F1

F1 2018 Max Verstappen Debate (P1): Why Criticism of the Dutchman is Unfair

In the first part of our double-header about under-fire Dutchman Max Verstappen, George Howson gives the case for the defence.

George Howson by George Howson

(Photo credit: Alberto-g-rovi)

You can read Part Two of the debate: ‘Mad Max – Fury Road’  – here.

Max Verstappen is one of Formula 1’s rising stars and paradoxically one of the most criticised drivers on the grid. There’s no doubt in my mind, the Red Bull driver will be a world champion if he’s given the machinery to do so. But frustratingly, he’s not shown that so far this season, producing three unforced errors that cost him points in the opening three rounds.

The Mistakes

Verstappen hasn’t had the best time so far this season – that’s clear to see. So before beginning the defence, let’s look at what has occurred in the opening three rounds. In Australia, he lost a place to Kevin Magnussen off the start and spun while trying to catch the Dane. His off-track excursion cost him several places and, after the pit-stops, he lost a further place to Fernando Alonso. Even with the Haas’ retirements, he crossed the line in a disappointing sixth. 

In Bahrain, a mistake in qualifying sent him down the grid but a good start saw him challenging Lewis Hamilton by the end of the lap. Verstappen got a great run on the Mercedes driver, and he lunged at him into Turn One, running wide and forcing Lewis off the track.  As the Brit rejoined the track, there was contact causing terminal tyre and differential damage to Verstappen’s car.

Finally, there’s China, where Verstappen had arguably his worst incident of his dishonourable hat-trick. Red Bull were in the ascendency, with faster and fresher tyres strapped to their cars, Daniel Ricciardo was challenging for the lead, while Verstappen was catching Sebastian Vettel for third. Vettel ran wide at the hairpin and left the door open for Max. The Dutchman didn’t need a second invitation, but his execution was well off, colliding with the German causing both cars to spin. 

That doesn’t make pleasant reading for Verstappen fans but it’s not that simple and here’s why:

Success at an Early age

Verstappen may be young, but he’s already broken many F1 records and achieved a lot in his short time in the sport.He was the youngest ever driver, a race winner at 18 and is now a regular podium finisher, he’s got a dazzling future ahead of him. 

Some would argue that he shouldn’t be making these mistakes because of the experience he already has. While he has experience (this is his fourth season of Grand Prix racing), he’s only 20 years old, younger than some drivers like Lewis Hamilton and Kimi Raikkonen were when they entered the sport.

He’s an easy target

Verstappen is one of those drivers that people seem to love to hate, and that’s not right. Some sections of the F1 fanbase get a kick out of seeing the most successful drivers, such as Hamilton and Vettel, making mistakes. No doubt the latter’s spin in the last race got viewers off their chairs. Verstappen seems to garner a similar amount of vitriol from some Formula 1 followers, there’s even been calls for Helmut Marko to demote Max back down to Toro Rosso and replace him with Pierre Gasly. I’ve heard peculiar rumours over the years, but that takes the cake. 

Perhaps what rubs salt into the wounds most for Verstappen is that his teammate, the ever-smiling Daniel Ricciardo, has already won a race and is ahead in the standings. Yes, it’s early doors, but the one driver you’re always compared to is your teammate. 

Max’s short career so far has already courted controversy, his overaggressive defending has been called unfair and downright dangerous in the past. However, this will to win makes him great and will continue to propel him forward. he was untouchable in Malaysia and Mexico last year and I expect there will be races like that this season if Red Bull stay competitive.

In summary, I think criticism of Verstappen is fair, he’s made three preventable mistakes in a short time. What I don’t believe is fair, is the amount of abuse he’s been subject to at this early stage of the season. He’s still young and has had a bad few races, even the greatest F1 drivers have made similar mistakes in the past, Max has the mental strength to put this behind him and move on.

But what do you think about Verstappen? Has the criticism been fair? Let us know in the comments below!

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George Howson

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