The three-time world champion kept his cool in the car even though it didn’t always sound that way. PETER COSTER reports on the US Grand Prix:
It was not Max Verstappen’s 50th Grand Prix win on Sunday that so showed his dominance as a driver, it was his patience.
The Dutch wunderkind started his F1 career as a 17-year-old firebrand, the youngest driver on the grid and one who took no prisoners even then.
Now, he is 26 and a three-time world champion, who has not only shown his mastery over the other elite drivers on the F1 grid, he has shown his mastery over himself.
At the Circuit Of The Americas in Texas, the first of a three-header before Mexico and Brazil, Super Max bided his time.
This is not something Verstappen usually does, but it is a completeness as a driver more than anything else that shows his greatness.
Greatness is a word deserved as his 50th victory places him alongside Lewis Hamilton, Michael Schumacher, Sebastian Vettel and Alain Prost.
But Sunday at COTA (Americans love an acronym) Verstappen was not starting on pole, which is his usual grid position.
He qualified on pole but was later relegated to sixth because his flying lap was deleted. That was when patience described his strategy in the race.
Instead of storming the start, where most collisions and excursions into the barriers occur, Max bided his time.
He worked his way through the field to take the lead on lap 28. From there it seemed it would be business as usual.
The Dutch champion avoided the starting melee and had played a waiting game, but there was an expletive-littered outburst against his race engineer Gianpiero Lambiase for “talking” as he battled failing brakes as the gap narrowed between Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton’s Mercedes.
He might have lost control of his temper while raging over his brake problems, but the volatile Verstappen kept control of his car.
An eight-second lead over Hamilton was reduced to just over two seconds on the final lap but Verstappen held the car together, its race threatening brake problems confirmed after the race by Red Bull’s Helmut Marko.
While Lewis Hamilton threatened to overtake Verstappen on the last lap, it would have made no difference to the result after the Mercedes driver was disqualified along with Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc.
Scrutineering revealed what was considered excessive wear on the base boards of both cars.
Lando Norris in the McLaren moved to second, with Carlos Sainz third in the second Ferrari and Sergio Perez fourth in the other Red Bull.
Four cars were tested for wear on the skid boards with two contravening FIA regulations. It suggested that if 50 percent of the cars tested broke the rules, the likelihood was that if more cars had been tested, more would have been penalised.
This followed Verstappen’s disqualification after he finished on pole, but had his last time deleted because of track limits.
The FIA ordered repainting track limits on some corners at the previous Qatar Grand Prix to discourage drivers from going to close to the kerbs, which were damaging tyres and could have led to serious accidents.
At the United States Grand Prix, the white lines were were also widened to make it less like the cars would exceed track limits amid complaints by teams and drivers.
Will the paintbrushes be out at the next race at the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriquez in Mexico where Red Bull’s Sergio Perez, who has been a serious white line offender, is the darling of the partisan crowds?
After a run of outs since his two victories earlier this season, more is also expected of the Mexican driver by the Red Bull team.
The US Grand Prix drew the usual crowd of celebrities, including astronauts and former heavyweight boxing champion Anthony Joshua, who seemed as puzzled as everyone else by his investment in the Alpine team.
If it’s just marketing, it worked at the US Grand Prix, even if the team finished sixth and DNF.
But the usual hoopla along the pit lane with Daniel Ricciardo grinning toothily in his cowboy was nothing to what is coming when the circus moves to Las Vegas next month.
The circus will race down the famous Vegas strip under lights, a far cry from when Australia’s 1980 world champion Alan Jones raced around the Caesar’s Palace carpark.
Then comes the season-ending Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, with Red Bull already holding the constructors and drivers world championships.
So, pundits have gone back to championships past to revive memories of old arguments and still lingering disputes.
Most recent was the first of Max Verstappen’s championships victories when he snatched what would have been an eighth title from Lewis Hamilton at Abu Dhabi in 2021.
Race director Masi made the controversial decision to let the lapped cases between Hamilton and Verstappen out of the way after the safety car came out after a crash.
The restart allowed Verstappen to pass Hamilton on the final lap on fresher tyres and was to cost he Australian race director his job.
It was an Australian Grand Prix before the race moved to Melbourne that gave Michael Schumacher his championship in the final race of the season in 1994.
Schumacher was a point ahead of Damon Hill and whoever finished ahead in the points at Adelaide would be world champion.
Schumacher made a mistake and slid off the track, which would have handed victory to the closely following Hill.
But both cars failed to finish after Schumacher spun back across the truck and collided with Hill.
At the press conference after the race, this correspondent asked Schumacher why he had not attempted to avoid Hill.
His answer was that he had no control of the car, but the real answer would have been the one given by three-time world champion Jack Brabham.
Black Jack was a hard racer and said it was “the only thing he could do.”
It was the first of Schumacher’s seven world championships. But did he deserve it?
“As a six-times world champion, he definitely belongs in the top five,” said F1 journalist Roger Benoit in an interview with the Swiss-German newspaper and website, Blick.
Asked why he had used the term “six-time world champion,” Benoit said, “Of course, I know that he was world champion seven times, but the 1994 title should actually be taken away from him because he only won it because of his foul on Damon Hill.”
I was there and I agree with Benoit, but Schumacher over the years has stuck with the answer he gave me and Schumacher is the only one who really knows.
(and for anyone still wondering what happened to Melbourne’s Oscar Piastri, the rising Australian star was forced to retire his McLaren after a first lap collision.)