Daniel Ricciardo may have stolen the show on Sunday with his victory at the 2018 China Grand Prix, but Max Verstappen raised many eyebrows with his irrational and incredibly frustrating antics during the final stages of the race.
Ever since bursting onto the scene as a 17 year-old boy wonder, Verstappen has never shied away from controversy. A prodigy of a driver, the youngster instantly painted a reputation for a young man that was aggressive by nature and had a natural instinct to win at all costs.
The Dutchman has drawn comparisons to a young Michael Schumacher, with his ruthless streak and his once-in-a-generation gift for motor racing. His masterful nature in the wet has also sparked endless praise – take a look back at the 2017 Brazilian Grand Prix for an example of how precociously talented Verstappen is.
However, there is something not quite right about young Max, especially given the way he has started this season.
Has the hype gone to his head? Is the aggressive driving misplaced? And is he struggling to cope with the incredible form that his team mate Daniel Ricciardo is currently showing?
During the race opener in Melbourne just under a month ago, Verstappen was very optimistic about the 2018 Formula One season. Red Bull, it seemed, had made great strides in pre-season and were expected to press Ferrari routinely for the title of ‘best of the rest’, behind the mercurial Mercedes.
However, a careless spin during the race ended any hopes of a podium, and Verstappen finished in P8, a distant 27 seconds behind winner Sebastian Vettel.
No matter, it was the season opener and if you’re going to be rusty at the start of the season, better get the mistakes out of the way at the curtain raiser.
Except the form continued to decline in Bahrain, the second race of the season, starting in qualifying. In the opening session, Verstappen crashed into the barriers and failed to set a time. In an instant, his race weekend was scuppered.
On race day, things turned from bad to much, much worse. A collision with Lewis Hamilton on the first lap resulted in the Red Bull suffering a puncture and irreversible damage. The World Champion branded the manoeuvre a ‘silly move’, and Verstappen added another incident to his long list.
Things culminated last weekend at the Chinese Grand Prix. Following a Safety Car to clear debris following a clash between the two Toro Rosso drivers, Verstappen and Red Bull were handed a golden opportunity to secure their first wins of the season.
On fresher tires than Ferrari and Mercedes and with over twenty laps remaining, it should’ve been a stroll for Verstappen. As Ricciardo showed in surging up the grid and ultimately taking the lead, a brash and impatient Verstappen first overran the track trying to overtake Hamilton on an improbable corner, before t-boning Ferrari’s Vettel as they turned into the hairpin a couple of laps later.
The latter incident caused both cars to spin and lose valuable time. Verstappen just about recovered to climb to P5, but Vettel suffered a lot of floor damage and limped home in P9.
“Do I need to say anything?”, Vettel asked his race engineer, a reference to the prolific nature of Verstappen’s mishaps.
Make no mistake, there is a brilliant driver in Max Verstappen somewhere. He has shown more than once that he has the attitude and determination, not to mention the natural ability to make a multi world champion.
But he needs to realise that natural talent isn’t the be all and end all. Lewis Hamilton should be the perfect example; the Briton was perhaps the last driver to show such natural ability and ease at the wheel, but over the past decade he has grown a steely and mature mentality, as well as cutting out the controversy on track.
Time is still on Verstappen’s side. He’s only 20 years of age. But in Formula One, the clock is always ticking on a career and a bad series of races can make you un-signable. Just ask Danill Kyvat,