Verstappen’s Turkish GP shows us his best trait is also his worst
Up until Q3 at Istanbul Park last weekend, there was only Max Verstappen at the top of the timesheets. Max seemed to find grip at the slippery Turkish circuit while those around him could not. The disappointment and anger from Verstappen were evident to see when he did not clinch pole position on Saturday afternoon.
Max, however, had a second chance on Sunday with his front-row start. But his RB16 did not get off the line, and he soon found himself well down the order. It came as a surprise as Verstappen does have a high reputation for his wet weather driving. But regardless, unlike his former teammate, Daniel Ricciardo, who began his race in second gear to nullify any wheelspin, Verstappen lost out, and the two Racing Points charged ahead.
After the virtual safety car period, triggered by Antonio Giovinazzi’s stranded Alfa Romeo, the entire field were on intermediates. And in the drying conditions, Verstappen was making huge inroads into the lead that the leading two pink cars had built up. We weren’t even at half race distance, and Perez was catching Stroll ahead with Verstappen in hot pursuit. The Red Bull was finally putting its superior pace over the opposition in free practice to good use in a session where it mattered. Verstappen was sure to be the race winner at best, or in a position to defend the lead at worst once he despatched the Racing Point duo.
A mad Max makes an impatient Verstappen
But rather than wait for the perfect opportunity into a heavy braking zone on the still slippery track, Max went for the move on the fastest corner of the circuit. Turn 11 would ordinarily be flat out on a dry weekend with a rubbered in surface. And even then, a move on the inside of the corner would be audacious. Max was fortunate that he didn’t slide all the way into the tyre barriers, such is the generosity of run-off at the Herman Tilke designed tracks.
But it is that audacity and insatiable desire to overtake that makes Max Max. The reason he is so highly rated is quite frankly his desire to succeed, coupled with his seeming lack of fear. There is no questioning Verstappen has a possibly unprecedented amount of raw talent. I do not doubt that the Dutchman will be a multiple world champion. Still, this incident exemplified Max’s greatest and worst trait. His impatience to win.
Verstappen’s Turkish race has made me question how such a top driver can make such a glaring error. Of course, that’s easy for me to say watching the on boards and countless replays after the event. The split-second decision making and adrenaline inside a drivers helmet is something only twenty men in the world get to experience on a handful of Sundays each year. Max was far from the only driver who span off the road at Istanbul Park. But I can’t recall anyone else attempting an overtake into this corner at the Grand Prix.
Max Verstappen is of a different breed
So what is it that separates Verstappen from his peers? Is there something that could explain why Verstappen is so driven to be the best? To not show patience when exercising self-control could be the better course of action? I think there is, and it pertains to his unusual route to Formula One.
While Leclerc, Norris, Russell, Ocon, Ricciardo, Hamilton, Vettel, and nearly everyone else on the grid paid their dues for multiple years in single-seater racing before their step up, Verstappen had just one season of car racing prior to F1. Not that there’s anything wrong with that — Max unquestionably has the skill for F1. But there is one thing he doesn’t have that nearly everyone else in Formula One does. A championship.
That, of course, isn’t necessarily a Formula One championship. Only three men on the 2020 grid possess one of those. But single-seater championship. From as obscure as Chinese Formula Pilota, like Giovinazzi won, to a respected feeder series like Formula 2/GP2 like Leclerc and Hamilton conquered. Verstappen has ‘only’ won a championship when steering a go-kart.
The 2014 season Max spent in European Formula 3 was laden with race wins for Verstappen. Yet it was Renault’s Esteban Ocon who took the top prize at the end of the year. Of course, when you only have a single year to race in a junior formula, it somewhat limits your opportunity to clinch a title. Still, the fact remains Verstappen is one of the few drivers on the grid who hasn’t topped the table at the end of a season of formula racing.
The complete Max Verstappen package
Verstappen will know he has more ability than most on the grid. The timing of Mercedes’ ascent to domination must be unimaginably frustrating for Max. Consistently outdoing everybody aside from the pilots of the team who are unattainable doesn’t yield a prize. Well, aside from a generous smattering of P3, P2 and occasional P1 trophies. And while seventeen men would relish the podiums Verstappen is taking, he is still an embodiment of the grass always being greener on the other side. Verstappen doesn’t want to settle. It’s all he’s been doing this year, and throughout his other five F1 seasons.
Verstappen wants to be World Drivers’ Champion, but so does every other driver in F1. However, for Verstappen, in particular, that would mean achieving something most of his rivals already have. To be at the top of the standings after the FIA counts all of the results at the end of a season. In missing out on the “traditional” steps to F1, Verstappen ironically might be the advert as to why Formula 3 and Formula 2 are so crucial for a driver to compete in, and win.
It’s ever so easy to forget Verstappen is only 23 years old. Yet he’s already achieved so much more than hundreds of drivers who have come and gone over the years. Each season he adds additional experience, and every passing year adds wisdom. Max is already better than almost all of his competitors. Whenever the day comes that he wins the world championship, perhaps he will add patience to his growing arsenal of skills. What a complete package Verstappen will be when he inevitably reaches that day.
Originally published at Grand Prix Grandstand, where the entire open-wheel F1 weekend is in focus.