Opinion: Why Verstappen is the disrupting force F1 needs

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Such was the buzz around Red Bull on Sunday night at Interlagos, that you could have been forgiven for thinking that the team had just won the Brazilian Grand Prix.

Team boss Christian Horner was chatting in one corner of the motorhome with a huge grin on his face, Dutch fans were celebrating and cheering loudly behind the garag, team guests were grabbing selfies with the trophy, and Jos Verstappen was sipping a celebratory beer as he accepted congratulation after congratulation from passers by.

For any normal third place finish it would perhaps have been way too much for a team that has enjoyed much greater glories, but what Max Verstappen did at Interlagos was not just any regular third-place finish.

The tactical brilliance in experimenting with racing lines to find the best grip in the atrocious conditions, the stunning moves past Kimi Raikkonen and Nico Rosberg early on, the two brilliant saves from near disaster as only wizard-quick reactions saved him, and then that charge from 14th to third set the F1 paddock buzzing.

Even Mercedes boss Toto Wolff, celebrating a 1-2 finish for his drivers that takes the F1 title battle to Abu Dhabi, labelled the race the 'Verstappen show'.

But on an afternoon when Lewis Hamilton was at his utterly brilliant best – faultless throughout and managing his tyres better than Verstappen early on which prompted Red Bull to take the intermediate gamble in the first place – is it right that it is not his but Verstappen's performance that has been singled out as iconic a wet-weather drive as Ayrton Senna at Monaco 1984 and Michael Schumacher in Spain in 1996?

Well, yes it is – for what Verstappen did on Sunday was give us yet more evidence that F1 is witnessing the most exciting talent it has seen for quite some time.

Verstappen has got the world talking not because statistically he is setting new records – for at 42 races into his career he has just one win compared to the four Senna had and the six Schumacher had at the same stage.

Instead, he is singling himself out as a great because like all true superstars in any sport, he is redefining the era he is competing in. Whatever he does – good or bad – there is always something exciting going on around him. He is what has become known as a disruptor.

There was a time when 'disruptive' used to be a criticism directed at unruly children, but nowadays the phrase has become one of high praise.

The modern world loves the arrival of so-called 'disruptors' – those individuals or companies that shake up the establishment and in doing so create something better for everyone. Think how Uber and AirBnb have turned the taxi and hotel businesses on their heads.

Verstappen is disrupting F1. In just his second full season he has already forced the introduction of two changes to F1's rules – new superlicence regulations and the banning on moving under braking.

He has redefined the approach that drivers have to battling with each other, and on Sunday he was again pushing the boundaries.

Behind the safety car, while many of his rivals spent their time working out if the conditions were good enough to go racing, Verstappen was using every moment to hunt out the grip.

Getting away from the traditional dry lines (which can be terrible in the wet because of oil and rubber), Verstappen used every moment to work out where he could brake later than this rivals, where he could place his car for the best speed through a turn and where he could get on the power earlier.

It was evidence of a brilliant racing mind, and it said much that many of his rivals had to be told over the radio to start copying what the Dutchman was doing. It is a world away from the perception that some like to have of Verstappen that he is an out of control youngster.

As his father Jos said on Sunday night: "I don't call him Mad Max, I don't call him aggressive. It is just the way he is, it is just the way he prepares. People see it as aggressive, and say he is defending aggressively but he is defending and he knows what is coming, and it is also the way he is overtaking.

"I always said to him if you do an overtake, it is not a reaction. You prepare yourself already in a couple of corners before. That is exactly what we saw."

One of the traits we have quickly found out from Verstappen is that he gets ruffled by nothing either on track or off it. His moves through the field in Brazil were clinically effective, and when his rivals complain about what he is doing, he actually gets strength from it.

It is clear when you speak to him that he sees everything he does as simple standard procedure – for upsetting world champions like Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen is as normal as overtaking Nico Rosberg around the outside of a corner in the wet.

I recently asked him if the criticism thrown his way ever hurt him, and his response was immediate: "No. I mean that's normal. In every sport you have that. So standard procedure I find.

"I mean, they had to put a rule in about getting past people now. So I think it's perfect. I think in general, you always have that in sport So for me, that's the way I drive. Of course some people like it, some people don't, but that's the same with everything.

"I mean, with football as well, some people like that football player or not so. It's the same approach I think."

When asked if he sensed he was a trend-setter in F1 – having had those two rules changed – Verstappen said: "I always try to do that. I always try to push myself to the next level and maybe sometimes you step up at other areas as well."

Pushing the boundaries even further is something that seems certain from Verstappen. And while we could never have predicted how Senna or Schumacher's careers would pan out after less than 50 races – so too we can only imagine what spectacle we are going to get treated to in years to come.

As Jos said on Sunday: "I think he will only get better. He is 19. It is his second year in F1 and if you can deliver I won't say a show, but if you can deliver a race like this then we have a lot of enjoyable years in front of us."

To steal a phrase from perhaps the biggest 'disruption' we have seen in the modern era – this year's United States presidential election - Max Verstappen - making F1 great again.

 

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Series Formula 1
Teams Red Bull Racing
Article type Commentary