Max Verstappen needs reminding there’s no ‘I’ in team after Brazil GP


He almost took his first F1 victory at his first attempt in a Mercedes at 2020’s Sakhir GP, in Bahrain, when he filled in for the Covid-struck Lewis Hamilton, but a puncture put paid to that dream.

He has had to wait until the penultimate race of this season, a longer wait than he would have expected when he signed his contract. This year’s all-new W13 car had huge problems in the first half; uncomfortable and performance-sapping porpoising, no balance, little grip. That the team have ironed out those issues to achieve a meritorious one-two victory before the flag falls on 2022 is testament to their collective toil.

Hamilton was genuinely pleased for his team-mate and hugged him warmly under the podium. The seven-times world champion has grown into one of the truest team players the sport has ever seen. Mercedes are 19 points off Ferrari in the constructors’ championship, and if they can outscore the Scuderia in Abu Dhabi next weekend that will be a big boost, in both money and morale.

The Dutchman and Hamilton made contact through the Senna ‘S’, forcing Verstappen to pit for a new nose. He was also handed a five-second penalty for the smash, which was a little harsh – it was 50/50 both drivers’ fault, though I suspect if Verstappen had not already sealed the title he might have hit the brakes to avert contact and instead tried to teach Lewis a lesson. Either way, he felt hard done by as usual, by both Lewis and the stewards, and was not in the best
of moods.

His comrade Sergio Perez is fighting Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc for second place in the drivers’ championship. Surprisingly perhaps, given their dominance between 2010 and 2013, Red Bull have never finished a season with their drivers first and second, and that is their stated goal now.

Perez, who won in Monaco and Singapore this year, has always helped Verstappen when he has been told to. This has happened many times but, crucially, Max would not have won the world title last year – even with the race director’s help – had the Mexican not held up Hamilton for many laps in Abu Dhabi.

Verstappen was the first to admit it at the time: ‘Without Checo, I wouldn’t be sitting here right now [as champion] because they [Mercedes] would have had a pit gap with the safety car. It’s very rare to have a team-mate like that. He was a real team player.’

In the final laps in Brazil, Perez was struggling for grip and dropping back. Red Bull told Verstappen to overtake Perez and see if he could hunt down Fernando Alonso for fifth. If he couldn’t pass the Spaniard, he was to let ‘Checo’ back through at the last turn so the Mexican could earn an extra two points – putting him two ahead of Leclerc. Max ignored this order.

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