“Maybe I should just…not even calm down, just oversee the situation a little bit more. I don’t know why, I think I was quite good at that before but, somehow this year…
“Maybe with the previous two races not going my way, you want to recover points – it’s working against me at the moment.”
Max Verstappen had a painful ‘life lesson’ in Shanghai, taking out the world championship leader Sebastian Vettel and messing up his chance of a win by running wide when trying to pass Lewis Hamilton in a highly risky place on the track.
This handed the initiative – and the race win – to his team mate Daniel Ricciardo. The Australian still had plenty of overtaking work to do, but he did it flawlessly and raised his stock and market value in the F1 driver market in the process.
The F1 world loves Verstappen’s bold moves and virtuoso drives when they come off, and Red Bull have broken the bank to sign him on that basis. But Shanghai illustrated that there is a fine line between hero and zero when you walk that particular tightrope.
Now in his fourth season of F1, he is no longer considered a ‘young driver’, despite being only 20 years old. “He’s done enough races..” said Vettel after the race.
He follows in a rich tradition of drivers who came into F1 all sound and fury and who collided with others from time to time whilst also demonstrating great skill and talent. Some went on to be great champions, a few did not.
A race win goes begging
Following Red Bull’s inspired decision to pit both of their drivers under the safety car and supply them with new soft tyres, it was all in Verstappen’s hands to go on and challenge for victory, as all the cars ahead had worn medium tyres on. The speed differential was sufficient to pass them all – as Ricciardo went on to prove.
Verstappen was the highest placed Red Bull in fourth place. Ricciardo had to start his post-safety car charge from sixth.
The Dutchman put third-placed Hamilton under severe pressure and, as the pair went through the high speed left-hander of turn seven, Verstappen was forced into taking a wider, less optimal line.
Other drivers had backed out of such a move earlier in the race, but when Verstappen attempted to try and stay with the Mercedes he discovered the anticipated reduction in adhesion and ran wide. This allowed Ricciardo through, who had already disposed of Kimi Raikkonen.
This first error put Verstappen on the back foot, who now had to follow his team-mate through the field. First the pair cleared Hamilton, then homed in on Sebastian Vettel.
On lap 42, Ricciardo managed to execute the majority of the overtake on the long straight prior to turn fourteen, finishing off the move on the Ferrari as they cleared the corner.
Verstappen tried his move on the following lap but, coming from further back, he tried to pass just as Vettel was navigating the corner. The pair came together, both drivers spun, and Verstappen was handed a ten-second time penalty.
Those two poorly-executed overtakes not only cost Verstappen a realistic shot at victory, but an almost-guaranteed place on the podium.
Unfortunately, his collision in Shanghai means he is yet to have a clean race in 2018; he spun in Australia after damaging his car earlier in the race and his Bahrain Grand Prix weekend was marred by a qualifying crash and a race-ending collision with Lewis Hamilton. Verstappen admitted that he was trying to make up for lost ground in the opening races, by forcing the issue too much.
He apologised immediately to Vettel – and publicly – for his mistake in China but, whilst the Red Bull man cut a remorseful figure when speaking to the media after the race, he said he felt no need to reduce his level of aggression.
“I don’t think I necessarily need to change a lot of things, I just need to learn, of course, what happened today,” said Verstappen, “I don’t think I necessarily need to be less aggressive or anything because that [attempted pass on Vettel] was nothing to do with being overly aggressive, just wanting too much.
“Of course this definitely not what I want. It’s a life lesson.”
Verstappen will be looking for his first incident-free race of the season when Formula One heads to the overtake-inducing Baku City Circuit in Azerbaijan in two weeks’ time, where Red Bull won last year, albeit in another chaotic, Safety Car inspired race.
All Photos: Motorsport Images
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