ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates – Although Max Verstappen is already being talked about as a future Formula One champion, the Dutch teenager is unsure how competitive he can be next season.
The 19-year-old Red Bull driver has taken F1 by storm this season, becoming the youngest competitor to win a race. Two weeks ago, Verstappen produced one of the best drives in recent years with astonishingly audacious overtaking at the rain-drenched Brazilian Grand Prix.
All eyes will be on Verstappen next year, when rule changes to make cars faster may shake up the title race – potentially in his favor. But he is cautious as to whether Red Bull will be quick enough to break the total stranglehold Mercedes has enjoyed for the past three seasons.
''At the moment it's a bit difficult to say what exactly what I want to achieve for next year because you don't know what the packages are,'' Verstappen said Thursday. ''We're all very positive about next year, but I think it's important to just wait and see when the car gets to the track.''
Despite his young age, Verstappen already has seven podium finishes and drives with the assurance of a contender.
When aged 18, he won the Spanish GP in May – his first race for Red Bull after switching from Toro Rosso early on this season.
Verstappen followed that up by becoming the youngest driver to start on the front row by qualifying in second place for the Belgian GP in August.
His daring and flamboyant overtaking makes him noticed among fans and rivals alike.
But his abrasive, aggressive style also puts him at odds with other drivers, notably Ferrari duo Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen.
Verstappen has verbally clashed with both this year.
During the Mexican GP, Vettel was furious that Verstappen had made an illegal move. Red Bull advised Verstappen – but did not order him – to yield position to Vettel as a show of sportsmanship.
Verstappen ignored the call.
Vettel cursed in his car radio and, after the checkered flag, drove up beside Verstappen and wagged his finger. Verstappen responded by shaking his fist and later calling the four-time world champion ''a very frustrated guy, shouting on the radio like a child.''
But after his performance in Brazil, the F1 paddock was united in talking about Verstappen's driving skills.
In Brazil he came back to the pits late in the race after misjudging which tires to use on the treacherously wet track.
When he came back out on new tires, Verstappen was down in 16th place, yet he sliced through the field to finish third.
''We witnessed something very special,'' Red Bull team principal Christian Horner said. ''The way he drove was outstanding. It stands out to me like Ayrton Senna in Monaco and other great drives in history.''
High praise indeed, although the unflappable Verstappen – as usual – has taken it in his stride.
''I was definitely enjoying myself in Brazil,'' he said. ''But I'm not sure if it has changed something for me personally in terms of my reputation.''
He credits his handling skills in wet conditions to his karting days as a junior and some key early tutoring from his father Jos Verstappen – who drove in more than 100 F1 races during his career.
''He was helping me a lot, especially when I was six or seven years old,'' Verstappen said. ''He was even standing on the track showing me where to drive, trying to find different lines, and that definitely helped me a lot out there in Brazil.''
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