until Abu Dhabi Autonomous Racing League

Formula 1

The specific agitation replacing Verstappen’s usual focus

by Scott Mitchell-Malm
5 min read

Max Verstappen’s imperturbable tranquillity from seven days ago has been replaced by a specific agitation ahead of the Formula 1 title decider in Abu Dhabi.

The world championship leader’s off-track focus has been rock solid for most of the season and disturbed only by the most contentious moments in his fight with Lewis Hamilton, but even then his Red Bull team has tended to be outraged on his behalf.

It would be unfair to suggest Verstappen is distracted or preoccupied before the biggest weekend of his career. He is, though, clearly quite upset with something.

Max Verstappen Red Bull F1

Verstappen feels singled out by race officials. He believes he is being treated differently to other drivers, after a controversial Saudi Arabian Grand Prix in which he was punished three times for offences committed in battle with Hamilton.

By contrast, Verstappen says, Hamilton got away with committing a foul against him. And, he adds, two more incidents involving other drivers were also handled differently.

“Clearly things don’t apply to everyone because the thing I did in terms of defending, two other guys did in terms of racing and they didn’t even get a mention, or a penalty,” says Verstappen.

“So I don’t understand, because I thought I was just racing hard. What happened didn’t deserve any penalty. And clearly the other two people who did it, they didn’t get one.

“But, clearly, it’s only me who gets it. I don’t understand.”

It is evident Verstappen feels he is a victim of unequal treatment. Ahead of a winner-takes-all decider that is a serious position to take as it implies the playing ground isn’t level.

Verstappen feels this way because in Brazil he was not punished when he and Hamilton went off-track together at Turn 4 – after a Verstappen defence several other drivers criticised – but in Saudi Arabia he was told to give the position to Hamilton after a similar incident.

Max Verstappen Lewis Hamilton Red Bull Mercedes F1

In Verstappen’s eyes this is simple: both cars left the track in one incident and nobody was penalised, both cars left the track in another and Verstappen was sanctioned. How that happened and how far both cars went outside the white line doesn’t matter to him.

“For me I was not wrong,” he insists. “And clearly, I was wrong. Somehow. Twice – like I said, while other people do exactly the same thing, and they get nothing.

“Because both of us were off the track. We’re outside of the white line into Turn 1. And somehow they judged that it was my fault, which I don’t agree with.”

The other Saudi incidents Verstappen is comparing with here were one involving the two Ferrari drivers and another involving Lance Stroll and George Russell.

They were different to Verstappen’s but did ultimately involve the offending car gaining an advantage by going off-track.

But Verstappen seems to have misunderstood those incidents because Charles Leclerc and Stroll – who were the guilty parties – were also required to give the position back.

The one where Verstappen has most ground to be upset is Hamilton not being penalised for forcing Verstappen off-track at the final corner, moments after Verstappen had finally yielded the place.

Max Verstappen Red Bull Lewis Hamilton Ferrari F1

Hamilton’s position is that he didn’t know Verstappen was there, as Verstappen braked late so brought himself alongside after Hamilton was committed to taking a wide line to get a good exit onto the start-finish straight.

Verstappen says: “He pushes me off the track, even looks at me and just doesn’t turn in and just pushes me outside of the white line, the track edge.

“And he only gets a warning for that.

“So it’s definitely not how it should be, and also not fair, because it seems like other drivers can do different things and only seems like I get a penalty.”

The last time Verstappen felt persecuted was probably the early stage of 2018 when he was involved in various incidents and reacted poorly to the scrutiny that came with that.

Is he at the same point? No. He’s not talked about headbutting anyone here. Is he closer than that mindset of feeling everyone’s against him? Yes, at least closer than at any stage of this title season.

And it’s possible he’s not processing it in the most productive way because the number of times he felt the need to return to the subject of feeling singled out, and emphasise that perceived unequal treatment, suggested on Thursday it has got under his skin.

He said he was not sure if he’d raise his concerns in the drivers’ briefing here, stating: “I don’t know, I still have to look into that.

“You also have to pick your moment of when you can talk about it, in front of all the drivers sometimes the meeting can drag on for a long time.

“Sometimes better to say it one on one.”

Max Verstappen Red Bull F1 Abu Dhabi

The question is what impact this will have this weekend. Will it make Verstappen more cautious? Will a ‘me against the world’ attitude inspire him to a stunning final weekend? Will it disturb him and prompt bigger risks?

“The only thing I asked for is that it’s fair for everyone,” says Verstappen when asked if he’ll change his approach.

“Clearly, that’s not the case at the moment. But like I said, I don’t feel like I was wrong. And clearly it is not wrong, either.

“So why should I then change? I think everyone should be allowed to race like that.”

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