Well, Brazil was rather brilliant, I thought. It’s amazing what some good old-fashioned overtaking can do to lift the spirits. And there was passing a-plenty around the legendary corners of Interlagos. Come the chequered flag, there was certainly a carnival atmosphere in the Mercedes camp as they became team champs for an astonishing 5th year on the bounce.
— Mercedes-AMG F1 (@MercedesAMGF1) November 12, 2018
Yes, the final piece of the 2019 championship jigsaw is now in place, but there’s still the puzzle of who is Top Dog? Try as I might to share the treats, there’s one cheeky pup who is doggedly determined to keep his paws on the prize. Any guesses for which canine gets the caipirinha? Let’s hear a samba roll of the drum for…
Max made his intentions clear right from the off. He was in the mood for racing and boy, did he treat us to some awesome moves? Kimi was his first victim with a mega pass around the outside of turn 3. He was into P4, he’d set the fastest lap, he was on a mission. Seb was his next scalp on the very next lap. In a masterclass of late braking, Verstappen mugged the German with a nifty inside track move that had the commentators (and me) squealing with delight. Many had dismissed the Red Bulls chances of mixing it with the red and silver cars. They clearly didn’t get the memo. Danny Ric was also having a great drive from his penalty induced 11th place start. By lap 5, he was in P6. The Bulls were on a charge and the Brazilian crowd was loving it.
The Full Brazilian Max
Not content with P3, Max hunted down Bottas and threw a move on him that, frankly, made the Finn look second rate. Verstappen was making his tyre strategy work beautifully. Next up the road was race leader Lewis Hamilton. Max is one of the few drivers who doesn’t give a monkeys who’s in front of him. Five times world champ? I’m coming for you – and I fancy my chances! Besides, Hamilton’s tyres were looking a bit ragged and he’d need to stop soon. Question was, how long could Max go into the race before coming in?
Lewis made it to Lap 20 and emerged in P7. Meantime, Max was flying, bagging fastest laps all the while and doing a phenomenal job on his super soft boots. He was pushing hard, causing his engineer to calm him down with a ‘don’t overdrive it’ radio call. But Max was uber cool, reporting his tyres were getting better. Say what?! Maybe a win was on the cards. This was getting interesting.
A slight wobble during his pitstop meant he came out behind Hamilton on L36. But, those fresh, soft tyres were switched on and Max was on Hamilton’s rear wing in the blink of an eye. Unbelievably, he had the straight line speed to breeze past the newly crowned champion on the main straight. Lewis had a quick peek at fighting back, but Max had the job done. And he made it look so easy. Surely he was now on track for a back-to-back victory?
Enter Esteban Ocon. In one of the most bizarre incidents of the season, Ocon sent Max flying as the Frenchman attempted to unlap himself at break neck speed. Sure, he’s perfectly entitled to do so and he did have more pace than the Red Bull at that point. But it all got unnecessarily close for comfort and Max came off worse. Verstappen had more to lose – Hamilton said as much to him after the race. A more rational head might have chosen to back out of it. That’s not in Verstappen’s DNA – he’s a racer. And this boy was in his way.
The Dutchman spun out of the lead, recovered into second place but was now in one helluva strop! His radio calls had more bleeps than an emergency room doctor and he made no secret of his intention to track Ocon down in the paddock and, ahem, have words! Before handbags at dawn, Max had to nurse a car with floor damage and keep it on the island. But he did way more than that. He continued to post blistering lap times and chase down the Silver Arrows. It was a tenacious display to do everything in his power to try and retake the lead. It wasn’t to be, but it was a bloody good try.
After the race, and true to his word, Max strained at the leash in search of Esteban. He had a bone to pick with him. Verstappen had lost a win and was spoiling for a fight. He launched his toys out the basket and gave the Frenchman three hefty shoves in the chest as they gathered in the weighing room. In the good old days, we applauded the likes of Hunt and Senna for throwing the odd punch. Nowadays, we expect a bit more decorum. I don’t condone this sort of behaviour but I understand it comes from a place of passion – which I love. Max still has plenty of growing up to do to iron out his occasional petulant, hot-headed behaviour. Be passionate, yes. Show ruthless determination, sure. But leave the fisticuffs in the kennel and play nice, there’s a good boy!
— Formula 1 (@F1) November 12, 2018
Despite this little blip, I make no bones about picking Max again. His on-track performance was sublime and an absolute joy to behold. He even licked and made up with Ocon and will do his FIA community service like a pro (who even knew this was a thing?!). Shovegate aside, Max continues to be a phenomenal class act. Focused. Passionate. Formidable. So Verstappen voltas his way to yet another Top Dog honour and it’s thoroughly deserved. Get in there my son!
I’m chuffed to bits to make Danny Ric this week’s Deputy Dog. After so many crushing disappointments in recent races, his Renault engine behaved itself and the Honey Badger’s beaming smile returned. Not phased by his now inevitable grid penalty, Dan grabbed the challenge of starting P11 and drove like a dream to finish a brilliant 4th. He pulled off some bonza overtakes and reminded everyone what a bloody good racing driver he is. It’s good to have you back, Dan. Keep smiling!
And so off to the last race we go. Abu Dhabi beckons. The championship is done, but let’s hope this terrific season has a fitting end with a dazzling show in the desert twilight. More importantly, let’s see if anyone can wrestle the damn Top Dog prize away from Max! See you in two weeks!
all images via Red Bull Content Pool used with permission