Red Bull Motorsports
Frankly, for Aston Martin Red Bull Racing, it couldn’t get any better than this – but as usual, Max Verstappen shrugged it off. He was, he insisted, just doing the job. Some weekends, however, he does the job very well indeed. For anyone not willing to take him at his low-balling word, here’s a list of the other days when he’s done the job pretty spectacularly.
2015 Malaysian Grand Prix – qualified sixth, finished seventh
There's no such thing as consensus in F1, but it came close when Max Verstappen was announced as a Toro Rosso driver for 2015. He was too young and didn't have enough experience. On his debut he would be 17 years and 166 days old, almost two years younger than Jaime Alguesuari had been when he set the existing record. On top of that, Verstappen hadn't raced anything more powerful than a Formula 3 car. The knives were out before he even had his first seat fitting.
Verstappen seemed wholly indifferent to the hubbub. He had an excellent debut in Australia, qualifying 11th and running in the points before suffering an engine failure. Having had a sighter, he did much better second time out, qualifying sixth and finishing seventh, beating his team-mate and both Red Bulls. He was mildly annoyed with the result, struggling with poor braking performance for the first 15 laps, but no one questioned his age or experience after that. The doubters had begun to change their tune
2015 United States Grand Prix – ninth to fourth
The only Grand Prix weekends wetter than Austin in 2015 have all involved power boats – and Circuit of the Americas could have given some of them a run for their money. Qualifying was cancelled on Saturday and was abandoned again on Sunday, halfway through proceedings. Verstappen started ninth. The race started very wet, but got progressively drier and the constantly changing conditions making the race a good one for the drivers with that instinctive feel for grip. Verstappen had that in spades, rising through the field to finish fourth.
2016 Spanish Grand Prix – victory
Red Bull Racing were pretty brutal in demoting Daniil Kvyat a couple of races after the Russian had stood on the podium in China. After Verstappen's debut however, while plenty of people were happy to grumble about the inelegance of the decision, nobody was suggesting it wasn't a good one.
With very little prep time, Verstappen simply jumped into the RB12, learnt the characteristics of the car and won the race. Verstappen, in what has become his signature style, low-balled it afterwards saying he did OK, got lucky with the Mercedes drivers falling over each other, and lucky again to get the 'good' strategy to Daniel's 'bad' one – but the fact remains he took a debut grand prix win while holding off two charging Ferraris in a new car where he still didn't know what all the buttons did. It's difficult to imagine tougher circumstances to become a grand prix winner.
2016 Brazilian Grand Prix – fourth to third (via 16th)
Everyone remembers the titanic battle between Gilles Villeneuve and René Arnoux in the final laps of the 1979 French Grand Prix, but everyone forgets they were fighting for second and Jean-Pierre Jabouille was a comfortable 15 seconds up the road winning the race. The 2016 Brazilian Grand Prixis like that: everyone remembers a thrilling drive through the field from Verstappen in impossible conditions, but forgets Lewis Hamilton driving a faultless race to win in the same conditions.
Actually, while Verstappen had a great Brazilian Grand Prix, he didn’t have a particular good race. He gambled and lost with tyre choices and had to perform a minor miracle to catch a spin, all of which left him in P16 with 14 laps remaining. It's what he did in those 14 laps, to drag himself up to third that everyone remembers, though. It was mesmerising, like Verstappen was driving on a different (presumably much drier) surface to everyone else. Sure of his braking points, decisive in his overtaking moves. Proper star quality.
2017 Chinese Grand Prix – 16th to third
The charge through the field after an unfortunate (and blame-free) earlier reverse is the staple of motorsports movies. Verstappen had the real-world equivalent in China earlier this year, but without the mysteriously potent but previously unused extra gear that seems to help in most films.
Max qualified 19th and started 16th in China, thanks to a combination of a misfiring engine and unfortunately timed double-waved yellow flags. Starting in the wet (of course), Verstappen simply drove through the field on the first lap, picking off cars left and right to finish it in P7. After that, things got tougher, but he managed to keep making the places, including a pass on Daniel Ricciardo that was a not-insignificant marker in a tough intra-team battle, and then hold off a hard-charging Ricciardo on fresher rubber at the very end.
2017 Malaysian Grand Prix – victory
It's difficult to make a case for the race being a classic Max Verstappen effort, because he didn't particularly have to do very much of anything and didn't have to contend with the extremely rapid Ferraris. This shouldn't detract from the fact that the reason Verstappen didn't have to do very much was because he did everything he needed to do very well indeed.
His first task was to out qualify the demon qualifier Daniel Ricciardo, which he did. His second task was to pass championship leader and pole-sitter Lewis Hamilton for the lead, which he did. His final task then was to build a gap and bring the car home, which he completed in a very low key way. Usually it's the drama that signifies a great drive, but in Sepang the absence of drama did the same. Make no mistake, this was a fabulous effort for the former teenager.
2017 United States Grand Prix (16th to 4th)
It wouldn’t be a great feat of divination to suggest Max Verstappen’s future will involve plenty of victories, quite a lot of excitement and a few brushes with the authorities. To put it politely, Max was less-than-impressed with his demotion from third to fourth in Austin and wasn’t shy in saying so, after his last-lap, last-gasp pass on Kimi Räikkönen was ruled illegal.
But, look past what happened on 56 and study the previous 55 laps at the Circuit of the Americas and it’s clear Max had a pretty special race. Starting 16th after another power-unit penalty, he spent pretty much the whole afternoon overtaking his rivals. It was clinical but also joyful: Max didn’t seem keen to wait for the traditional passing places, taking his chances wherever they came. By lap 21 he had the lead, as other cars pitted off, emerging in P5 after his own first stop with only the Mercedes and Ferraris ahead. On lap 37, Max decided to roll the dice: making a second stop cost him 20s but gave him 19 laps and a fast car to make something happen. He harried Bottas and claimed P4 with four laps to go and then set about reeling in Räikkönen. The crowd (and the garage) erupted when he made the pass three corners from home. Shame it was chalked off – but it doesn’t detract from the performance.
2017 Mexican Grand Prix – victory
Max’s third victory and second of the season had a little more drama than his previous 2017 effort – but only for two corners. After that it was a masterful display of dominance. Pulling away from the field and crushing the spirits of those behind him.
Those two corners though, were pretty special. Having missed out on pole by a matter of 100ths of a second, Max took the lead the hard way. Polesitter Vettel kept a nose ahead into the first turn but Max simply found more grip and drove around the outside, just holding the line and nipping through into Turn Two. After that he barely appeared on the radar: the cameras concentrated on the battles behind because Max was long gone. His eventual margin of victory was 20 seconds. It could have been more but with four of the other five Renault-engine runners recording DNFs, (and the other one expiring on Saturday) Max was practically tip-toeing around toward the end of proceedings.
2018 Austrian Grand Prix – Victory (from P4)
Verstappen's Red Bull Racing debut came at the 2016 Spanish Grand Prix, where the Mercedes' took each other out on the first lap and there he was, on hand to pick up the win. The 2018 Austrian Grand Prix was the next time Mercedes suffered a double DNF, and Max won again. By the time Lewis Hamilton rolled to a halt this time, though, Max was already leading and 30 seconds up the road.
As had been the case in Mexico, Max won the race with a gutsy first lap pass. This time it wasn't for the lead, but for third. He banged wheels with Kimi Räikkönen to bag the place heading towards the Rindt Kurve – not a place one usually sees overtaking. Max inherited second when Valtteri Bottas slowed to a halt on lap 13, and he was handed the net lead of the race when Mercedes decided to not pit Hamilton under the subsequent Virtual Safety Car.
On another day, Hamilton may have been able to build a pit stop gap, but in Austria Verstappen was able to manage his pace and maintain the margin he needed. The lap one pass set it up: it was the sort of 50–50 move for which he's often criticised when they don't come off.
"It was hard racing but good racing," said Max afterwards. "I think Kimi is experienced enough to handle the situation well. We had a little touch, but I think it's also good for the sport. Maybe – hopefully – at one point, you just say 'yeah, it's just another one'. But at the moment I'm really happy with it."
I think this was one of the nicest victories, but I keep saying that so I think at the moment they're all nice
Of course, being a natural contrarian, were you to ask Verstappen about his best race, he wouldn’t list any of those. According to the man himself you have to go back to 2013 and the World KZ Championship at Varennes-sur-Allier, France. Verstappen won the coveted KZ1 title, the highest category in karting, open only to those 15 and over. He, naturally, was 15 at the time.