Yes, folks, we’re at the business end of the Championship and every point counts. Excitement levels were high at Badger Towers as our two world championship contenders lined up on the front row of the iconic Suzuka circuit. It’s been a while.
Sadly, the promise of a proper battle never materialised as last week’s Top Dog, Sebastian Vettel, retired with a knackered spark plug on lap 4. A spark plug? How very low tech!
So this may be the moment Seb finally said sayonara to his hopes of winning a fifth crown. This year at least. But there were plenty of cracking drives to savour, even if the race itself was a tad, well snooze-u-ka!
But which of our speedy friends blossomed in Japan? Who has earned the cherry from the Top Dog cake? Step forward and take a sumo-style bow…
He almost managed last time out with his surprise victory in Malaysia. Badger does like its Top Dog winners to work for it though! And boy, Max has had to graft hard to overcome what has been a tough year for the youngster – mechanical failures, multiple shunts (usually the innocent victim), watching his team-mate stand on the podium race after race, including the top step.
Up until Malaysia, young Max must have wondered what on earth he had done to upset the racing gods. But as the old Japanese proverb says, “fall down seven times, stand up eight.” (Yes, Badger does their research!).
And stand up he has, reminding us of his mind-blowing talent in the best way he knows how; by overtaking. Yes, it was a case of Dutchie passing on the left-hand side AND the right-hand side with some awesome manoeuvres on the very first lap.
He blitzed team-mate Dan Ricciardo on the inside of the first corner. His pass on Vettel at the hairpin was executed with the precision of a sushi knife. (Okay, admittedly Sebastian was already struggling but it was still brilliant and brave to behold). Now it was time to see what young Max could do about Lewis up front.
He certainly wasn’t going to let him get away without a fight. Max used the high track temperatures to keep his tyres in good nick – but didn’t overdrive them. His pitstop was timed to perfection, allowing him to just nip out in front of the Ferrari of Kimi Raikkonen. The young Dutchman slowly chipped away at Lewis’s lead as the race unfolded – from over five seconds in the early stages to the mere blink of an eye two laps from the end. Most importantly, Max kept his head together when he got held up in traffic; first behind Hamilton’s wingman, Valtteri Bottas – doing an excellent ‘hold up’ job to help out his teammate – then later when lapping Felipe Massa in the dying minutes of the race.
Badger is impressed by Verstappen’s growing maturity at dealing with such situations. In races past, Max may well have been inclined to drop lip and let his frustration take hold. Now that his luck has finally turned, he has revealed a calmer, more considered racing mindset. He knew Bottas would have to pit, so refrained from making any impetuous moves. He bided his time behind Massa rather than give the old ‘blue flag’ rant over the radio. Impressive stuff.
But you can’t keep that true racing spirit down. During his last gasp pursuit of eventual race winner, Hamilton, Max radioed the Red Bull team bosses with “am I allowed to give it everything?” Yes Max, we always want to see you giving it everything. And we love you even more for asking.
They say good things come to those who wait. Never a truer word in Verstappen’s case. He’s finally won a race and now also has the tremendous honour of being Japanese Top Dog. Excellent work, my friend. Give the lad a celebratory sake.
Next time, we’re off to the Lone Star State for the United States GP in Austin. Will Lewis seal the championship deal on one of his favourite tracks? Or can Sebastian keep the pressure on for just a little while longer? Join Badger for all the fun in two week’s time. Yee-haw!