“It was really unbelievable driving, great entertainment. Physics are being redefined.”
The above statement was made by Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff after the Brazilian Grand Prix, someone who probably watched Max Verstappen’s drive back through the field in the last third of the race with great interest, considering the two cars left in front of the Dutchman after all was said and done were the Mercedes.
Let’s look at what he said logically – the rules of physics were not redefined. They were made to look like they were bent a bit, granted. What Verstappen did, in a single afternoon, was expose the mindset of certain drivers in conditions where a single mistake could cost them a place in the sport, especially so close to the season’s end.
Just to clarify; I’m aware that Formula One should have the best drivers in the world filling all the seats available. The majority of the current grid are very, very good drivers, while one or two are there through financial circumstances dictating their place. When teams need money they turn to drivers that have it, and whilst we’re a long way from the billionaire playboys wanting a crack in a fast-ish car at a fearsome racetrack, there’s still some pay drivers that need to warrant their place.
But I digress. The point of this was to look at Max at what he achieved in the rain at Sao Paulo, and a few of his passes were gutsy, aggressive and breathtaking – the late-as-you-can-get out braking of Kimi Raikkonen was particularly special, as was driving around the outside of Nico Rosberg to snatch 2nd place.
Verstappen’s performance shines the spotlight on a mentality of finishing the race comfortably ahead of taking a gamble to up positions. Part of this is bred from the tyre and fuel conservation culture that has slowly crept into the sport during the Pirelli/hybrid era, but also from experienced drivers following the ideal they’ve always been told to follow – keep to the racing line, keep it smooth, don’t take any unnecessary risks and a result could come their way. Only, in a field of 22 drivers, having 18 of them stick to that ideal means the excitement is kept to a minimum. The fear of disobeying their teams overrides their natural instinct to go racing.
That’s why Brazil was such a breath of fresh air. Verstappen is young enough to be immature enough to throw caution to the wind and go for moves that other, more experienced, names might shy away from. It’s a trait that binds him with other great names that he shared the track with that Sunday – Sebastian Vettel’s breakthrough win for Toro Rosso at Monza 2008, Lewis Hamilton’s domination at Silverstone the same year, and Fernando Alonso’s heartbreak at losing a stunning result in Hungary 2006 thanks to broken suspension. Driving further off the “holy” racing line can produce extraordinary grip and Max is closer to his karting days to remember that than others.
The legend of Max Verstappen will continue to grow organically thanks to the skill he displays on a weekly basis. What he is also displaying is that he is open enough not to follow the crowd now he’s in Formula One, and that might be the biggest tool in his racing arsenal.