One quick look at the Formula 1 Drivers standings at present would give you the impression that the sport has been a no-holds barred thrill ride during the 2016 season. While the ongoing feud between the Mercedes’ of Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg doesn’t look to be letting up, with the former leading the latter by just two points heading into the last third of the season, a further look to the contructors table tells a different story.
The sparring Mercedes team have contributed a haul of 498 points, putting them over 200 points ahead of a resurgent Red Bull Racing team, who’re second with 290 points. This is more indicative of what we’ve had this season, as the Mercedes stretch out their winning margins race-after-race, and fans hoping for a crash between Hamilton and Rosberg as the only salvation for the rest of the field.
Yet, there are a few growing lights that promise the sport has a competitive future ahead. One is the set of rule changes next year that is hoped will neuter the field somewhat, the other? The teenaged superstar that has single-handedly reinvigorated and revitalised an ailing sport in need of fresh faces and smiles. Yes, Max Verstappen is the saviour of F1, and let me tell you how…
Let’s take it back a year. Sebastian Vettel had discontinued his long-standing relationship with Red Bull following a barren 2014 and joined a Ferrari team said to provide the biggest threat to the dominant Mercedes team. This led the Red Bull progression system to hand Daniil Kyvat a drive at the senior team, while a 17-year-old took his place at Toro Rosso. While Vettel would take race wins, the Ferrari’s couldn’t handle the pure dominant nature of the Mercedes, while Kyvat had a mixed first season, as the team on the whole struggled with the Renault engines down on power. That 17-year-old?
That 17-year-old had a storming season, leaving a global audience in shock and awe at his raw talent, providing bursts of speed, outrageous overtaking and the inevitable hot headed behaviour that saw him awarded ‘Personality of the Year’ at the end-of-season awards. A couple of fourth places at the Hungarian and US Grand Prix’s were the official highlights but a move around fellow rookie Felipe Nasr on the outside of the infamous Blanchimont corner at Spa proved his credentials to any doubters; this kid was the real deal. Little did everyone know that 2016 would be the Year of the Verstappen…
One look at the traditional season-opener at Albert Park, Melbourne, Australia wouldn’t really have given fans much idea of the season ahead for the young Dutchman. He was still at Toro Rosso, and was putting in good, if not inconsistent performances. For example, the ability to qualify far above his car’s potential, but thenequally the ability to cause damage to the car but attempting a too high-risk overtaking maneouver.
However, just a couple of months later and Red Bull Racing’s first race-winner of 2016? Max Verstappen. The image of an ecstatic young driver atop the race podium in Catalaluyna would be one broadcast around the world.
While inbetween there was the drama of dropping Kyvat back to the junior team and Verstappen going to Red Bull, in his debut race he answered any critics with a dominant performance. Yes he benefitted greatly from the sparring Mercedes’ taking each other out, but to show the maturity and precision to drive to victory ahead of two world champions in the Ferarri and his own teammate, Ricciardo, took some doing. He’d arrived at the big stage.
The rest of the season, to this point, has been a whirlwind. In the following eight races, he’s managed an astonishing four podiums, and while none of those were wins, he remains the only non-Merc driver to take home a race win this year. And while the races in Monte-Carlo, Spa and last time out at Monza showed there’s still rough marks around the edges to this young man, the erratic driving, the tendancy to get overly-drawn into battles and that fiery personality, has ensured it’s been a rollercoaster ride thus far.
Where it goes from now is purely down to Verstappen. With an improving Red Bull car that is undoubtedly the best of the rest, and rule changes that promise a closer field coming into play in 2017, could we really be celebrating the anointment of King Max in just a year’s time? A teenage world champion?
If it’s going to be anyone, it’s going to be this guy; he’s a dominant personality, with whispers of the great Schumi about him. He’s brought financial gain, from a notable Dutch sponsor and fanfare back to the sport, with thousands of his countrymen and women following their man across the European races, to the extent that a Dutch Grand Prix has even been discussed. It’s clear to seeHolland loves Max, it’s arguable the world loves Max, but Bernie Ecclestone will be hoping the sport of Formula One will love Max Verstappen for years to come.