How Max Verstappen changed in six years from unknown to contender

Taking risks and pushing limits as he goes along, Verstappen is famously adept at the art of rollickery and is fearless in the face of criticism They may be referred to, typically, by their…

How Max Verstappen changed in six years from unknown to contender

Taking risks and pushing limits as he goes along, Verstappen is famously adept at the art of rollickery and is fearless in the face of criticism

They may be referred to, typically, by their speed but go forward and Max Verstappen is watched with rapt attention. “He is unique,” says Nico Rosberg, the former champion. “I would say he’s probably the one most gifted driver in F1 who’s very, very aggressive.”

Verstappen is 24 years old and has won three races this season and many races in the past – well, he won on debut but that was not one of the last. He is the youngest driver to race for the three of the big three championship teams – Red Bull, Toro Rosso and Mercedes – and he has been touted as a future champion. His intent to push limits and, while doing so, enduring criticism, has made him something of a “what, me worry?” guy of Formula 1.

Now, six years into his career, some of those risks have paid off, such as when he was accused of flooring Kimi Raikkonen in Barcelona. Raikkonen went on to finish third, Verstappen second. They all raced for victory but until that moment of pitstops and safety cars in Turkey last week Verstappen seemed like an enigma. But not any more. When they ran into each other in testing ahead of the opening race, Verstappen played it down. “There was some action, but not a lot,” he said.

After the Turkish GP at the weekend he was moodier than ever. He said that while he was pleased he had completed his qualifying runs, his strategy in the race was terrible. He went too slow and forced his Red Bull to slow as well. Asked about taking risks in his first win, he said: “I was surprised that I won the race. It is the real thing, not an electrical problem or some situation. It was just clear, clear luck.”

F1 driver Max Verstappen admits mistake on career-first win in Turkey Read more

Verstappen often goes too fast, both on the track and in his behaviour. He has a reputation for complacency in the cold light of the garage as well as for being laid-back on camera. On it goes. He’s part cavalier daredevil, part territorial dispute veteran and part petrolhead devil.

Rosberg, with whom Verstappen is close, says the comparison with Michael Schumacher as a driver is wrong. “Not when they share the same birthday,” Rosberg says, “but Schumacher was a born racer, Max is a driver who likes races. Schumacher felt the grid, and Max likes to push, push, push.”

No one thought more of his driving talents in pre-season testing than the departing chief technical officer, James Allison. He said: “I believe in his reliability and his ability and his potential.”

It was Allison who saw the races in 2014 when Verstappen was among the rookies, ploughing through until every loose wheel made it to the lap. “He’s a complete driver,” he said. “He’s an amazingly mature person.”

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