Max Verstappen, Red Bull, Bahrain International Circuit, 2021

Mercedes regard Verstappen as “a very mature, very smart racer now”

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In the round-up: Mercedes trackside operations director Andrew Shovlin says the team isn’t underestimating the threat posted by Max Verstappen, despite Lewis Hamilton beating him in the first race of 2021.

In brief

Mercedes alert to Verstappen threat

While Hamilton edged Verstappen to victory in Bahrain despite being beaten to pole position, Shovlin said their rivals rarely present such opportunities to be beaten.

“There’s no doubt Red Bull operate really well,” he said. “They’re a sharp, well-focussed team that don’t make many mistakes.

“Max is clearly a very mature, very smart racer now and he’s difficult. And they develop well, they’ve shown over every season that they’ve got the capacity to put a lot of performance on the car.

“So regardless of the start point, this is not going to be an easy championship. It’s going to be tight and it’s one that we’re not going to give up on. And they’re going to tell you the same.”

Shovlin pointed out Mercedes have faced similar challenges at the start of seasons in recent years, yet gone on to succeed. In 2018 Red Bull and Ferrari won races before Mercedes did.

“I think we were four or five races in before we went to race,” Shovlin recalled. “Some of those we didn’t get everything perfect but some of them Ferrari were just better than us, race and quali.

“So we’ve had some tough years in the past few seasons, this is not alien to us, and it’s what we’ve got to work with. So it is two teams that look to be pretty much neck and neck at the moment so I think it’s going to be a tough year.”

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47 comments on “Mercedes regard Verstappen as “a very mature, very smart racer now””

  1. Max is clearly a very mature, very smart racer now and he’s difficult.

    Well, I guess that means Mercedes pass the ‘awake trackside’ test.

    1. Max is in Formula 1 for near a decade, so I hope he evolved. Mercedes in the lagwagon here or maintaining pressure on HamBotRus.

      1. @jeff1s assume you mean half a decade? This is his 6th season

        1. Tommy Scragend
          12th April 2021, 12:17

          This is his 7th season.

          2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019, 2020, 2021

          1. I was about to say the same

          2. So just to be precise, one race this season so far, and 4 3/4 on a top team otherwise, as he didn’t start 2016 at RBR. But otherwise yeah, 6 seasons and one race so far in F1. Hardly ‘near a decade’ but that kind of spin should be expected from someone who I can only assume isn’t a fan and sees him as a threat. He’s also still just 23.

          3. @robbie by historical standards, the expansion of the calendar means that Verstappen does have a significantly higher level of experience at this point in his career than normal and is comparable, or even exceeds, what drivers in the past would require a decade or more to achieve.

            If this season runs to its full length, which is a big caveat right now, he will become the 45th most experienced Formula 1 driver to have ever existed, with a total just behind what Fittipaldi achieved in about ten and a half seasons of racing (1970-1980). Even just the 97 races he has done for Red Bull to date are enough to put him on the fringes of the top 75 most experienced F1 drivers ever and would be enough to put him near the same level of experience that drivers like Stewart or McLaren achieved in their entire careers (9 and 11 years respectively).

        2. anon I don’t equate the experience today’s drivers get, to the experience of the drivers of the past that you cite. It’s not apples to apples to just count numbers of races imho. And you are comparing strictly to F1 experience. Fittipaldi and Stewart started in F1 when they were 25 and 26 respectively, and had much experience before that in F2 and F3 and Indy cars. I would say that just one F1 race in that era, when it was common to see drivers die, was a much headier experience than what by comparison would be F1 light today, so safe and pampered are today’s drivers that they can come into F1 with a lot less experience, and can do 20+ races a season while barely breaking a sweat, let alone enduring the heavily psychological aspects of the dangers of the past.

          1. @robbie you say that, but Fittipaldi certainly didn’t have experience in IndyCars before joining F1, as he only competed in that series after he left F1, and only a handful of races in Formula 2 before he started in F1 – he started his F1 career whilst still competed in F2 in parallel. Stewart, meanwhile, also only did a few races in F2 (as for IndyCar, he only raced at the Indy 500 after he’d started in F1).

            You claim that “today’s drivers […] come into F1 with a lot less experience”, but that’s not necessarily true given that the route through junior series is more formalised – if anything, there are quite a few drivers who could come through the ranks with remarkably little experience and wind up in F1 in that period.

            Yes, the comparison will be somewhat apples and oranges, but at the same time I do feel that your tone is a bit overly condescending, even contemptuous, in the way that you give a sense of triviality and banality to the way in which a driver might gain experience today in the way you so heavily downplay it.

          2. anon The point being you continue to want to just equate experience with numbers of races, and I include the quality of that experience. If I am to you condescending towards drivers of today and their experience it is merely because I am speaking relatively of what drivers of the past such as you cite experienced in their far fewer races. You are being just as condescending towards their real experiences being vastly more dangerous and heady when you continue to make it just about numbers of events run.

            Stewart quit when he had had enough of seeing his friends dying and decided to go on his pioneering safety campaign from which today’s drivers can thank for their relatively easy time of it and much better odds of having long and healthy careers, not unlike how we honour war veterans for fighting for our freedom. ‘Somewhat apples and oranges’ is a rather meagre acknowledgement of the actually scary rough and tumble time you have chosen to compare to by numbers of races alone. You don’t even acknowledge the fact that EF and JS were 25 and 26 when they entered F1, and what drivers do that these days?

            Of course today’s drivers on average are going to compete in far far more races. It’s far safer and far less taxing mentally and physically than it was for EF and JS as just the two examples we’re picking on here. Many many drivers didn’t live to do more, and that’s the atmosphere they raced within. And for far far less financial security. I believe many drivers from the past experienced far more heady racing and heady life experiences in their far shorter tenures than many drivers could possibly experience today in relatively safe, pampered, lucrative careers quadruple their length, for which they have the likes of Stewart to thank.

            That doesn’t mean I look down on today’s drivers any more than I would look down on myself and all of us who enjoy the freedoms we have thanks to our war vets. Sacrifices have been made for us to have a much easier life than was the case in the past and in racing terms there is a parallel that I am grateful for and honour and don’t just bring it down to numbers.

  2. Yeesh – as toxic as the Lewis / Nico rivalry was, Max would be a million times worse. (or better from the ringside)
    Also, it would be absolutely hilarious if Merc can’t nail the new rules in time to make them competitive by 2022 – shoving them both to the midfield

    1. That’s my hope too. A season-long title battle between Mercedes and Red Bull results in both teams being caught out for 2022. A similar thing happened to McLaren and Ferrari in 2009.

      1. @kingshark @zapski
        I think both teams will be fine focusing on both campaigns, albeit more and more next year’s further into this season.

      2. @kingshark

        I think the decision to use KERS hurt Mclaren and Ferrari a lot more than their lack of preparation for 2009. Missing the double diffuser trick hurt them as well.

        I can only hope some midfield teams find a silver bullet for 2021, which throws Mercedes, Red Bull and Ferrari off guard.

        1. 2009 Kers didn’t hurt Kimi too much at Spa…. But probably at other tracks, especially Monza.

    2. @zapski
      “ Yeesh – as toxic as the Lewis / Nico rivalry was, Max would be a million times worse.”
      And this is based on Max his toxic relationship with?
      Last I checked, Max gets along with all his former teammates and they all speak nice words of him, Lewis on the other side….let’s ask Fernando, Jenson and Nico…..
      Like Shovlin says: Very smart and mature!

  3. Pumping up Verstappen to build on the mounting pressure he is already facing. He folded in the first race. Lets see what happens in the next few.

    1. Coventry Climax
      12th April 2021, 11:16

      Wouldn’t call it ‘folded’, but his failed overtake and subsequent P2 was absolutely due to impatience instead of maturity. But Max has shown he learns, so let’s wait and see. You’re right on Merc’s intentions though, with everything they say, and I don’t trust them (and especially Toto) one bit. Other teams do the same, for sure, but somehow manage to come across less ‘snake-like’.

      1. Even here I wouldn’t call it impatience, simply racer’s instinct, go for the opportunity as it presents itself. Especially when versus Lewis.

        The penalty was harsh, but correct.

        What followed was a demonstration of why that opportunity had to taken by Max. Everyone thinks it was a slam-dunk biding time for T10 and DRS. We’ll never know of course, but perhaps Lewis was able to fend him off, push him into another situation. This was Lewis after all…

        Max did everything right in Bahrain; he and RB were simply up against two Mercs for the most critical parts of the race…

    2. Folded? He drove exceptionally throughout the race, with a damaged car that was costing him 0.3s a lap. He was immediately ordered to give the place back, so he responded to a command, so it was hardly like he imploded there either. If Red Bull is consistently fast this year, we’ll likely see many small errors between the top drivers, but Bahrain didn’t demonstrate that from either Hamilton nor Verstappen – they were both exceptional.

      1. I agree. Max is at star level. All is needed is a good car like Lewis had for so many years.

      2. In fairness Max tried hard to keep to the rules in Bahrain, he just didn’t fully realise that you are allowed outside the white line, unless, you overtake.

        1. Are you aware of other racing circuits where you can legitimately go off track in order to overtake?

  4. Bahrain really was fair play.

  5. In my view there are 3 drivers on that grid that could be put into equal machinery and you couldn’t reliably pick a winner week on week. Max is certainly one of them, alongside Lewis and Fernando. Hopefully Red Bull can maintain their development and compete with Mercedes over the full year.

    1. What about Charles?

    2. I agree with your top there, @enzov6.
      Who is number 4 though?
      I think it is Ricciardo. Leclerc might have more potential, but stills seems a bit underdeveloped and might lose it head-to-head with Ricciardo.

      1. I don’t think we’ll be really seeing much of Ricciardo anymore. Although I do hope so. For me he can win every race, but I think it is time to slowly start saying goodbye to Ricciardo when it comes to star level.

      2. At the moment, I think in terms of outright talent I’d say Leclerc is practically on par with my top 3. I think he’s marginally less consistent but that will come as he matures even further as a driver. It’s all speculative anyway, we’d never really know who had the edge unless they all had equal machinery!

    3. Lewis & Max followed by a tiny gap by Leclerc and Russell. Nando remains to be seen.

      1. Yeah, in fairness we don’t know the exact level Fernando will come back at. If he remains in the kind of form he left F1 in, then I stand by my comment. We’ll know in a few races! Agree about Leclerc and Russell – for me those two are extremely talented but haven’t had much luck with their cars (bar Leclerc in 2019 of course).

        1. Gary imho for the amount of running the car allowed him in race 1 FA has already shown he has come back in fine form and will only get better. I thought he out drove the car and I think he’s going to be a lot of fun to watch but will unfortunately be very limited by the car. But of course yeah here’s hoping they at least make some progress with it this year, all the while they shouldn’t waste too many resources if, for them, those could be better spent on next year’s effort.

  6. Mercedes desperately trying to depict themselves as some form of underdog fighting against a stronger force is really annoying when they’ve won almost everything for years now.

  7. I doubt it would ever happen but if Mercedes found themselves with Lewis and Max in the team it could be a complete nightmare for them. A complete disaster.

    The intra-team rivalry would probably result in clashes of ego, personality, bodywork – and strongly worded radio messages. It would hamper the team from achieving 1-2 finishes as neither driver would see their natural place as a runner-up. I daresay there would be races neither drivers finished as they collided and cost valuable constructor points, if it was close between teams they could cost Mercedes 1st place.

    2 drivers – both incredible driving talents, possibly 2 of the sports greatest ever, duelling in equal equipment?

    I’d *LOVE* to see that!!!

    1. @geekzilla9000 Yeah of course this is just for fun as LH doesn’t have enough time left in F1 nor likely the desire to take on Max, and Max is only just now finally in an RBR that looks for the time being to be a true contender, so he’ll imho be loving staying at RBR until LH is retired anyway, however…just for fun…

      You describe a rivalry that sounds more toxic than LH/NR, and I don’t think it would be as they wouldn’t have the personal history together that those two did, and LH/NR did nothing but lock out the front row and win win win together. They collided sure, but that was the exception, not the rule as you describe it would be between LH and Max. No the team wouldn’t allow the collisions you speak of nor losing the WCC because of it, and both drivers out of self-preservation would keep it clean. Besides…Max would prevail;)

      1. @robbie – I agree, I was just being a bit jestful there. In reality, like you say Hamilton’s tenure in F1 is reaching an end and *if* they were to find themselves in the same team I also reckon they’d keep their noses pretty clean – or Toto will get rid of one.

        As for “Max would prevail” – I love them both, I’d be happy to see see either prevail! I’d love to see Lewis extend his record breaking stats this year, but Max is a stunning talent and I’ll probably cry with joy if he wins the WDC. We’re lucky to have 2 greats on the grid together, and there may be more as we see the rookies develop (probably not Mazepin).

        …But, we’ve only had 1 race so far, maybe someone other than those two will take it (I doubt it though!).

        1. @geekzilla9000 Yeah well said. Fun to play around with the what if’s. It is too bad the reality is that we don’t usually get on the top teams the LH/NR or the Senna/Prost type pairings. I’m a huge Jacques Villeneuve fan and I thought it made so much sense for him, after his tenure at Williams, to be paired with MS at Ferrari, thus giving MS some bonafide competition within the team, and bringing the Villeneuve name back to Ferrari, which would have been massive, but alas, that was naive to even contemplate for several reasons.

      2. Yeah of course this is just for fun as LH doesn’t have enough time left in F1 nor likely the desire to take on Max

        I so like you you always manage to include your subliminal bias into whatever you write. Where did you ever get the idea Lewis doesn’t have the desire to take on Max in the same team? Never mind that it was never a consideration of Mercedes to pair them together.

        1. @kbdavies Well while of course how could I possibly know for certain, does it look to you like I’m wrong? What signs do you see that TW is about to pair Max with LH to see LH finish off his F1 career, and what signs that Max wants to go to LH’s team? In a perfect world it would be an absolutely electric pairing and it should happen, but what do you think the serious odds are of it happening? But ok I’ll bite. All that has to happen is for LH to finally insist TW replace VB with Max, and then of course we’d have to see if Max would want to leave the team that might now be the one to beat, but…

          So back at you and just for fun, where did you ever get the idea LH desires to take on Max and that Mercedes has entertained it? I think they have only displayed pleasure at having a non-competing teammate in VB. They kept re-signing VB one year at a time when Max was in a less competitive car and you’d think they could have lured him away from RBR then, but now that he’s in a more competitive car, what are the odds?

          Back to you. What circumstantial evidence do you have LH would take on Max and that Mercedes would consider it?

  8. Really getting enough with the pressure-on-them talk from Mercedes now. Almost embarrassing. Red Bull not making mistakes? They likely lost the win and a bunch of points by not making sure their 2nd driver got through to Q3 to prevent the undercut. Practically a basic mistake.

    1. @balue Pretty sure what he means is that in general they (RBR) don’t make a lot of mistakes, his point being in terms of them being competition to Mercedes this season. As well, you are using the luxury of hindsight and even at that are making an incorrect criticism of RBR. Not sure how they were to make sure SP got through to Q3, other than perhaps they could have put him on the less favourable reds, in which case that would have screwed up their strategy and he likely wouldn’t have been there for the undercut anyway, as he would have had to stop way sooner. Their best option at the time was to leave SP on the yellows for qualifying and the race start, and they couldn’t have known when they did that that he would miss out on Q3.

      1. @robbie No, even with the early stop, he would have had some very good early laps on the softer rubber, come in for fresh tyres and obviously be the fastest man until the undercut window and be a good block. It’s just his end time that would suffer with likely 3 stops.

        1. @balue Total speculation on your part and as I say at the time it was happening they could not have known he wasn’t going to get into Q3 on the yellows, which were the preferred tire to start on. Became moot when he had the electrical issues on the formation lap too, but of course they didn’t have a crystal ball for that either.

          1. @robbie It was a mistake as even I could see it would be cutting it fine with the mediums and him struggling on a fast evolving track, and putting all the eggs in a basket of a new driver to a new car/team with one chance to do a perfect lap was pure gambling which in the first race of the season was not called for.

  9. Probably more a case of Perez’s boastful self-belief in the garage persuading them to give him a go at making the cut on mediums. They have learnt their lesson now, and going forward Perez will be diplomatically told to zip it.

      1. Rodber there might be an element of truth to what you are saying, and as well SP has already shown he has a better handle on the car than AA did, albeit it seems a better car too. SP and the team probably jointly were pretty confident he’d make it into Q3. Ah well, race one, lessons to be learned, probably won’t happen again, or at least will be rare this season for SP, especially after more seat time.

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