to. His tac­tic was to make a very positive and de­fin­i­tive move, but to do it very late in the brak­ing zone. It cer­tainly pro­voked some fur­rowed brows amongst his ri­vals.

Ver­stap­pen has turned the heads of other driv­ers on the grid and has been a huge hit with the fans too. At the mo­ment, he is at the very start of his ca­reer.

The ques­tion is: how far can he go? It is very likely that he will be oc­cu­py­ing top spot in this list for many years to come. MJ

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