In one of the world’s most global and popular sports, a champion is under extreme heat. Formula 1’s 2021 and 2022 Champion, Max Verstappen, has been absolutely dominant for the past two years, sitting atop of the driver’s championship with little competition from the rest of the field — except for Mercedes driver and seven-time champion Lewis Hamilton. Known for his aggressive and effortless driving style, Verstappen has certainly asserted dominance over the remainder of the drivers in the circuit. He was at such an advantage with points this season that he was already named champion with four races remaining on the schedule.
One specific driver, the Dutchman, has outperformed is his teammate on Team Red Bull, Sergio Perez. Perez, a veteran driver hailing from Mexico, finished last season more than 200 points behind Verstappen. Currently this year, Perez sits level with Ferrari’s Charles LeClerc for second in drivers’ championship points. He could have been alone at the second spot, but Verstappen made things complicated during the final laps of this past weekend’s São Paulo Grand Prix.
On the final lap of the Grand Prix, Verstappen sat in the sixth spot while Perez sat in seventh. It was crucial for Team Red Bull that Perez finish in sixth, so that he could sit in second overall in the drivers’ standings and give the team a shot of having both of their drivers finish one and two in the championship. Due to this, Red Bull ordered Verstappen to let Perez pass him, for the sixth spot. However, the champion had no response, and when his team ordered him again, he lashed out.
“I told you already last summer,” Verstappen said over the team’s radio during the final lap. “You guys don’t ask that again to me, ok? Are we clear about that? I gave my reasons and I stand by it.”
Those reasons in question are Verstappen’s repugnance for actions taken by his teammate this past summer in Monaco. Perez sat one spot higher than Verstappen in qualifying, and “lost control” of his car, crashing into the wall during the second part of qualifying, causing a red flag to come out, and solidifying all the driver’s current qualifying positions. Given that Monaco is an extremely challenging course where overtaking is nearly impossible, Verstappen was unable to resurface from his qualifying position behind Perez. This certainly did not sit well with the Dutchman, as he felt as if his teammate purposely crashed in order to keep Verstappen behind him.
Verstappen’s comment went viral on multiple social media platforms, and he received a great deal of criticism as a result. Many F1 fans and reporters bashed the champion, arguing that he is selfish, and not a team driver. Even SkySports’ host Martin Brundle was blown away by Verstappen’s words.
“That’s a very powerful radio message from Max Verstappen,” Brundle said. “That’s an ‘I’m in charge here. I call the shots.’”
Verstappen has no doubt landed on many people’s bad side, but also raised the question lingering around the F1 paddock: will Red Bull’s driver lineup be the same next year? Perez is currently signed with the sport’s most powerful team till Monaco 2024. Verstappen is also under contract until the year 2028. However, F1 drivers can terminate their contract through mutual agreement or being paid out by another team. After the grand prix in Brazil, Perez voiced his frustration with Verstappen.
“Yeah, this shows who he really is.” Perez said in a post-race interview with SkySports F1. “After all I have done for him, it is a bit disappointing to be honest.”
Given Perez’s frustration with his teammate, and driver openings for Team Haas next year, it is not impossible that he moves on from Red Bull.
Despite all of the current criticism looming around his name, there is no doubt that Verstappen is a different breed of driver behind the wheel. His confidence in his abilities was shown from the very beginning of his Formula 1 career, where he landed a spot in the circuit at 18 years old, making him the youngest Formula 1 driver ever. Last season, where the young star won his first championship, he outmaneuvered one of the sport’s most legendary drivers in Hamilton. It was a back-and-forth battle during the closing laps of the race, and Verstappen overtook the seven-time champion to seal the victory. Moving on to this year, Verstappen broke the record for total points scored in a season, and won the championship with little to no contention from the rest of the field.
According to Simon Butler of Medium.com, “A champion is somebody who does whatever it takes to achieve their goal, to be the best that they can be.” Verstappen certainly emulates this, as his downright impeccable driving style stops at nothing when it comes time to perform. No matter what lies ahead, he never fails to leave it all on the track, doing everything in his power to be the best driver in the field — and he has certainly accomplished that feat.
If Verstappen did not have this mentality and drive within him, his current status in F1 could be questioned. In such a high-demanding sport where you need to succeed in order to stay afloat, you must drive to survive. Therefore, in some situations, such as what took place last weekend in Brazil, it is necessary to hold your position and never let anyone pass you, especially if they purposefully wronged you earlier in the year.