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What the Spa controversy reveals of Max Verstappen and his significance to F1

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What the Spa controversy reveals of Max Verstappen and his significance to F1
Aug 29, 2016, 9:56 AM

It is one of those ironies of sport that Max Verstappen got his break into a top F1 team after another driver lost his head at the start of his hom...

It is one of those ironies of sport that Max Verstappen got his break into a top F1 team after another driver lost his head at the start of his home Grand Prix and triggered an accident.

That moment of red mist - by Daniil Kvyat in Sochi - triggered a series of events that led to him being demoted and Verstappen promoted to Red Bull Racing - although there were wider reasons for the switch and the Sochi misdemeanour was only the visible trigger.

Start Belgian GP 2016

At Spa yesterday, the first time Verstappen has experienced the support and passion of a huge partisan crowd that has turned out for him, he messed up the getaway from the line and forced the issue into Turn 1 which ultimately ended up with an accident that ruined his race and those of both Ferrari drivers.

The difference from the Kvyat Sochi episode says a lot about Verstappen and what he means to F1.

First, while most observers can see that him forcing the Red Bull up the inside into Turn 1 was aggressive and left little space for Kimi Raikkonen, the actual accident wasn't entrirely his fault, as Sebastan Vettel didn't give Raikkonen enough room either, especially given the history of chaotic starts at La Source hairpin. So there is that room for debate and discussion, room for doubt.

This is no Maldonado-type black and white. There is a lot more wriggle room in this situation.

But there is no doubt that what we had here was an example of that Senna mentality of 'it has to be my way'.

Starting on the front row for the first time, with that enormous expectation of tens of thousands of Dutch and Belgian fans on his shoulders, Verstappen had a poor getaway.

Start Belgian GP 2016

He's not the first driver to blow the start under pressure; most of the champions in the current field have done it at least once and Michael Schumacher famously did it at several key moments including a world title decider at Suzuka, when he was much more experienced than Verstappen is today. So there are few who can 'cast the first stone' on that point.

The 18 year old could see himself being swallowed up on the short run to Turn 1 and decided not to accept what fate (and his own poor control of clutch and throttle) had thrown at him. It had to be his way, so he saw a gap up the inside and went for it.

Max Verstappen

The history of F1 is rich with examples of young talents coming in and shaking up the older champions. Raikkonen at 36 and to a lesser extent Vettel, almost 30, are prime targets for this and once the Red Bull gets faster, Lewis Hamilton will be too.

The Ferrari pair have been confronted by Verstappen numerous times this season and Raikkonen has had many complaints and frustrations.

Spa was the fourth consecutive race without a podium for Ferrari, inconceiveble with the car and team that they have and Verstappen drives for the outfit that is now pulling away from them in the championship. The pressure in Monza will be huge.

Schumacher did the same to Senna when he came into F1 in the early 1990s. He got right in Senna's face, even causing the Brazilian to throw a punch in his direction after an on track contretemps during an early F1 test session.

The FIA stewards took no action for Verstappen's moves at the start, nor for his defensive moves against Raikkonen later in the race, which many felt had crossed the line and were dangerous. So on that basis, there was nothing wrong with what he did. And, as we said, Vettel's mistake in cutting in too tightly on his team mate at the start, is what actually caused the contact.

Ferrari boss Maurizio Arrivabene said after the race that they would not be making a big fuss in public, but warned that they have raised a complaint with the FIA,

"We've got shouted to the four winds, but we've made ourselves heard by the FIA," he said. "However if the stewards see it in a certain way..."

So what happens next?

F1 is in a delicate place at the moment, where those inside it and those looking in from outside can see it has become sanitised, no longer an extreme sport, no longer guaranteed to send chills down the spine by its pure essence of speed, risk and danger; unlike in the past, when risks were taken, tracks were less safe, engines were louder, drivers were more heroic.

Verstappen fans

Many fans feel that Verstappen got away with what happened at Spa because he is box office, puts Dutch bums on seats in tracks around Europe and so is being given an easy ride. It's important that impression is dispelled, because no driver is bigger than the sport and no driver should get unfair treatment, whatever the back story.

The drivers' briefing at Monza on Friday will be a heated affair and Verstappen will get some dark looks and some pointed comments from the other drivers for his defensive moves on Raikkonen once again.

Verstappen is a massive talent, increasingly reminiscent of Schumacher and the way he carried himself in his early years in F1.

But he had a bad day on arguably the most important day of his F1 career so far and he will learn from it. It will also become part of his legend, if he goes on to be a champion in this sport.

As the great sports writer Simon Barnes wrote: 'sport doesn't build characters, it reveals them.'
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Drivers Max Verstappen Shop Now