Max Verstappen exploded onto the Formula 1 scene in 2015, and his rise has been nothing short of remarkable. He has rewritten what many though possible for a driver at such a young age. He has caused controversy, created splendour, and enlivened many a race in his so far short career. Along the way, there have been many impressive drives, culminating in his stunning first win for Red Bull in Spain this year.
The start of something special
Perhaps the first indication that Max was indeed a special driver, came in Malaysia 2015. Qualifying was held in atrocious conditions, and Max made it safely to Q3. During the session, he qualified in an incredible 6th position. The race was even more impressive. Some incredible race craft,particulary going around the outside of Daniel Ricciardo, netted a solid 7th place finish. This made him the youngest points scorer in F1 history, at 17 years and 180 days. He beat Danii Kvyat’s record of 19 years and 324 days by more than two years.
Malaysia was the first indication that Max’s age would not hinder him. Far from it, it looked like it might actually help him. Could he go on to achieve Sebastian Vettel like success, except even younger? The Chinese Grand Prix showed even more promise.
The next race in Shanghai showed the incredible overtaking talent of Verstappen. Battling with the Sauber’s, he made some stunning overtaking moves into the hairpin at the end of Shanghai’s back straight, at one point virtually frightening Marcus Ericsson out of the way. He hadn’t expected an underpowered Toro Rosso to be up his inside! A similar move was made on Ericsson’s teammate, Felipe Nasr. As Verstappen made his mark, teammate Sainz was spinning to the back at turn one. Sainz was currently being rather overshadowed. Sadly, for Verstappen, all of his hard work went unrewarded. Just a couple of laps from the end of the race, his car came to a shuddering halt, thanks to a technical failure. A gutting end to a brilliant drive.
Max showed further overtaking perfection in the Belgian Grand Prix. He pulled a stunning move around the outside of Nasr into Blanchimont, going off the track but keeping his foot down, before completing the move into the bus stop chicane.
Further brilliance was shown in the penultimate race of the year, in Brazil. Verstappen made a stunning move around the outside of Perez into the Senna esses, quite possibly his overtake of the season. This followed some bold moves on the likes of Vettel in the US Grand Prix, where he took another fourth place finish. He only narrowly missed out on the podium as well. Verstappens bold overtaking was gaining him a remarkable number of fans, in what was a frustratingly one sided 2015 season.
Verstappen’s rise to the top has been meteoric. After four races of 2016, Daniil Kvyat was dropped from the main Red Bull team, and Verstappen was put in his place. The move was seen as controversial, particularly as Kvyat had taken Red Bull’s first podium of the season in China. The switch came ahead of the Spanish Grand Prix.
No one expected Verstappen to get up to speed with the RB12 instantly. It would always to take to get used to a new car, particularly one as good as the ever improving Red Bull. But his speed in practice was impressive, finishing fourth behind teammate Ricciardo. He claimed he was still getting up to speed too, which was encouraging for the rest of the weekend! Qualifying though was fantastic, and he forced Ricciardo into leaving it to the wire to decide who would line up behind the Mercedes pair. After a mistake by Hamilton put him provisionally second, Verstappen eventually took fourth, a stunning lap from Ricciardo just edging him out. It was a terrific performance though for his first qualifying with Red Bull.
Then came race day…
Barely legal for the Champagne
We all know what happened on lap one. Rosberg and Hamilton took each-other before the race had hardly begun, which left the Red Bull’s one and two, Ricciardo leading. And thus followed quite possibly the race of the season so far. Ricciardo restarted the race well following the safety car, with Carlos Sainz third. The Ferrari pair swiftly passed the Toro Rosso. Vettel and Raikkonen were arguably faster than the Red Bull’s. Indeed, when in clear air, Vettel was quicker than the RB12’s. But the Red Bull’s superior traction out of the last corner meant the Ferrari’s never had the chance to pass them into turn one with the DRS.
As the race went on, Ricciardo couldn’t quite drop Verstappen. He followed in his footsteps, matching, and sometimes bettering, his pace. Things then began to get very interesting! Vettel and Ricciardo were on different strategies than Verstappen and Raikkonen. They were on the favoured three stop, with the other pair on the two stopper. This strategy shafted Ricciardo, cycling him behind Vettel after the last pit stops. Verstappen though, was managing his tyres beautifully, but Raikkonen was bearing down on him. There were three questions that needed answering. Would the Ferrari and Red Bull’s tyres last? Would Vettel and Ricciardo catch them? And, if they stayed ahead of their teammates, would Raikkonen get past Verstappen?
As it turned out, neither Vettel or Ricciardo caught Verstappen. The Australian’s left rear blew up with just a handful of laps to go, after failing to pass Vettel. Vettel never closed up to the pair ahead due his battles with Ricciardo. And despite immense pressure, Verstappen held off Raikkonen and took a stunning first win in only his first start with Red Bull.
It was the biggest sporting news of the weekend, and made headlines all around the globe. He had defied all the critics who had questioned his promotion to F1 pre 2015. He had shown that age is just a number. He had done something incredible. At the age of just 18, Max Verstappen was a Grand Prix winner.
The star still rises
The following race in Monaco was a disaster for Verstappen, crashing out in both qualifying and the race. But since then, impressive drives have followed in Canada, Austria, and Silverstone, to net three more podiums. A disappointing Hungarian Grand Prix was soon forgotten about with another podium in Germany.
Verstappen’s star continues to rise. The question is, how far can it continue to do so?