Ver­stap­pen wary of talk­ing up ti­tle chances in 2017

Daily Local News (West Chester, PA) - - SPORTS - By Jerome Pugmire

fa­vor. But he is cau­tious as to whether Red Bull will be quick enough to break the to­tal stran­gle­hold Mercedes has en­joyed for the past three sea­sons.

“At the mo­ment it’s a bit dif­fi­cult to say what ex­actly what I want to achieve for next year be­cause you don’t know what the pack­ages are,” Ver­stap­pen said Thurs­day. “We’re all very pos­i­tive about next year, but I think it’s im­por­tant to just wait and see when the car gets to the track.”

De­spite his young age, Ver­stap­pen al­ready has seven podium fin­ishes and drives with the as­sur­ance of a con­tender.

When aged 18, he won the Span­ish GP in May — his first race for Red Bull af­ter switch­ing from Toro Rosso early on this sea­son.

Ver­stap­pen fol­lowed that up by be­com­ing the youngest driver to start on the front row by qual­i­fy­ing in sec­ond place for the Bel­gian GP in Au­gust.

His dar­ing and flam­boy­ant over­tak­ing makes him no­ticed among fans and ri­vals alike.

But his abra­sive, ag­gres­sive style also puts him at odds with other driv­ers, no­tably Fer­rari duo Se­bas­tian Vet­tel and Kimi Raikko­nen.

Ver­stap­pen has ver­bally clashed with both this year.

Dur­ing the Mex­i­can GP, Vet­tel was fu­ri­ous that Ver­stap­pen had made an il­le­gal move. Red Bull ad­vised Ver­stap­pen — but did not or­der him — to yield po­si­tion to Vet­tel as a show of sports­man­ship.

Ver­stap­pen ig­nored the call.

Vet­tel cursed in his car ra­dio and, af­ter the check­ered flag, drove up be­side Ver­stap­pen and wagged his finger. Ver­stap­pen re­sponded by shak­ing his fist and later call­ing the four­time world cham­pion “a very frus­trated guy, shout­ing on the ra­dio like a child.”

But af­ter his per­for­mance in Brazil, the F1 pad­dock was united in talk­ing about Ver­stap­pen’s driv­ing skills.

In Brazil he came back to the pits late in the race af­ter mis­judg­ing which tires to use on the treach­er­ously wet track.

When he came back out on new tires, Ver­stap­pen was down in 16th place, yet he sliced through the field to fin­ish third.

“We wit­nessed some­thing very spe­cial,” Red Bull team prin­ci­pal Chris­tian Horner said. “The way he drove was out­stand­ing. It stands out to me like Ayr­ton Senna in Monaco and other great drives in history.”

High praise in­deed, al­though the un­flap­pable Ver­stap­pen — as usual — has taken it in his stride.

“I was def­i­nitely en­joy­ing my­self in Brazil,” he said. “But I’m not sure if it has changed some­thing for me per­son­ally in terms of my rep­u­ta­tion.”

He cred­its his han­dling skills in wet con­di­tions to his kart­ing days as a ju­nior and some key early tu­tor­ing from his fa­ther Jos Ver­stap­pen — who drove in more than 100 F1 races dur­ing his ca­reer.

“He was help­ing me a lot, espe­cially when I was six or seven years old,” Ver­stap­pen said. “He was even stand­ing on the track show­ing me where to drive, try­ing to find dif­fer­ent lines, and that def­i­nitely helped me a lot out there in Brazil.”

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