Max Verstappen is still driving with the disdain and wonder of a child. With the goal to wring every last ounce of pain from a racetrack through bone-crunching, fear-inducing racing.
These are compelling reasons for why the Red Bull driver has become something of a cult figure. But on the track you can’t help but feel he’s a bit of a shithead.
Despite what you see in the visual sense, however, this his gentle, blushing self is far from the monster we see on the virtual feed.
After another weekend of wheel-to-wheel battles with Mercedes rivals Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg, at the German Grand Prix at the Nurburgring, Verstappen is more pleased for the untapped potential of his unproven team-mate Daniel Ricciardo than he is for himself.
After an unsavoury incident with Rosberg left the German with cuts and bruises following a racing pile-up, Verstappen wrote about the loss of front teeth in “what, me worry?” terms: “Blood, fluid and guts. Gut punched.”
It’s Red Bull’s self-belief that ultimately wins them races, not that of either Verstappen or Ricciardo. It’s obviously a sound basis. There’s more to life than winning on the track.
When Mercedes secured the constructors’ championship at Abu Dhabi, for the second year in a row, it was Red Bull’s rivals, not Verstappen and Ricciardo, who were left filling the room with chin-puffs.
Mercedes’s Nico Rosberg holds off Max Verstappen in Germany
But it’s the incident that brought Verstappen down to earth.
As Lewis Hamilton clinched his fifth title – and his 70th grand prix win – and Rosberg another Mercedes marker, Verstappen finished fifth for the sport’s second-richest team.
Despite perhaps feeling a little sad that the champagne wasn’t on ice, his joy was clear in his words. “In the next season we will get even better and hopefully we can start early on and it can help us get closer to Mercedes,” he said.
Only last year, he did not see the podium in Bahrain after a clash with Hamilton in the final corner that very nearly ended both drivers’ day.
“You can’t plan them so it is kind of useless for me to talk about next year,” Verstappen said then. “It is a game and it is such a huge difference between what is feasible and what is possible, especially for the F1 season.
“Maybe we get some track time in practice, maybe we will get some track time in qualifying. We can never really know.”
It’s a shame he didn’t get the chance. Surely he would have liked to have made more of the opportunities and the podium opportunity he saw coming? What would it have felt like, knowing he, and not Mercedes, was racing for F1’s biggest prize.
Verstappen is the F1 equivalent of Babe Ruth in baseball. Blessed with speed, no doubt, but lacking the experience to celebrate it at the top of the stage.
The last two seasons, he has pushed the war against Mercedes to its limits, with an “eccentric” mentality far removed from the corporate ones promoted by team boss Christian Horner.
It’s bred an atmosphere of playfulness that has felt absent in a series of frustrating races. The manner in which Verstappen conducts himself in qualifying and the ‘mania’ he generates throughout the paddock is more akin to a rap star than a racing driver.
The anger and passion he generates is undeniable, but it’s anything but winning.