Ferrari and Mercedes in Verstappen battle – Must feel nice Max, must feel nice….

OK, it is official now. I just came across this headline and even if this headline is not entirely true currently, it is only a matter of time. Now that I think about it, it was only a matter of time regardless. Teenager Max comes into F1 with such a high pedigree – his mom an accomplished karter and kart instructor and a dad who was in F1 for ten years or there about.

Max’s dad Jos raced for the likes of Tyrell, and Stewart but he will mostly be remembered for his time at Benetton as Michael Schumacher’s teammate. I would surmise that if anyone knows what it takes to succeed in F1 not just as a driver but as a race winner and champion it would be Jos. Verstappen senior had a front row seat into the difference between just making it to F1 and excelling in all aspects in F1.

Many people have won in F1 just once. Pastor Maldonado, Heike Kovalainen, and Jarno Trulli, Jean Alesi come to mind. Several drivers have won on a few more occasions that one; Giancarlo Fisichella, Heinz-Harald Frentzen, Eddie Irvine just to name a few. At some point a driver, a certain type of driver, the right kind of driver, in the right team with the right car will go on to win multiple times – however that takes place at a much lower percentage. This fact all fans of F1 know to be true.

We all know who Max’s Dad is, but do you know who is mom is??? Sophie Kumpen. Do you know why that is important? Because she was a Karting champion. She beat the likes of Jenson Button and Giancarlo Fisichella and Jarno Trulli. Not a bad resume. Talk about being born with a silver spoon in your mouth. In Max’s case he was born with a steering wheel in his lap…

We fans are in tune to the fact that to become a race winner many times, and in the rare cases a champion, is to recognize that a driver is truly special and gifted – that driver is the real deal.

Max winning last year in his debut with Red Bull in Spain was great but one win does not make a great driver nor does it pique the interest of great marques such as Ferrari. Remember, Ferrari hires champions to race for them, Ferrari is never the pursuer, great drivers pursue Ferrari, such is the leverage of Maranello and El Commodore when he was still in charge.

This is what has made Verstappen’s rise in the short time he has been in the sport so compelling. Even before his first win, it would seem he was being groomed for overalls in Red or Silver. I suppose you could throw dark blue overalls into the mix as well, but lets face it, until Red Bull really demonstrates that they can produce the entire package, meaning a PU on par with a more competitive one such as Merc or Ferrari, they are not quite in the picture for the Dutchman in my opinion.

Then Max gave a, as the saying goes, “Master Class” of how to drive in the rain and make everyone else look like rookies last year while contesting the Brazilian Grand Prix. I have to say (which I have said/typed many times) I am always a bit reluctant to jump on the ‘new driver that is so great bandwagon’ whenever I read or hear that in the news cycle, but after Verstappen’s drive in the rain, I was a convert.

Here is Max in Brazil 2016 seemingly driving on a different planet than everyone else. After making short work of Sebastian’s Ferrari he is about to dispose of Kimi as well. I think the Dutchman completed 78 passes that race and really cemented what everyone was saying – this kid is a phenomenon and future champion without question.

There was also the Mexican incident. Say what you will about Max’s defending/driving against Sebastian Vettel in the closing laps, but I say it was true grit to keep the Ferrari behind and I am pretty sure there was not one (barring Arrivebenne, and even him) that was not watching those laps with a type of racer’s true glee. I know I was.

Fast forward to this year and what is the qualifying breakdown between the Red Bull drivers??? Is it 11 – 5 in the favor of Verstappen? Putting aside the points tally which Ricciardo is in full command of with that number being 177 to 93 (this does not however give up the entire picture), Verstappen has had the measure of his more seasoned teammate this season, points results notwithstanding.

When Max steps into the car you get the feeling that there is every chance something magical could happen. This is how I felt about Michael; it is how I feel about Lewis on Saturdays. I definitely felt this way about Alonso when he was driving at Ferrari. Of course most people would say this about the great Ayrton Senna’s entire career.

Even Daniel knows this fact about Max, he recently said this about his teammate: “I don’t want to take anything away from Seb,” Ricciardo told Channel 4. “He is and was and still is a great driver, but I believe Max is the toughest teammate I have had. Hopefully he says the same for me!”

Fast forward to last weekend’s Malaysian Gand Prix and while there are competing theories on why the conditions favored Ferrari and Red Bull as opposed to the Mercedes chassis/setup, what is not in question is Verstappen’s drive from lights to flag.

Mexico 2016. This picture is worth a 1000 words, most of them not the nice kind if you are Sebastian Vettel. The teenager held the Ferrari at bay for the last 4/5 laps which produced all kinds of drama and a penalty for Vettel. He was incredulous and Max was all smiles…

While there are no more questions regarding the young drivers speed, ability, or talent, the only question left is where will the driver be in 2019 and beyond? What makes this a bit tricky is the sport is about to undergo another seismic shift in 2020 with a real possibility that the engine formula will change which will incentivize new engine manufacturers to join the sport – there is no real safe bet with Mercedes or Ferrari anymore. It could just as well be that Honda or Renault has at the very least an equal PU in the new/cheaper/less complex formula.

What about Aston Martin, or Porsche?? Aston will become the title sponsor to Red Bull, but will they provide a PU to the team? If Porsche comes into the sport (and this is a big if) will it be to provide PU’s or as a team owner? How will this change the dynamic of the sport? But I’m getting off point, lets allow the future to do its thing and and since most of us don’t read tea leaves for a living, let’s all just have a great time watching the new [real] kid on the block develop as a driver, whichever team he decides to drive for.

If the rumors are to be believed, twenty million pounds a year is just an insane number. It is not quite (although its not that far off) LeBron James money or Christiano Ronaldo or Clayton Kershaw money, but still think about this for one minute – Max has only won twice not to mention has not won a championship, which all things being equal could still be a few years away, and if this is the kind of money Ferrari or Mercedes is willing to pay then quite frankly Max has already achieved something incredible in F1, something so singular, something so unique that we have never seen it. Something which Michael, Alonso, Lewis and Sebastian did not do and never will.

-jp-

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