Max Verstappen might have cause to thank the Formula One stewards, even if only as a backhanded compliment, for giving him plenty to get stirred up about ahead of Sunday’s Mexican Grand Prix.
Demoted off the podium at last weekend’s U.S. Grand Prix, and also in Mexico a year ago, the 20-year-old Red Bull driver produced a faultless sporting response at the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez.
In Austin he had railed at one ‘idiot’ steward, language for which he subsequently apologised, after he was handed a time penalty for exceeding track limits while overtaking Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen. Raikkonen was again third on Sunday but this time with Verstappen on top of the podium.
“After last week I was very fired up and very motivated to do well,” the Dutch driver told reporters. “Of course I missed out on pole, but I was very determined to win this race and I gave it all in the start, in Turn One and it feels great.
“It’s a great podium to be on, which last year I think I should have been on already but I missed out at the very last moment but luckily now no penalties.” Verstappen, already Formula One’s youngest ever winner, had said on Saturday that he was ‘super annoyed’ to miss out on becoming the sport’s youngest ever pole-sitter but he made a sensational start.
He had also faced a stewards enquiry after that session, without any further action. Team boss Christian Horner said he could tell from the look in his eyes the moment Verstappen arrived in the paddock in Mexico that he wanted to win more than anyone.
“I think it (Austin) didn’t hurt his motivation,” he said. With title contenders Sebastian Vettel and Lewis Hamilton colliding, and going to the back of the field, Verstappen had a free run and the team’s biggest problem was to rein in his enthusiasm.
By the end he had lapped Mercedes’ Hamilton, who was ninth and heading for his fourth title, and closing in on Vettel who finished fourth. “I think he got a bit bored out there at times,” said Horner. “We kept trying to slow him down and he was getting a bit frustrated … he loves wheel to wheel racing.
“We have a minor bonus system regarding fastest lap, which I’m thinking of eradicating,” joked Horner. “I instructed his engineer under no circumstances to tell him that Sebastian Vettel had just relieved him of a few euros.
“But the danger with him is that he’s looking at the screens around the track and he can see it for himself anyway. The important thing was bringing the car home, which is exactly what he did.”
The win was Verstappen’s second of the season, after Malaysia, and third of his career, and comes in a year that has seen him hit by retirements and mechanical failures.
“He had such a rough summer. Every weekend something going wrong for him, when he was in great positions.” said Horner. “He’s not let his head drop.
“I said to him ‘forget everything else, treat these last seven races as a mini-championship and just enjoy going racing’. I think he’s done that.”