The meteoric rise of the young sensation Max Verstappen in F1 has been without a doubt a breath of fresh air into Formula One since his arrival as a racing driver for Toro Rosso back just last year. Now at Red Bull, he has made some serious dents into Sebastian Vettel’s ‘youngest ever’ records. Since his debut he has proven himself to be completely fearless off and on the circuit, and amazingly able to withstand pressure from even the most experienced of World Champions in combat. However some of his moves – two instances against 2007 Champion Kimi Raikkonen at the Hungarian Grand Prix being of note, have drawn criticism. Are such criticisms justified? Or are we watching potentially the next person to redefine what it means to be a Formula One driver?
Max Verstappen in F1: Racing Genius or Teenage Maverick?
We are all firmly aware now of the sort of daredevil driving Verstappen is capable of. Lunging at Saubers from unthinkable distances in China, hanging around the outside at Blanchimont at Spa, and of course the opportunistic overtake with blue flag assistance at Monaco. However his moves have not come without controversy – he seriously misjudged what he was doing in that Monaco Grand Prix and wiped out Romain Grosjean back in 2015. He had a weekend littered with crashes there a year later. He came under fire from Raikkonen- a driver he meets on track fairly regularly now- for forcing him off the track at COTA. And then we had what happened at Hungary.
It was surprising not to see Verstappen investigated for his actions at the Hungarian race, where he held off a charging Raikkonen who was on fresher rubber. His first bit of foul play was for what appeared to be a change of direction twice. Although it could be argued that Raikkonen was perhaps a bit optimistic in trying to overtake there, Verstappen’s double change of direction, albeit very quickly, was incredibly late, and resulted in Raikkonen’s wing being damaged. Verstappen himself was very lucky not to damage his own car, especially his tyres.
Later in the same race, Verstappen made a blatant change of direction under braking, which is simply not permitted. This was the move which should have earned Verstappen a significant talking to at the very least, if not a penalty. It was only Raikkonen’s own reactions which prevented what could have been a nasty accident there. So why was Verstappen not punished? It could perhaps be argued that because there was no significant accident, it didn’t warrant an investigation. However the rules are quite clearly there so blatant breaches should be punished. That sort of racing is the sort of driving more suited to lower categories as opposed to Formula One. It is effective however, as the likes of Ayrton Senna and Michael Schumacher were notorious for performing such actions throughout their respective careers.
However, it seems unlikely that Verstappen is going to get away with this style of defending on every occasion, and it could result in a hefty shunt. And if he can get away with it, then expect other drivers to try such things – Raikkonen himself has already suggested it. He also puts a lot of faith into the other drivers by doing things like this, and not every driver will be quite so polite in the future – especially should former rivals Esteban Ocon and Charles Leclerc make their way into F1 as well.
Verstappen as a racer is absolutely remarkably breath-taking to watch, and has already started to show some of the credentials required to become a worthy World Champion in the future. However, whilst his attacking moves are usually the stuff of genius, his defensive moves are just a little bit too much for the liking of some in the paddock, and such moves should be addressed.