What’s gone wrong for Max Verstappen?
The controversial 20-year-old driver was again at the centre of attention at the Azerbaijan Grand Prix after a collision with his Red Bull teammate Daniel Ricciardo. Will the Dutchman ever be able to control his reckless nature? By Luke Barry
We are all familiar with the phrase ‘form is temporary, class is permanent’. The problem is though, has Max Verstappen ever showed class?
This might come across as a rather scathing assessment of the man that has lit up Formula 1 in the turbo-hybrid era. At just 20 years of age, the Dutchman has already won three Grands Prix and provided most of the on-track action since his debut for Toro Rosso three years ago.
His talent is sublime. You need only watch his mastery of the rain in the 2016 Brazilian Grand Prix to grasp an idea of the skill Verstappen possesses. He made world champions look like amateurs.
There’s a reason he is constantly touted as a world champion of tomorrow, but there’s always been a stigma around him. Much like Ayrton Senna, the line between fair racing and ruthlessness is somewhat blurry with the Dutchman, with his on-track etiquette coming under fire on numerous occasions, particularly this season.
In the second race of the season in Bahrain, he edged Lewis Hamilton right off the circuit on the exit of Turn 1, a needless manoeuvre given he had already got his nose ahead. Worse still, the two made contact which caused damage to Verstappen’s Red Bull.
In China, he was again making headlines for the wrong reasons. An audacious move around the outside of Hamilton failed to come off, while a daft lunge up the inside of Sebastian Vettel caused a collision which was clumsy at best. All this while teammate Daniel Ricciardo judged his overtaking to perfection, winning the race with a brilliant pass on Mercedes’ Valtteri Bottas.
Verstappen could therefore have done with a quiet Azerbaijan Grand Prix, but again he was at the centre of the controversy.
It’s important to point out that Ricciardo was as much at fault as Verstappen was last weekend, but the two Red Bulls committed the cardinal sin of motor racing by taking each other out with Ricciardo over-committing to the inside line and Verstappen jinking over to protect his position.
There’s a case to suggest that both men were equally at fault, and that’s how the race stewards and their employers deemed it. But it’s no coincidence that Verstappen is yet to have a clean race in 2018.
It’s this kind of clumsy driving that cost Daniil Kvyat his Red Bull drive to Verstappen in 2016. Such comparisons are absurd in reality though given the raw speed of Verstappen and his ability to go for any opportunity, but he is running out of hiding places when it comes to on-track incidents.
Starting his first Grand Prix before he could legally drink a pint, Verstappen always had youth and inexperience in his corner. His exuberance and energy will always be an advantage to him rather than a hindrance, but with 64 starts to his name he has to find a way to channel that. He can’t keep making the same mistakes over and over again if he wants to become world champion.
Finnish rally driver Jari-Matti Latvala is the perfect example. To this day, Latvala is still the youngest ever driver to win a round of the World Rally Championship, but 10 years on he is still without a world championship.
His talent is just as big as it always has been, but he never managed to iron out the mistakes in order to produce a sustainable campaign worthy of lifting the ultimate prize.
Verstappen could be forgiven if his high-profile blemishes are a new occurrence for 2018. The truth is almost the exact opposite, with his reluctance to ever concede even an inch of track position costing him dearly. He seems to lack any patience, or the ability to accept that sometimes, on their day, another driver can do a better job than him.
While every good champion must have a ruthless streak, Verstappen lacks any kind of humility that will earn him any respect from his rivals. Teammate Ricciardo and defending world champion Lewis Hamilton should act as role models to the young Dutchman as to how overtaking can be done successfully.
Ayrton Senna was undoubtedly one of the all-time greats in Formula 1, but even his biggest of fans will tell you he was overly-aggressive at times. Verstappen has all the hallmarks of a serial world champion at the sport’s highest level, but it’s time to stop clinging to the hype he has constructed and start actually delivering.
It won’t be too long before his chance to shine will be extinguished altogether.