Max Verstappen’s maturity shows Mercedes may have made the wrong decision when it comes to the future

Verstappen is showing a lot of the traits that have made Lewis Hamilton such a success – even if it results in a radio rant every now and then – that suggests he is the dominant driver of tomorrow’s Formula One

Jack de Menezes
Sports News Correspondent
Tuesday 18 August 2020 08:12
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F1 preview: A lap of the Spanish Grand Prix

Max Verstappen’s mid-race messages to his team resulted in the inevitable slap on the wrist from his Red Bull team as frustrations threatened to boil over, but the team will not have been overly concerned about seeing the 22-year-old show a surprising maturity in how he wants to battle with Mercedes.

Let’s get the obvious out of the way first. Verstappen wants to win every race. He is driven to be first in everything he does, emboldened by a belief that he is the most naturally-talented driver on the grid, despite the presence of a six-time world champion normally in front of him.

So when Verstappen says he was pleased with second place in Sunday’s Spanish Grand Prix, it comes with a slight asterisk. But having ranted on the radio about the state of his tyres, his frustration with not being stopped sooner for fresh rubber and the persistent talk of what Hamilton was doing, Verstappen revealed his happiness with coming home in second.

It would have been easy for a driver of Verstappen’s age and relative inexperience to hop out of the cockpit and blame the wrong strategy or the wrong tyres for costing him victory, but he is wise enough to see the gap between the Mercedes and the Red Bull still remains.

It is an attribute that few are able to master. We have seen this season how Sebastian Vettel has been unable to hide his frustration with Ferrari, and on Sunday Daniel Ricciardo became the latest to bemoan the lack of pace in his car, the Renault, in the heat of the midfield battle.

But Verstappen appears to have the capability to take in everything around him and see them at face value, rather than through any tinted glasses.

To compare that to Hamilton, how many times have we heard the multiple world champion appear to lose his cool when things turn against him? Comments such as “this tyre won’t last” and “we’ve lost this race” are common when a race doesn’t play out as Hamilton plans, yet as soon as he is out of the car, the message is clear: we win together and we lose together.

Red Bull team principal Christian Horner has seen this in Verstappen, which is why on Sunday he was happy to compare them even though their numbers are not even close to matching up.

"I think they are the two in-form drivers of Formula 1, there's very little to choose between them," Horner said.

"It's interesting, you have Max who's 22 years of age, Lewis who's 35, they're at different stages of their career but I'm hopeful in the coming races that we see the two of them go head to head because it's what the viewers would love to see, it's what the teams would love to see and I think it would be good for Formula One."

Verstappen is already getting the better of Valtteri Bottas despite being in an inferior car 

Sadly it seems the only way they could go head-to-head over the course of a season is if they are in the same car, and Mercedes’ decision last week to extend Valtteri Bottas’s contract has almost certainly ended any immediate chance of that happening. Hamilton is yet to sign with Mercedes for next year, but is expected to stay at Mercedes after winning five world titles together, which could soon be six.

Since signing his contract extension, Bottas has secured two underwhelming third places, and there is mounting evidence that he should not really be in the fastest car on the grid - a role that in theory should be reserved for the two fastest drivers on the grid. The longer Bottas receives to show he can compete with Hamilton, the more convincing it is that he is not the man to do it.

But what about Verstappen? His long-term contract with Red Bull runs through to 2023, meaning Mercedes will have to spring him from it if they are to have him driving for the Silver Arrows in the near future. Horner clearly believes he is the successor to Hamilton as the man to dominate the sport going forward, and the pair are displaying very similar traits in their journey this season, but does F1 deserve the sight of them in the same team? Actually, does F1 actually need that to happen? Everyone remembers Prost vs Senna and Hamilton vs Rosberg, don’t they?

Bottas is the safe option. He will pick up a few wins a season, he will race clean and fairly and he will put the team first, even if that means playing back-up to Hamilton. But Hamilton will not be around forever, and Mercedes need to weigh up whether they are willing to sacrifice the talent of the next generation in order to have a smooth ride right now.

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