Since a precocious teenager, aged 17 years and 166 days, arrived in Formula 1 and became the youngest driver to compete in a Formula 1 Grand Prix, he has continued to set records. The youngest to lead a lap. The youngest to stand on the podium and the youngest to win a race. Rarely has an event gone by without this sanguine, self-confident, seemingly fearless, but without doubt talented, teenager being in or around the headlines.
Like most teenagers, he believes he is bulletproof and is totally in control. Like most teenagers, he will not be told what to do or how to do it.
Unlike most teenagers, he also has the words, the manner, and he can “talk the talk” with a combative assurance that seems to answer any of the slings and arrows that his peers throw at him.
To many observers Red Bull Racing Formula 1 team driver Max Emilian Verstappen shows traits of great drivers of the recent past. Ayrton Senna, Michael Schumacher and the younger Lewis Hamilton come to mind, perhaps even a Sebastian Vettel.
The Belgian-Dutch driver, who competes under the Dutch flag, is aggressive, as was his Formula 1 driving father, Jos. He competed in 106 F1 GPs and earned the nickname “Jos the Boss” as his driving was also sometimes on the “forceful” side. But young Verstappen possesses far more talent than his father.
Perhaps he is a combination of his father and mother Sophie Kumpen, a successful driver in karting circles. Verstappen seems to be following the Senna school of driving, and it is already paying dividends for him.
He has a huge fan base, is hot property with all of the Formula 1 teams that could afford him, and has a contract jealously guarded by his present team.
Like Senna and, to an extent, Schumacher, he also has an on-track intimidation factor, albeit in its infancy, that makes other drivers think twice when they try to overtake him. From Verstappen’s point of view, when they see him in their mirrors they know that he will not hesitate in finding a way past. All traits associated with Senna.
At the Belgian F1 GP, Verstappen was criticised for over-the-top and dangerous aggression.
He was not penalised nor censured for his actions, although race director Charlie Whiting advised him to “calm down” a bit.
Will that advice be taken? I doubt it because, as Verstappen has said, “We are fighting, you know, it’s not like we are on a Sunday drive.”
Verstappen is supremely talented but is not yet experienced enough to pull the antics that Senna and Schumacher got away with. He is just the width of an eyelash away from getting himself into real trouble on track.
Verstappen is part of a new wave of young drivers making their mark on the sport. I believe his driving (exciting and “on the edge”) is what fans want to see, as long as it is legal and not dangerous — and there is a very fine line.
What is exciting and daring, and what is dangerous? A question that is often only answered when the manoeuvre is successful and is hailed as “brilliant” or results in some sort of accident and is then heavily censured. Hero or zero, the phrase may be.
In contrast to Verstappen are two experienced drivers who announced their “retirement” from the sport at last week’s Italian F1GP at Monza.
One was a real retirement with Felipe Massa departing at the end of the 2016 season and one “perhaps” retirement, with an option for 2018 in the great deal brokered by Jenson Button with his McLaren team.
In both cases there is a suspicion of “was he pushed or ... ” but, whatever the reasons, they are two of the most respected drivers in the paddock and on the track.
Neither one had any hint of the “Senna” or “Schumacher” factor in their driving but Button won just one World Championship title and Massa none. Senna won three world titles, Schumacher won seven with Vettel currently on four and Hamilton on three.
Time will tell if the Verstappen school of motoring is right or wrong and will achieve more race wins or titles than these two.