Max Verstappen was compared to Formula One greats Ayrton Senna and Michael Schumacher on Sunday after the Dutch teenager’s sensational drive to third place in a wet and chaotic Brazilian Grand Prix.
Even father and former racer Jos, the 19-year-old Red Bull driver’s biggest fan and fiercest critic, was astonished.
“What Max showed here today was really special,” he said of a race likely to go down in the sport’s annals as one for the ages.
In the last 15 laps, after a change to extreme wet tyres, Verstappen passed more than half the starting grid as he went from 16th place to the podium.
Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff, who caused a media commotion earlier in the week when he rang Jos in what was interpreted as a bid to warn Max off interfering in the title battle, was no less impressed.
“I didn’t call him but I met him,” Jos said when asked whether there had been another post-race phone conversation. “I tell you also what he said to me and it was ‘We are racing for the championship but today it was the Verstappen show.’
“I think he was right.”
Think Spain 1996, a race that earned Schumacher his ‘rainmaster’ tag after the German dominated in a downpour, or Senna’s astonishing drive to second place in a Toleman at a wet Monaco 1984.
Offered both examples, Red Bull team principal Christian Horner accepted them.
“I think it is right up there, you’ve got to compare it to those great moments. You don’t often witness a motor race like that. What we saw today was something very, very special,” he said.
Verstappen, in his second full season but a winner already in Spain in May on his Red Bull debut, had qualified fourth.
Once the first seven laps behind the safety car were done, and with the rain tipping down, the Dutchman dived past Ferrari’s 2007 world champion Kimi Raikkonen at turn one to take third place.
With the race twice stopped and re-started, Verstappen then took second from Mercedes’s championship leader Nico Rosberg around the outside on lap 32.
He saved a half-spin, and stayed ahead until pitting for intermediate tyres on lap 43 — an error that the team rectified 11 laps later. From then on, it was a full-on charge back to third.
“If I had to choose between second (place) and no stop, and third and all this, I would choose third,” said Jos. “Because what he showed on track today was incredible.”