until Abu Dhabi Autonomous Racing League

Formula 1

Is Verstappen’s stubborn F1 approach now backfiring?

by Valentin Khorounzhiy
5 min read

Max Verstappen is probably regarded as the most aggressive racer on the Formula 1 grid, by fans and his fellow drivers alike.

He’s had an uncompromising and highly effective approach to racing since he made his F1 debut with Toro Rosso in 2015, aged just 17.

And while he insists that he simply races hard, rather than aggressively, his approach has come under the spotlight following another controversial couple of encounters with his title rival Lewis Hamilton in the inaugural Saudi Arabian Grand Prix.

Verstappen’s approach was debated on this week’s episode of The Race F1 Podcast which reviewed the Saudi GP.

Dec 06 : Saudi Arabian Grand Prix review

In the race, Verstappen was having to fight back after crashing out of a final qualifying lap that Mercedes believed would have put him on pole position by half a second.

“This insistence of Max to not change the way he approaches everything on full attack, it’s worked for him throughout his career, but in this case, it definitely worked against him this weekend,” The Race’s Mark Hughes said.

“He was three tenths up at that point [on his final qualifying run], he’s at the final corner, do you risk it all at the final corner trying to make it a bit more just in case? Max does, he wouldn’t even question it.

“That would have been a comfortable pole position and from a comfortable pole you’d assume he could have kept the lead and won this race. He’d have gone with a fairly impregnable points lead into the finale.”

Max Verstappen Red Bull F1 Saudi Arabian GP crash

Hughes went onto explain that it’s “difficult to criticise someone for a consistent approach” but suggested Verstappen probably doesn’t factor in the championship picture as much as Hamilton does.

Podcast host Edd Straw questioned what Verstappen’s endgame was with his approach to certain incidents.

For example, the first red-flag restart when Hamilton got the jump on Verstappen into Turn 1 but the Red Bull driver ran the pair off the track – a move that would prompt FIA race director Michael Masi’s “offer” to Red Bull.

“Hamilton got ahead of him, there was no way that was going to end in anything other than him going off track,” Straw said. “You looked at it, and thought, what are you going to get out of this?”

Scott Mitchell replied: “In those situations, Max literally just sees it as, ‘I’ve got nothing to lose here or I’ve got less to lose here’. It’s very difficult to judge without knowing exactly how he is sort of seeing it.

“He’s got such a singular approach to everything… it’s so simple to him, just go out, rag it, you get the best possible result you can in any given situation, whether it’s over one lap, the start of the race or win that grand prix.

Esteban Ocon Alpine Lewis Hamilton Mercedes Max Verstappen Red Bull F1

“It’s fascinating to watch. It puts him in the position to be three or four tenths up in the final corner in qualifying, but it’s also exactly the same approach that puts him in the wall of that last corner.

“When he’s in battle, with what we’ve seen this year, it’s very clear he won’t adjust his approach, very clear he thinks he doesn’t need to. It’s very clear, he doesn’t think he’s in the wrong.

“He also has a Red Bull team around him, telling him he’s never wrong, which I don’t think is helpful in that situation.

“It means we’re at a point now where Max is capable of crossing the line without realising. I genuinely think he has no idea that he’s crossing the line.

“If you were going to make a crude simplified verdict as a result of that, I wonder if this year, we’ve seen when Max is absolutely at his peak, I think Max is fractionally the faster of the two, but I think Lewis is the best driver.”

Straw pointed out that difference between Verstappen and Hamilton should be no surprise, when Hamilton has eight years more of F1 experience under his belt than Verstappen.

“Verstappen in 12 years’ time, when he’ll be the same age as Hamilton, probably with an enormous number of wins, multiple world championships, I think that 36-year-old Verstappen would deal with today’s race in a different way,” Straw added.

“That’s just the nature of things. Just as 24-year-old Hamilton wouldn’t have had the same race today as the 36-year-old Hamilton.

Dec 08 : Winner takes all in Abu Dhabi: Verstappen v Hamilton

“These are two drivers at opposite ends of their career, which is the fascinating thing about this battle.

“Verstappen has been fantastic this year, his ‘all-out attack’ has really worked well, so we’re talking about really fine margins in pressure points and key moments here. But this has actually a great battle with two slightly different approaches.

Lewis Hamilton Mercedes Max Verstappen Red Bull F1

“People often simplify it – it’s not about [that] he’s trying to cause accidents, it’s that thing of knowing if there’s a 50/50 and it all goes wrong, it can play to your advantage. All drivers factor that in, including Hamilton.”

Mitchell believes Verstappen’s approach has “strayed into being unfair” at times but Hamilton has also got sucked into doing similar on a couple of occasions.

“We should say this hasn’t been entirely one-sided,” Mitchell noted. “Lewis gave as good as he got when he finally got past Max, he put him straight onto the run-off, he left him absolutely no room.

“There was no meaningful consequence for that. He’s done something there where he’s basically retaliated, he’s gone ‘you know, he’s been taking the mick, I’m going to send a message here’, and he’s done it in a way where’s he probably got a bit lucky that he hasn’t had a five-second penalty of his own.

Max Verstappen Red Bull Lewis Hamilton Mercedes F1

“But it’s instigated by Verstappen, I think Hamilton doesn’t like being taken to that place as a driver, but it shows he will give it back, get his elbows out.

“It’s just strayed into being quite bitter on track at the moment.”

This weekend’s Abu Dhabi GP will be the ultimate test of the title protagonists’ approaches, with the duo level on points and both knowing a win for either of them will be enough to take the crown.

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