Max Verstappen, Red Bull, Circuit of the Americas, 2019

‘I am definitely not a rookie anymore – but I’m still getting better’

Max Verstappen performance analysis

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Max Verstappen has emerged as the clear team leader at Red Bull, and took them to three victories last year.

This always looked like to happen following Daniel Ricciardo’s departure from Red Bull at the end of 2018, after which Pierre Gasly lasted just 12 races in his place, before being replaced by Alexander Albon.

Verstappen explained how he has grown into the role since arriving in F1 with Toro Rosso in 2015.

“When I just joined in Red Bull I was first of all listening and following Daniel’s direction a bit more,” he said. “Of course you have your own driving style, so you’re anyway always different. But I didn’t know what certain things on the car could do because it’s different to the Toro Rosso.”

Over the years he’s come to learn “what I want from the car [and] what we are going to change”. The team’s faith in him was vindicated last year, when he saw off both Ferrari drivers with a car which usually wasn’t as quick as the SF-91.

Although 2019 looked like his most accomplished season yet, and was marked by noticeably fewer errors than his 2018 campaign, Verstappen believes there’s still more to come.

“I am definitely not a rookie anymore,” he said. “[But] of course I only did one year in F3 and then getting into F1 it was a big jump. So I guess you make a few mistakes which maybe other people have made in F2 or wherever they have driven, 3.5 back in the day. But I’m still getting better.”

Qualifying: Lap time

The lower the lines, the better the driver performed

Verstappen’s qualifying form was hard to fault. During 2018 he had been frustrated by the characteristics of Renault’s power delivery, but he was clearly far happier with the improving Honda.

He consistently strung together his best sector times when it mattered, and was never really out-qualified by either team mate on merit all year long. A red flag thwarted him in Canada, and Gasly’s quicker lap time in Azerbaijan was later deleted due to a technical infringement.

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Race: Start versus finish

Start, Interlagos, 2019
Interlagos pole set up win number three
Qualifying strongly allowed Verstappen to consistently get in among the Ferraris, and occasionally the Mercedes too. He consistently capitalised on opportunities to beat quicker cars.

This was especially true of his rivals in red. “We just seem to execute the weekend better than them,” said Verstappen following his superb victory in a rain-hit German Grand Prix one which any driver from the ‘big three’ teams might have won.

Being able not just to push a car to its limit, but to stay alert to the opportunities afforded by changing conditions and strategies while doing so, is a trait of F1’s top drivers which Verstappen exhibited in his best performances this year.

“You need extra capacity, of course, than just focussing on driving,” he said. “That’s always the case, not only in the wet but also in the dry.

“If you are fully focussed [only] on driving the car I don’t you are going to be very successful. You can do a fast lap but that’s about it. So you practice that over time as well, and I guess a bit of that is just a natural talent.”

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Race: Share of points

Race: Results versus other drivers

His excellent start to the season meant that by the summer break not only was Verstappen ahead of both Ferraris but just seven points behind Valtteri Bottas’s Mercedes. He and the team faltered when the season resumed however: Verstappen crashed at Spa and had to start at the back at Monza due to a power unit penalty, then tangled with Sergio Perez.

Max Verstappen, Red Bull, Spa-Francorchamps, 2019
Verstappen’s summer break return didn’t go well
“Actually when you look back after the summer break, we were very competitive in Monza, which you wouldn’t expect. So it was not all that bad. But of course, we also had to take engine penalties, so starting from the back the best you really could do was fifth and then, of course, it doesn’t look like an amazing result.

“Then we made a set-up mistake in Singapore,” he added, though it didn’t stop him beating the Mercedes pair to third. “And then Suzuka was always going to be a bit of a tricky one because you can nail the set-up for qualifying or not, and then immediately it can be a big difference. And I was not very happy with the set-up we had in qualifying so it didn’t look amazing.

“But still I had a good start, was virtually in [third], but then I got taken out of course. But that would have been a nice result as well for us.” Mexico was another case of what might have been, partly due to his error in qualifying, followed by an unlucky run-in with Bottas on race day.

He ended the season with three more podiums including a superb win in Brazil under fierce pressure from Hamilton. It was another of those days which demonstrated what Verstappen is capable of, and that he needs only a slightly quicker car than the one he had last year to be a championship contender.

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Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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28 comments on “‘I am definitely not a rookie anymore – but I’m still getting better’”

  1. Being able not just to push a car to its limit, but to stay alert to the opportunities afforded by changing conditions and strategies while doing so, is a trait of F1’s top drivers which Verstappen exhibited in his best performances this year.

    Neatly summarizes Max’s season.
    Right now, he is a brilliant artist with a decent brush and a few colors. I tend to wonder what he can accomplish with a better brush and a wider palette of colors !!

  2. I hope we will see less of the many stupid rookie moves that we saw last year then, it would be more fun for the racing if he actually kept himself in the race just a little bit more often, the race pace is definitely there!

    1. last year? I think you watch a other year then i did. If he do even less errors he is the new world champion….

      1. Max fans seem to all have short memories

        Crashed into SAI in Bahrain
        Crashed into BOT in Monaco
        Crashed into HAM in Monaco
        Crashed into LEC in Austria
        Touched LEC at Silverstone
        Crashed into Kimi in Spa, TWICE!
        Crashed into someone at Monza T1
        Crashed into HAM in Mexico
        Crashed into BOT in Mexico
        Crashed into MAG in Mexico

        Lucky for Max, the stewards were extremely lenient in 2019

        1. @megatron More like one vehemently biased non-Max fan has a distorted memory. I mean really…look at your list of nonsense and please explain how what we must have seen in 2019 from Max then, based strictly on your list, was the worst performance by any driver ever in the history of F1. Yet hmmm, somehow when he was doing all this crashing into people, he came 3rd in the WDC ahead of both Ferrari drivers, in the third place car in the WCC.

          Perhaps you might consider not making yourself so conspicuous in your hatred towards Max, with such ridiculous rhetoric that isn’t convincing anyone of anything other than your unfounded bias.

    2. there weren’t many costly mistakes from him last year: Spa and Mexico (the pole debacle, not the race). The Monza incident with Perez indeed set him back 30 seconds or so, but I still don’t think he could have been in the hunt for a top 6 finish given that the Renaults had really good pace for once.

      1. I dont recall what he did at Spa, also at Monza didnt he have a grid penalty for engine change? Overall 2019 was Max’s best season with very few mistakes and controlled aggression in seizing oppurtunities. There was a team mistake in Monaco as well.

        1. @Chaitanya Hit Kimi at T1 and crashed out at Eau Rouge-Raidillon shortly afterwards, and yes, he did have a grid penalty for the following race.

          1. I don’t get what people see in the Sap incident…. the FIA rules it as a racing incident while Raikkonen admitted he overlooked Verstappen…. they didn’t crash, Kimi squeezed him tight and rand over his front wheel, later Kimi’s rear wheel hit Verstappens front again when he passed him with high speed breaking his suspension.

            Max was more than halfway along side 25 mtrs before the corner….

            Why do people keep insisted it was Max at fault… it is a pattern of wanting to blame instead of objectively judging the situation… Kimi overlooking him and admitting it, is the give away here….

        2. @Chaitanya at Monza he did have an engine penalty and started from the back, but broke his front wing by hitting Perez after the start, when the field bunched up in Turn1.

          1. Thanks, I watched it agaig(in highlights on youtube) it was quite minor and more of opening lap racing incident more than anything else. He did do his best to avoid hitting Perez but couldnt stop car in time.

          2. edit: *again

    3. @maisch
      Enlighten us; What rookie misstakes did Max made opposed to, let’s say, Lewis?

  3. Alonso saw off Schumacher at this “racing age” so yes Max definitely should not be not be compared to rookies even though his biological age informs us to do so.

  4. Hopefully RB will be competitive and Verstappen will be able to run with Hamilton, Leclerc and *Vettel. Just maybe McLaren will be able to give them a bit of a fright now and again as well.
    *I wonder about Vettels commitment this yr, I don’t think he’s happy at Ferrari, he was knocked back by RB and Leclerc will give him no quarter.

    1. @johnrkh Personally I have not one doubt about SV’s commitment. I think it is exactly because of his mistakes, the teams mistakes, and CL besting him last year, that he will be stoked to put all that behind him and come out swinging. All the drivers need to do this anyway, no matter how it went for them last year, as that was then and this is now.

      1. @robbie I don’t think Vettel responds well to pressure, This yr he’ll be under more pressure than ever. So I should not have used the word commitment. I should have said his ability to keep his focus under pressure. There is ample evidence to show his ‘unforced’ errors.

        1. @johnrkh Yeah fair comment. It is on him to show us something better, and a lot is going to depend on the lay of the land wrt where the cars are competitively amongst each other this year, and how the car feels to SV. Will they still be playing catch-up to Mercedes? Where is Max going to fit in this year amongst the top 3? etc etc. Just saying I agree with you about SV, but he is not the only one under pressure. CL will have pressure to confirm his form from last year, which had him also making some unforced errors. He doesn’t have the ‘excuse’ of being the newbie on the team anymore. It’s going to be fascinating but it still remains…let’s see where they are competitively come Australia, and then let’s take it as we have no choice to…one race at a time. Pressures can ebb and flow and vary depending on how things unfold as time goes along.

  5. But the main question is: has he matured enough? Or is he still women-punching-father’s can’t-control-himself spoiled kid?

    He needs to ditch Jos, then maybe he can grow better.

    And yeah, I still rate around third of the field higher than him quality-wise. And I wouldn’t be surprised by a mile if he can’t win the championship ever.

    1. Poor man, you will face a lot of victory by max to swallow.

    2. @dallein What a sour person you are! Apparantly you are blinded by some kind of hatred for a person who lives and breathes racing. If there is something that Max has brought to F1, it is more action and drama. Yes, he makes mistakes, just like other drivers are making mistakes. What fun would F1 be, if we would have 20 computers driving these fabulous cars and would never make any mistake.

  6. Charles Leclerc is slightly younger and has 60 less F1 races than Verstappen, but comes across as far more mature and stable. When the pressure is on, I can’t see Verstappen having the upper hand in the contests between them over the coming years. Verstappen has had too much help to get to where he is, I can see “spoilt brat syndrome” coming out as time goes on.

    1. Stable? He took out Max then kept driving with parts flying off! Hamilton had to take avoiding action else he might have been hit with parts.. Then he ignored team orders to come into the pits… I haven’t seen such a dangerous driver in years… Talk about spoiled brat syndrome…

    2. Jon Bee when CL and MV have clashed it is Max who has prevailed, both key times, as was well discussed here, so the evidence has suggested that Max already has the upper hand on CL when it comes to close combat.

    3. Charles too the Ferrari media training course and got reminded each time he stepped out of the car…. inside the the car though he showed true emotions. I’de rather hear Charles from inside of his car.

      1. I do believe Charles is more emotional, but he is of course a Monegasque (close to French anyway). He is an awesome driver, especially after Austria he gained more confidence and showed more aggression. Comparing him with Max is not easy, he has a potentially championship-winning car, but with Vettel as team-mate he feels more pressure from within the team, where Max is the dominant driver at Red Bull.
        Where Leclerc (at least in my limited view) is weaker, for now, is that he tends to get a little sloppy when he has set-backs, that is probably expected with his shorter experience. Max is a bit more methodical and is clearly getting more consistent, a lot of people who know Max, say he is more alike to Lewis, fast, economical and aggressive when needs to be.
        Some say Leclerc is to Max like Prost is to Senna, but Leclerc is more fiery and passionate. The future of F1 racing is looking good with those two anyway.

  7. Max Verstappen reminds me a lot about Luka Dončič in NBA.

    Racing against grown man from age 16+, now he is somewhat of a Veteran already, yet still so young.

    Where does one go from there? He needs to start winning championships very soon. Alonso, Hamilton, Vettel all won first championships very young, and only through career brilliance Hamilton got himself in to position to win championships at old age.

    Verstappen must thread carefully off-track, to get in to a good position on-track.

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