MMXVI: The Year of Verstappen

2016 is the Year of Max Verstappen.

He’s the man whose headstrong defensive drives we grew to dislike, yet whose aggressive overtakes had us singing his praises… all in the span of five races.

He won’t let you overtake him; yet he won’t let you not let him overtake you.

Fearless at 300km/hr (not cool, bro) as he is on a dripping wet circuit (dude, he’s like Hamilton… or Senna!), he’s at his best when he’s aggressor trying to overtake, not so much as rookie karter vacillating on the track to ensure you don’t get past him.

The FIA rules on changing direction under braking were changed only last month thanks to Verstappen and his defensive maneuvering, and definitely to cheers from other drivers. Yet guess who got caught in the FIA’s net the very next race after the rule change? You’ll be forgiven for thinking it was Max if you can’t tell your Vettels from your Verstappens.

This guy’s drives, man. After yesterday’s race, you saw him smile. It was that full-faced smize, the likes of which I haven’t seen since Vettel took second place in Canada, you know, the race where he (Vettel) had swerved to avoid the suicidal seagulls and all. Not one to jump, faux-levitate, fist-pump, DAB, or do a Tebow like one of the other nimbler-limbed drivers, Verstappen wears his mood 95% in his face and 5% in his intonation. Often this season, his expression was smug, sullen, tightened, unwelcoming. After the Brazilian GP on the Interlagos Circuit yesterday, that is to say, after he out-strategized Perez, Sainz, an increasingly whiny Vettel… and even Rosberg in that brief moment before his team called over the radio to piss on his parade — often by overtaking around the outside of the track, a part F1 drivers would normally avoid for its wetness and low grip but which Verstappen was bold enough to exploit successfully thanks to negative wheel camber keeping it dryer and with better grip than other drivers dared to imagine — he had that full-faced, I-woke-up-like-this, daddy-Jos-can-you-see-how-I’m-making-you-proud? smile. And this time, the world was full-on smiling with him.

There’s an episode of Mad Men where Don Draper says, “If you don’t like what they’re saying about you, change the conversation.” Verstappen is the best manager of his own image, and the way he has made us go from hating his driving style to admiring his gut, sheer force of will, and gosh, amazing driving talent, all in the span of the 2016 Formula 1 Championship season, is something that should make it to the case study blurbs of business texts for years to come.

NOTES:

  • Apparently I need to watch more karting because Verstappen, the straight-from-karting-to-F1 kid, is pulling some hot karting overtaking moves that us who like F1 would do well to get schooled on.
  • Hamilton, man. I’m so used to his amazing drives that what he did in leading this utterly wet-track race from start to finish (at times up to 8 full seconds ahead of the driver behind him) might not be getting all the laudatory glory it truly deserves.
  • Still on Hamilton, his first win in Brazil, Si Señor! And his 52nd F1 win, now sandwiching him between Schumacher and Alain Prost as the driver with the second most F1 wins of all time :-D Proud gal shimmy.
  • RED BULL. Guys, time and again, your pit stop strategy sucks. Who are the strategists for Ricciardo and Verstappen? How does anyone really think that when a Red Bull successfully comes between the two Mercedes is a good time to pit for sissy things like a tyre switch from wets to intermediates? Especially on a wet track with a high likelihood that some aquaplaning car or the other would have the safety car rolling out sooner or later (and you can capitalize on a free pit stop)? Also, was a simple weather forecast for more rain not available to these guys? It’s becoming laughable how often they deprive their drivers of a good fighting chance for a higher podium finish; and in the process, deprive us viewers of what could be some seat-edge racing in a season monopolized by Mercedes 1-2’s.
  • A three-and-a-half hour race, God, I must love F1.
  • Red Bull gives you wings.
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Do you know what week it is?

It’s Formula 1 week. Which happens every two weeks during Formula 1 season, except in August when the drivers have, gasp, the month off!

Formula 1 week means I have Formula 1 to look forward to on the weekend. Sometimes I study the circuit and learn a bit about it – the corners, presence or absence of hairpins, the descriptive terms the drivers use for it, and since F1 is so heavy on history and heritage, past notable events on that circuit.

Two weekends ago, we went to Belushi’s to see the first race ever to be held in Azerbaijan. During qualifying, I kid you not, a cat made its way onto the circuit. Yes, way to get squashed by cars doing 200mph. The cat was safe, but at first I thought the picture (it appeared on @F1’s instagram feed) was photoshopped. It wasn’t.

Did anyone see the interview with Hamilton after Canada? Vettel, super excited to have come in second, bombed Hamilton’s victor interview, saying in a very jovial manner that the reason he came second was that he’d slowed down for two suicidal seagulls that were on the race track and that didn’t budge as he approached. But that Hamilton hadn’t, lol. This resulted in search for the footage of the seagulls (I think it was on Sky Sports, not sure), but each time, Vettel was like, nope, not there, not that. And finally, there they were, two white specks on the track as his Ferrari sped towards them!

So, yeah, F1 is hilarious at times. And it’s great to see the drivers smiling and having a good time at it. There have been many good drivers joining in the past few seasons, like Toro Rosso’s Daniil Kyvat, or Red Bull’s Max Verstappen (who effectively blocked Rosberg from achieving any podium aspirations at Gilles-Villeneuve (Montreal GP), and was voted driver of the day for that race).

Oh, Toro Rosso means Red Bull in Italian by the way, go figure. Two teams sponsored by the same company — they also have some of the most beautiful livery I’ve seen. What is the car with the orange and blue livery? It is a very bold statement that happens in the middle to back of the track, and it’s quite beautiful to see.

I also wanted to mention that it was cool to see Force India’s Sergio Perez on podium in Baku. He was so happy, he couldn’t even hide it. In a sport dominated by European drivers and the occasional Brazilian, Perez was just too happy to be flying Mexico’s flag.

Love and chicanes,

Minku