Max Verstappen says he is still learning the ropes at Red Bull after being promoted from Toro Rosso earlier this year and reckons that the 2016 Formula 1 season is “a good learning school” ahead of a full-scale campaign in 2017.
Verstappen joined the senior Red Bull squad in place of Daniil Kvyat, who was demoted back to Toro Rosso, shortly before the Spanish Grand Prix, a race he went on to win.
The 18-year-old has gone on to score a further three podium finishes since the Barcelona race and is currently sixth in the drivers’ championship.
Speaking ahead of this weekend’s Malaysian Grand Prix, Verstappen described just how big he had found the step between Toro Rosso and Red Bull, which he felt may have been masked to some observers by his immediate success at the Milton Keynes-based team.
“The things that changed for me since joining is [that] it’s another level,” he said. “It’s quite a big step, but it’s a bit difficult for me to really comment on that because if you come in and you win your first race maybe some people don’t believe that it’s such a big step, but it is.”
“I’m still learning right now, I’m still getting to grips with the car better and better every session. I think this year is definitely a good learning school for me to get really well prepared for next year.”
Since his arrival in F1 aged 17 at the start of the 2015 season, Verstappen has been involved with in a number of high-profile disputes over his on-track attitude and race craft.
At the 2015 Singapore Grand Prix and the 2016 Australian Grand Prix he reacted angrily when racing in close proximity to his then teammate Carlos Sainz, and at this season’s Hungarian and Belgian races he clashed with Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen.
The latter two incidents generated a lot of interest from inside and outside the F1 paddock over his aggressive defending, but Verstappen insisted he takes any attention positively and does not let it affect his on-track performance.
He said: “I always consider it [to be] very positive when you are a talking point in F1. Even when it’s a negative, or a positive, it doesn’t matter. As long as they talk about you that’s good.
“The attention doesn’t really affect me, for me the most important thing is to deliver on the track and that is where I’m focussing on.”
Verstappen’s teammate at Red Bull, Daniel Ricciardo, reckons that after 11 races with the 18-year-old in the other RB12, he can evaluate the Dutch driver against his former teammate Sebastian Vettel.
When asked about the differences between Verstappen and Vettel in a video produced by Red Bull ahead of the race in Sepang this weekend, Ricciardo explained that he had taken note of the four times world champion’s way of dealing with the team during their one season together and is now learning “new driving techniques” from Verstappen.
He said: “I think with Max and Seb as teammates, [they were] at two different points in their career. But equally you can still learn from both of them – Seb’s experience, the way he interacted with the team was pretty interesting to see and that was cool.
“Max is coming in with a lot of youth, fire and energy and some new driving techniques, which, lets say, the younger kids are doing. So it’s interesting to learn from both of them and its cool.
“I like having as many teammates as possible; it’s great because the more people you can learn off the better I think it will make you as a driver.
Ricciardo also explained that the interest and hype surrounding Verstappen was useful for measuring his own standards and performances in F1.
He said: “I think Max is sure getting a lot of attention – he’s the youngest ever F1 driver and winner – so I get asked about him a lot as well, but it’s not a hindrance.
“For him obviously there’s a lot of attention and pressure but for me, I keep doing my thing and I know he’s very talented and if I can get the upper hand on him then it’s a bit like with Seb.
“They are very highly regarded and very highly hyped drivers so if I can just do the job against them then it only helps me out.”
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