Max Verstappen needs reminding there’s no ‘I’ in team after Brazil GP5 min read
George Russell is finally a grand-prix winner. I say finally; the lad’s only 24, but it feels like a long time coming. Brazil was his 81st GP, his 22nd in a Mercedes.
He almost took his first F1 victory at his first attempt in a Mercedes at 2020’s Sakhir GP, in Bahrain, when he filled in for the Covid-struck Lewis Hamilton, but a puncture put paid to that dream.
He has had to wait until the penultimate race of this season, a longer wait than he would have expected when he signed his contract. This year’s all-new W13 car had huge problems in the first half; uncomfortable and performance-sapping porpoising, no balance, little grip. That the team have ironed out those issues to achieve a meritorious one-two victory before the flag falls on 2022 is testament to their collective toil.
Hamilton was genuinely pleased for his team-mate and hugged him warmly under the podium. The seven-times world champion has grown into one of the truest team players the sport has ever seen. Mercedes are 19 points off Ferrari in the constructors’ championship, and if they can outscore the Scuderia in Abu Dhabi next weekend that will be a big boost, in both money and morale.
Speaking of team players, we need to talk about Max Verstappen.
The Dutchman and Hamilton made contact through the Senna ‘S’, forcing Verstappen to pit for a new nose. He was also handed a five-second penalty for the smash, which was a little harsh – it was 50/50 both drivers’ fault, though I suspect if Verstappen had not already sealed the title he might have hit the brakes to avert contact and instead tried to teach Lewis a lesson. Either way, he felt hard done by as usual, by both Lewis and the stewards, and was not in the best
His comrade Sergio Perez is fighting Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc for second place in the drivers’ championship. Surprisingly perhaps, given their dominance between 2010 and 2013, Red Bull have never finished a season with their drivers first and second, and that is their stated goal now.
Perez, who won in Monaco and Singapore this year, has always helped Verstappen when he has been told to. This has happened many times but, crucially, Max would not have won the world title last year – even with the race director’s help – had the Mexican not held up Hamilton for many laps in Abu Dhabi.
Verstappen was the first to admit it at the time: ‘Without Checo, I wouldn’t be sitting here right now [as champion] because they [Mercedes] would have had a pit gap with the safety car. It’s very rare to have a team-mate like that. He was a real team player.’
In the final laps in Brazil, Perez was struggling for grip and dropping back. Red Bull told Verstappen to overtake Perez and see if he could hunt down Fernando Alonso for fifth. If he couldn’t pass the Spaniard, he was to let ‘Checo’ back through at the last turn so the Mexican could earn an extra two points – putting him two ahead of Leclerc. Max ignored this order.
His race engineer came on the radio after he crossed the finish line: ‘What happened?’ Verstappen’s response was prickly: ‘I told you already last time, you guys don’t ask that again to me, okay? Are we clear about that?’
The message was terse and undiplomatic: I’m in charge. What I say goes. Christian Horner is the team principal in name only. If I were Horner, I wouldn’t stand for that. But it would appear a culture has developed in Milton Keynes where Verstappen is feted and defended to such an extent he believes he can do whatever he wants and get away with it.
If this was for a win, perhaps you could understand it, but this is over
sixth place! He won the title in Japan three races ago. He has 429 points. Those two last points were so much more valuable to Perez (290) than Verstappen. This is one of several examples of the 25-year-old acting, I’m afraid, like a brat.
Max has not expanded on what lay behind his refusal to help Perez, other than ‘I have my reasons’. The gentlemanly Perez has been left with ‘nothing to say really’, adding: ‘After all I’ve done for him, it’s a bit disappointing to be honest. I’m really surprised.’
Horner remains determined not to criticise his star driver in public, perhaps to avoid him getting even more stroppy.
‘It’s something we discussed behind closed doors,’ Horner said. ‘I’m not going to disclose the content. So far as we’re concerned, it’s about looking forward not backwards. It’s very clear going into Abu Dhabi as a team, we’re going to do the best we can for Checo to finish second in the world championship. They’ve cleared the air and shaken hands.’
And that’s it? No punitive measures? If I were Red Bull’s boss I’d bench Verstappen for Abu Dhabi and put someone else in the car. At the very least, I’d give him the hairdryer treatment so hard his ears bled.
Max is an incredible driver but he is not bigger than the team. He needs to understand that and it will take more than a mild ticking-off. Once again, he has got away with graceless, selfish and entitled behaviour. I wouldn’t want that in my team.
MORE : George Russell celebrates first F1 victory at Brazilian Grand Prix
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