- Before the great Hamilton turnaround arrived at Interlagos, Verstappen's dominant wins at USA and Mexico City proved just who really was bossing the grid.
- In the 22 races held this year, Max landed in the top three on 18 grand occasions and in not one of those did he emerge third.
- On two utterly challenging tracks, Verstappen didn't put a foot wrong and ultimately won in clinical fashion.
There are a lot many reasons to be in awe of Max Verstappen’s F1 career. It’s been a stellar journey that at the back of spending a little over half a decade in the sport’s top flight has yielded a world championship.
We don’t see that often.
Whenever one talks about assessing great F1 talents, there’s increased focus on the youngest drivers to ever win a Formula 1 Grand Prix. But here’s a man, who at all of 24, has won a world title.
Just how many do that so early into their careers? For someone who won his maiden race with Red Bull, the 2016 Spanish Grand Prix, it makes perfect sense that Verstappen clinched his maiden career world title with the Christian Horner-led team.
An incredible feeling for any driver, not in the least for the man who got The Netherlands’ maiden driver’s world title.
But how did it all pan out for the man described as the lion of the grid? Which moments of 2021 defined his great form and now, fantastic result?
Sheer dominance on podiums
You realise just how incredible Max was all season when you look at the story the numbers tell. The very fact that there was not even a single opportunity where Verstappen came third in a finish on the podium or landed on the third step of the podium in his battles against Lewis tells you something about consistency.
In the 22 races held this year, Max landed in the top three on 18 grand occasions and in not one of those did he emerge third.
He was either second-best to Lewis or the best, ahead of Lewis.
If that’s not greatness, then what is?
Unfettered excellence at Austria
Someone like Kimi Raikkonen, after spending nearly two decades in the sport, was able to reach 21 race wins.
Max, who’s only one away from Kimi’s tally of wins, has done it in a little over five years in F1.
And more importantly, four of his twenty Grand Prix victories have come amid the Styrian mountains of Austria, a venue that is home to his team Red Bull.
That’s a fifth of his career wins.
This year too, Verstappen won both rounds at Austria and in doing so, raised the bar of what it means to excel at one’s own home race. His two key victories at Spielberg denied Lewis Hamilton any advantage whatsoever.
Bouncing back at Imola after Bahrain’s disappointment
The opening race of the season was won by Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton, a clear legend of the field, a man who has against his name seven world titles.
But at Imola, despite starting from third on the grid, Verstappen was quick to drive on the outside and make a few brave lunges on Perez (his teammate was ahead of Max) and eventually, the pole sitter of the race, the great Lewis Hamilton.
That all of that happened inside a few seconds from the race start was definitive.
From thereon, Max would then stick to the track position of the race and never relent. The end result? A great win in just round two of the 2021 F1 season.
Dominating the rounds at the Americas, barring Brazil
Before the great Hamilton turnaround arrived at Interlagos, home to what should ideally be called the Senna Grand Prix, Verstappen’s dominant wins at USA and Mexico City proved just who really was bossing the grid.
In taking bold, consecutive wins at USA and Mexico, Max Verstappen clearly upped the ante of his attack on Lewis Hamilton, creating a moment so utterly inspiring that it did feel that Hamilton had lost his title hopes.
On two utterly challenging tracks that do turn out to be tricky for the tires and demand much from the race strategy department, Verstappen didn’t put a foot wrong and ultimately won in clinical fashion.
Interestingly, in Mexico, Verstappen didn’t even start on pole. It was Bottas who began from the front end of the grid but an incident involving Ricciardo ruined his contest. Max sensed the opportunity and pushed and pushed and ended on the top step in the end, denying Hamilton another chance of winning.
The race would also be remembered for a fighting P8 scored by Raikkonen, which as it turns out happen to be his final points in F1.
The lion roars at Abu Dhabi
A year back in the day, when Verstappen won a contest that many called slightly dull and insipid, he would never have thought that a year down the line, he’d return to the same venue to take his first title and that too, in the final moments of the contest.
But such is Formula 1, where none can predict anything and such is Max Verstappen, who can always change the context of a contest on the back of sheer grit.
One saw an ample demonstration of it a few hours ago in what became a glitzy Grand Prix, punctuated by excellence, controversy and ultimately, a mega Red Bull triumph.
Towards the fag end of the race, with Hamilton, not Verstappen, in the lead of the race, something had to give. And soon, as the safety car receded into oblivion, Verstappen went out on a “Max”imum attack on his archrival and snatched the lead of the race courtesy a mega late lunge on a slow left hander.
These were critical corners and definitive in the context of the world championship. One had to be at his best without cutting any corners!
Soon, Max would pass Lewis on the outside and from that moment on, would never concede the race’s lead. Even as Hamilton tried to counterattack, boldly sneaking in on the Red Bull’s inside, Verstappen denied him any chances of retaking the track position.
The glory was to be the Dutchman’s and so it turned out to be.
Max Verstappen is now your 2021 World Champion and truly speaking, regardless of the rising tirade against him that he was ‘handed the trophy by the FIA,’ it only makes sense to reflect on the critical fact here.
It’s that when he entered the season-finale, he entered the race as a Red Bull driver vying for glory; it was Hamilton, the glorious, with seven world titles against his name. It was to have been the perfect match between experience and exuberance and dare one say, self belief on Max’s side won in the end.