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Formula 1

Verstappen’s Italy hoodoo has spoiled his best F1 season

by Scott Mitchell-Malm
4 min read

Max Verstappen deserves more than how the 2020 Formula 1 season will reflect his performances, and a last-place finish in the ‘Italian F1 Championship’ is to blame.

The Red Bull driver is in a lonely third place in the drivers’ championship, gapped by Valtteri Bottas in the second Mercedes ahead but well ahead of Renault’s Daniel Ricciardo. At the end of the season these numbers will signal that Verstappen was a clear best of the rest.

But he has been so much more than that. He has been Mercedes’ irritator-in-chief, pouncing on any weakness and invariably extracting the most from the car. Verstappen’s qualified lower than the second row just twice, and has been on the podium in every race he’s finished.

His most recent Mercedes-splitting effort merited another second place, even though Lewis Hamilton was out of sight and Verstappen running second was helped by Valtteri Bottas suffering a Ferrari-induced setback.

Yet last weekend’s tyre failure at Imola completed a hat-trick of non-finishes for Verstappen at Formula 1’s trio of Italian grands prix this season.Motor Racing Formula One World Championship Emilia Romagna Grand Prix Race Day Imola, Italy

“The start was good, I got Lewis and I was trying to stay with Valtteri, then I think he had damage on the floor, so we were losing a lot of laptime and I couldn’t get close, this track is so hard to pass,” said Verstappen.

“Lewis jumped us and once I got past Valtteri I think the pace was good, the car was feeling quite good.

“And suddenly on the straight, I lost the car because there was a tyre blowout. I quickly looked at the car, there was nothing broken on the car, so I don’t know what happened.”

Verstappen’s season was well past the point of a DNF wrecking his championship hopes, but it’s somewhat amusing to note he now has four non-scores and three of them in Italy.

In fact, with a little nod to F1’s national series days of old, he finishes bottom of the ‘Italian F1 Championship’ – won by Hamilton, unsurprisingly.

Monza Mugello Imola Points
1 Hamilton 7 26 26 59
2 Bottas 10 18 18 46
3 Ricciardo 8 12 15 35
4 Gasly 25 0 0 25
5 Norris 12 8 4 24
6 Sainz 18 0 6 24
7 Kvyat 2 6 12 20
8 Perez 1 10 8 19
9 Stroll 15 0 0 15
10 Albon 0 15 0 15
11 Leclerc 0 4 10 14
12 Ocon 4 0 0 4
13 Raikkonen 0 2 2 4
14 Vettel 0 1 0 1
15 Giovinazzi 0 0 0 1
16 Latifi 0 0 0 0 (P11 x 2)
17 Russell 0 0 0 0 (P11)
18 Grosjean 0 0 0 0 (P12 x 2)
19 Magnussen 0 0 0 0 (P12)
20 Verstappen 0 0 0 0 (DNF)

Those DNFs have effectively guaranteed Verstappen will not eclipse his 2019 season in terms of results. He was a genuine contender for runner-up in the championship and looked like he might even eclipse his career-best points total from last year, despite four fewer races taking place.

Motor Racing Formula One World Championship Tuscan Grand Prix Race Day Mugello, Italy

He has scored enough points to keep his team second in the constructors’ championship on his own. But statistical recognition of the best season of his career has gone begging through no fault of his own.

His Austrian GP DNF in the season opener cost him a very likely second place, but we can cancel that out in his fight against Bottas because of Bottas’s late puncture in the British Grand Prix. However, the Italian rounds have a huge role to play in his 35-point deficit.

Verstappen recognises the significance of maximising things when he can’t win

Verstappen lost a top-five finish, at least, at Monza because of an engine problem. He suffered another engine problem at Mugello where he was the innocent victim in a massive wipe-out on the opening lap. And a second place went begging at Imola for the reasons above.

Even if we factor in Bottas’s forfeited second place at the Nurburgring thanks to his own engine issue, we can give Verstappen at least an extra 25 points in his fight against the second Mercedes for second spot. Given his form and Red Bull’s progress that’s enough to put him properly in the hunt with four rounds remaining.

Motor Racing Formula One World Championship Emilia Romagna Grand Prix Race Day Imola, Italy

Verstappen may not care he’s missing those points. He often makes it clear that if he isn’t winning then second, third or 15th makes no real difference. But he also recognises the significance of maximising things when he can’t win, something that he’s been much more aware of this season having initially harboured hopes of a title challenge.

Finishing runner-up in a season utterly dominated by Mercedes would have been a truly remarkable result, one to be extremely proud of.

And as he noted at Imola, being so close to the Mercedes cars on-track was a lot of fun, I was really pushing and trying to stay with them”. So he recognised it was not just any old result that he lost.

“It is a shame, of course to not be on that podium but also, be second,” Verstappen said. “So yeah, a big shame.”

That sentiment goes for Verstappen’s championship, not just the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix.

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