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Why Max Verstappen has gone one step too far

Credit: Mark Thompson/Red Bull Media House

Two hardcore racers who battled it out for most of the Azerbaijan GP until disaster. It was a stunning battle from the racer’s point of view with some excellent racecraft and manoeuvres. Of course I’m talking about the Red Bull battle between Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen on Sunday.

It all started when Verstappen made a very opportunistic move on Ricciardo into turn 2 at the first safety car restart. This was great but it also meant that Ricciardo lost a position to Carlos Sainz and then he came under severe pressure from Sainz’s teammate, Nico Hulkenberg whilst Verstappen himself came under pressure from Sainz. This slowed both of the Red Bull drivers down.

Then on lap 12, Ricciardo tried to go around the outside of Verstappen and he nearly made the move stick. They clashed tyres which was Verstappen’s first mistake in my opinion because he opened up the steering ever so slightly to almost intentionally bang wheels with Ricciardo on the exit of turn 1. It could so easily have ended up with a damaged front wing and a puncture for either driver. You shouldn’t be trying to bang wheels and definitely not with your teammate. Verstappen held onto the position.

They battled again on lap 27 as Verstappen held the inside line towards turn 1 to defend to force Ricciardo around the outside. Ricciardo nearly made the move stick but Verstappen still had a slight overlap as they went down to turn 2. Riccardo then gave Verstappen a bit of his own medicine by just moving him over to the right hand side but Verstappen stuck with it and went down the inside at turn 2 to hold on to the position.

I must say that the racecraft between these two drivers is just phenomenal and I was loving every moment of it. From the team’s point of view, the battle was costing them precious time and if I was in Christian Horner’s shoes I would have told Max to let Daniel through because Ricciardo was slightly faster in my opinion. Not by much though. Or at the very least, tell them to stop fighting each other and keep the pace high because the pace was there as Verstappen and Ricciardo set fastest laps throughout the first stint.

Eventually Ricciardo did get passed his teammate with an exceptional move on the brakes around the outside. A slight lock up was made but how he didn’t go into the barriers or down the run off into turn 1 was astonishing to me.

The Red Bull drivers ended each others races in Azerbaijan after a crash on lap 39. (Credit: Dan Istitene/Getty Images/Red Bull Media House)

They both seemed to really struggle with tyre warm up issues and it was very clear that pitting first if in a close battle would be a significant disadvantage. Why did Red Bull pit Ricciardo first when it would have been very clear to them that pitting second would be the best thing to do for the driver you are giving priority to (the driver that’s ahead in your team, in this case Ricciardo). A very fast in lap from Verstappen helped him jump the Australian but even without the quick lap, pitting 1 lap later than Ricciardo was what ultimately gave Verstappen track position again. This meant Ricciardo would have to overtake Verstappen again.

The end of lap 39 saw the collision. It all started very early on in the straight to me as Verstappen weaved to the right then back to the left, back to the inside along the pit wall. You should really only be making one move. Then, as we come up to the braking zone, Ricciardo moves to the right, Verstappen reacts and covers by moving right. This is wrong but it gets worse as Ricciardo moves to the left when there is a clear gap to make an overtake but Verstappen moves back to he left by reacting again. That’s the way I read the incident anyway.

I don’t see how you can blame Ricciardo because there was a gap and Verstappen closed it very late, not in the braking zone, but very late. The downforce that he had would have escaped almost instantly as Verstappen moves across in front of him at well over 200MPH and it was inevitable that as soon as he touched the brakes that he would lock up. To those people who I’ve seen on social media saying “why didn’t Ricciardo brake earlier”… well to me, he braked as soon as Verstappen moved over to the left again and couldn’t really do anymore at that moment. He knew that trying to go around the outside may not have worked and going down the inside would almost certainly have worked.

Why Verstappen defended so rigorously, against his own teammate remember, is crazy to me. He was clearly so desperate to beat Ricciardo and try and make a statement that he can defend for a whole race and come out on top. His mentality must have been to do anything to finish ahead of Ricciardo and when he clashed wheels with Ricciardo earlier in the race, that showed real intent that the fight may turn into a war.

The team must take some of the blame because we heard no radio calls to either driver to back off, or stop fighting or let Ricciardo go passed. Fair enough that if Verstappen was told to let Ricciardo through, it probably wouldn’t have happened but they were going at it like it was there last ever F1 race. To me, Red Bull see Verstappen is the future and they let the fight happen because they wanted him to beat Ricciardo.

If they didn’t collide they would be saying that they put on a show and it was just great racing. But, the collision was always going to happen. Verstappen caused it and a reprimand for him is just not enough. I don’t see why Ricciardo got a reprimand because he went for a gap that was there but then got closed, causing him to lose all of his downforce and hit the back of Verstappen’s car.

Niki Lauda said “I’d bring them in the office together and tell them how much less they will get paid because of the damage they have done.” He also added that he felt Verstappen was 70% to blame.

Christian Horner said this after the race “two guys taking things into their own hands which shouldn’t have happened”  He also said that they were told to “calm down” after a few incidents, this in itself isn’t enough to make the drivers stop fighting each other. Both drivers have apologised to the team and they are still talking to each other which is good to see. Thank goodness this wasn’t for the race lead or else there would literally be people punching walls and maybe each other!

Would team orders give Christian Horner’s team a chance at the Constructor’s title this year. (Credit: Mark Thompson/Getty Images/Red Bull Media House)

It’s not the first time Verstappen has done a stupid manoeuvre. He moved twice on Raikkonen in Hungary in 2016 and then one race later and he moved very late on Raikkonen down the Kemmel Straight at 200MPH .

This year has been awful for him as he made an uncharacteristic error in Australia when chasing the Haas drivers as well as hitting Hamilton in Bahrain and getting a DNF (although I do think he was very unlucky with this incident) and he locked the rear brakes in China to hit Vettel at the hairpin. He has made at least one big mistake at every single race this year. This is unacceptable and had he been consistent and clean, he probably would have been near the top of the championship since this season has been about consistent results so far.

Imagine if Sirotkin, Stroll or Hartley made all of the mistakes Max has made this year. They would be absolutely slated by everybody and people would say “how did they get into F1” or something like that or money jokes about the Williams drivers. We have to start treating Max Verstappen in the same way and he’s only still getting away with it because he’s Max Verstappen and a lot of people still rate him highly. I am one of those people and it’s so irritating to see him causing collisions when his natural speed, his wet weather driving and his talent is top-notch. He’s shown that his racecraft has the potential to be very good but at the moment it’s pretty poor.

All the Verstappen hype when he came into the sport in 2015 went sky-high as we all realised his potential. Winning for Red Bull in his first ever race for them in Spain 2016 got more and more people comparing him to the likes of Senna and Schumacher. But now, it’s starting to go downhill and this is the lowest point of his career.

Max Verstappen first got the Red Bull drive after a series of bad results for Daniil Kvyat. Could the Dutchman face similar pressure from Carlos Sainz Jr. the Toro Rosso drivers? (Credit: Mark Thompson/Getty Images/Red Bull Media House)

It appears that he can bounce back well and his speed is still sharp but these clumsy errors and desperate moves will not win him world championships. He needs to choose his battles and let some small ones get away from him to think about the bigger picture.

In a year were Red Bull can probably challenge for the championship if one of their drivers can stay consistent, things like what we saw in Azerbaijan are the last thing they need. I believe that Red Bull will be the team to beat when we get to the end of the season fly away races but their drivers will have too much to do due to silly incidents which have cost them points. More of this is put down to Verstappen rather than Ricciardo.

A lot of this article has been about Max Verstappen, because I think that Ricciardo should not be blamed. It’s just one of many incidents that Verstappen his been involved in this year and it cannot get any worse than this. He is an exceptional driver but I do see a bit of selfishness in him which can be a good thing but it can also be a really bad thing as we’ve seen this year.

He had now collided with Hamilton, Vettel and Ricciardo and I do think he has definitely got into their heads. When they see Verstappen in their mirrors they will be wary and when they’re challenging him for an overtake, they will be that little bit more cautious. If that’s the statement that Verstappen wanted to make, then well done for doing it. He’s not done it in a nice way but he’s certainly done it.

Of course, he doesn’t want to crash (and definitely not with his teammate) but he does treat everyone equally and it doesn’t matter if you’re a 4-time world champion or have only made 4 starts, his robust driving style will make you work for an overtake or to overtake him.

I hope this is the last I speak badly about Max but last Sunday he knocked his team and himself out.

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