With one of the championship battles now decided – congrats to Mercedes on another constructors’ crown – there is only one question on everyone’s lips. Who drove their socks off deep in the heart of Texas? Which of our driver faves shone brightest in the Lone Star State? The choice for this week’s Top Dog is what we in the trade call a ‘no brainer’. Yep, for the second race in a row, the prize is duly awarded to…
Let’s get one thing straight (which, let’s face it, is more than the stewards have). Max should have been on that podium. More on that later.
For a few minutes at least, we all thought he was. Having started a lowly 16th after an engine penalty, Badger knew we were in for a treat. If there’s one driver we want to see blitzing his way through the field, it’s the dynamic Dutchman. And boy did he serve up a treat, more lip smacking than a Texan BBQ.
Max has come alive in the past few races, spurred on by a turnaround in his reliability fortunes which has allowed him to remind us what he’s made of. He has pure racing spirit running through those youthful veins and it’s a delight to watch him in full super charge mode. Right from the off, he was locked and loaded, ready to pick off driver after driver in a bid to use his strategy to catapult himself into the top five. Things started spectacularly with a quick draw off the line. He was up to 9th by Lap 3. Some of his overtakes were super tasty – aggressive but not overcooked – others a bit more ‘candy-from-baby’ (poor Fernando!).
However he got by, it was clear Max meant business and was hell bent on making the most of his alternative strategy. P4 or 5? Hell no! Verstappen had his beady eye on the podium thank you very much. Why settle for less?
HOWDY DO IT?
Just like last time out, the youngster used his head to plan ahead, execute his overtakes in style and use his newer tyres to maximum effect. Yet he was still able to drive at breakneck speed and was probably surprised to find himself in the lead by just under half distance. He knew it might not be for long. Lewis Hamilton – who unless the world ends, will be the 2017 champion -was soon on Max’s tail, itching to retake the top spot. But Verstappen was no pushover and the two of them had a good old scrap for a few tantalising corners. Lewis got him in the end, but this moment signalled more enticing battles to come. The young gun versus the old guard. More of that please!
Max benefited from a de facto free pitstop with eight laps to go, which is when the Red Bull truly joined the rodeo. He was relentless in his mission to catch Raikkonen and Bottas (some brilliant jostling between the two Finns). Max chalked up fastest lap after fastest lap; Badger could sense something special was on the cards.
RULES IS RULES?
And boy, was it ever? With the Ferrari’s playing the team order game, Vettel was safely in second with Raikkonen in the final podium spot. Having dispensed with Bottas, time was running out for Max to nab that third place. The last two laps were a joy to behold, with Max reeling Kimi in for an all-or-nothing duel to the flag. I was on the edge of my seat as Verstappen and Raikkonen duked it out on those final few corners. I try to remain neutral (really, I do!), but I admit I was willing Max to win out (no offence to Kimi who had a cracking day at the race track). I whooped and hollered when he got the job done and shared his euphoria when he crossed the line.
Until those pesky stewards intervened. They deemed he had shoved Kimi off track and gained an advantage and duly slapped him with a time penalty which left him fourth after all. Boo. Now I’m all for following the rules, as long as they are applied in a fair and consistent fashion. Can our lovely steward friends put their hands on their hearts and say they have done that? One could argue Kimi gave as good as he got in the shove stakes.
And there were several examples of similar incidents which were investigated with no further action. The drivers have had it up to their visors with ridiculous grid penalties. Please don’t add to their woes with inconsistent stewarding of racing incidents. Or just bring gravel traps back and be done with it!
Whatever the stewards thought, Max was utterly brilliant from lights to flag. He was the rightful winner of the official Driver of the Day vote – and Badger has no qualms in making him our Top Dog too. Never change, Max. You’re a true racer and superstar. Thank you.
Badger would like to give a special mention to Carlos Sainz in his first race for Renault. He was superb in qualifying and the race and was rightly delighted with his seventh place finish. And a final ‘well done’ to the Hi Ho Silver Arrows themselves for claiming another constructors’ world title. Brilliant job, Mercedes.
Join us for the next instalment at the Mexican Grand Prix. Will Lewis seal the deal? Looks like it. Arriba!