You are such a…show-off, you know that?!
Just kidding. Or am I?
Here you are, at 18 years old, just casually leading a lap and eventually winning the F1 Spanish Grand Prix, while during the same age, I was still in architecture school, trying to figure out whether to be a modernist or traditionalist and bemoaning the fact that I have so much math to learn.
Life is not fair. Or something like that.
Just what makes you so darn special, anyway? Is it because you seem to have the unwavering cool of Kimi Raikkonen, the in-your-face moxie of Sebastian Vettel, the dogged determination of Fernando Alonso and the overall racing aplomb of Michael Schumacher, all wrapped up in your 18-year old body?
Those are just figures of speech, though. We all know that you’re a Verstappen through and through.
Strange but I never really paid that much attention to your father Jos when he was still racing in F1. And to be honest, I knew very little about you too prior to your arrival in F1. But, what an arrival it was. Your 17-year old self promptly split the F1 circus and fans into two camps: The “He’s far too young” conservative camp and the “Let him have a go!” excitable camp. I was firmly in the latter one, by the way, as I am of the belief that if one is good enough, then he/she is old enough. Or maybe I just like the possibility of another maverick/trailblazer in F1 a lot.
You didn’t just talk the talk, you walked the walk. You didn’t quite have a fairytale first season but you more than proved on track that you deserve to be racing against the top drivers in the world, regardless of your age.
And in last week’s Spanish GP, all the stars aligned for your benefit.
However, let’s back up a little bit. Prior to that race, you sparked debates left, right and center yet again because of your “sudden” promotion to Red Bull, which effectively demoted another young driver (and podium finisher at that), Russia’s Daniil Kvyat. Again, people questioned your “readiness” for a drive at such a top team (“He’ll be decimated by Ricciardo!”/”He needs to mature further!”) and complained at how shabbily Kvyat was treated to advance your career. Even I was mildly shocked at this mid-season team switch, but chose to reserve judgment until at least after your first race with Red Bull.
And what a first race weekend with Red Bull that was.
Outqualifying both Ferraris on your first try? How very dare you. When most people expected you to get passed during the start of the race, you held your bottle even as the highly-fancied Mercedes drivers took each other out during the first lap. Your composure belied your age, and with each passing lap that you led, it was clear that a star was being born right before our eyes.
Just to keep it real, I wanted Kimi Raikkonen to win the race ahead of you, but the way you defended your position and kept your cool made me go, “Damn, son!” Who on earth would begrudge you with that win?!
Youngest ever driver in F1? Check.
Youngest driver ever to lead a lap? Check.
First Dutch driver to win a Grand Prix? Check.
Youngest ever Grand Prix winner? Check.
Respect, man. My hat is well and truly doffed.
Why does that win (and the broken records) matter so much, anyway? Perhaps because amidst disarray, rapid decline of viewership and interest, and a glaring one-team domination the past few years, you’ve managed to bring a spark of magic into the sport yet again. And who doesn’t love a bit of magic during trying times?
You made people sit up and take notice of Formula One yet again. News outlets heralded the fact that a teenager made racing demigods look ordinary and fallible that race. Kids worldwide would have went, “Hey, if Max can do that, then so can I!”
Has it all sunk in yet? Don’t worry, it eventually will.
So just be yourself, Max. Now that you have that massive monkey off your back, you can focus on what you do best: racing. Keep proving your critics wrong and smashing as many records as you can, and most importantly, have a ton of fun while doing so.
I can’t wait to see what else you have up your young, Dutch sleeve.
So go on and be a show-off all you want. Own it. I expect nothing else.
P.S. Please don’t get all big-headed from now on, okay? I am still looking forward to the day when Mick Schumacher kicks your arse on track. 😉