WIN A CHAMPIONSHIP TITLE?
It’s easy to forget that Max Verstappen is still only 23 years old. It feels like he’s been in F1 for a long time and is widely accepted as a talented front runner - maybe even considered the best driver on the grid by some (ahem, Christian Horner, ahem).
Max has achieved a lot in his short time in FORMULA 1, he made an immediate impact in his first season in 2015 at a mere 17 years old. On only his second start he qualified in sixth position and finished in seventh place in the Renault-powered Toro Rosso car, comfortably in the points and clearly demonstrating his natural ability and raw pace, something that isn’t a given when first stepping into a F1 car. That impressive introduction of his abilities was only the start and his talent has continued to be evident in his subsequent five seasons, with Max having established himself as one of the leading stars on the grid with ten wins and 42 podiums to date.
It’s not beyond the realms of possibility that Max could capitilise on Mercedes’ woes to make a fast start in the Championship
The big question is, can Max be a genuine contender for the title this year? I would suggest no, not just yet, but many would out there would disagree (ahem, Christian Horner, ahem).
Max has a car that can compete; this was established in the latter stages of last season and during this year’s pre-season testing in Bahrain. The Red Bull Number One finished with the fastest lap-time of the week, narrowly ahead of the Alpha Tauri with the same Honda engine. More interestingly, the times were comfortably ahead of most people’s favourites for the driver and constructor titles this year: Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes AMG. The forlorn image of Lewis Hamilton sliding backwards towards the gravel and getting stuck like a helpless mosquito in a pot of glue perfectly summed up the pre-season testing session for Mercedes. It’s not beyond the realms of possibility that Max could capitilise on Mercedes’ woes to make a fast start in the Championship and take a lead in the points standings which would further fuel the speculation of a real title challenge.
Is Max mature enough emotionally and psychologically to mount a legitimate title challenge?
There are other questions still to be answered: Can the Red Bull maintain its position throughout the season? I doubt it. And is Max mature enough emotionally and psychologically to mount a legitimate title challenge? Again, I doubt it. We have seen little evidence that Max can keep his cool under real pressure. While definitely better than his first few years in F1, Max still lets his emotions get the better of him, often trying to drive the car beyond its limits when patience would serve him better.
Think back to the race in Turkey last year. Max arguably had the fastest car overall that weekend, posting the fastest time in the practice sessions and narrowly missing out on pole position to Lance Stroll in the Pepto-pink-Mercedes. The race was far from straightfoward, with many plot twists throughout, but Max managed to position himself perfectly to pip the Racing Point for the win. That is until he tried to push too hard and overtake too early in the race. As Max approached the rear of the leading car he ended up spinning wildly out of control and ultimately costing himself the race. More importantly, Max limited his points haul to just eight that weekend while Lewis Hamilton stamped his authority on both the race and the season with an unlikely win, racing away with the lead in the Championship. It may on first reflection be just another example of where the dominant Mercedes car helped Lewis to achieve that record equaling title, but I think there was more to it. Max threw away a golden opportunity - and not for the first time. I wouldn’t be confident that if he were in the same situation again this year that he would act any differently. The rash overreaction in these scenarios needs to be addressed before Max can be considered a legitimate title contender.
Will he still keep Lewis on his toes and be on the podium most races? Absolutely. But between him and the car, I don’t think we’re likely to see Champion Max Verstappen in 2021.