WE learnt many things in 2016, one of which was Max Verstappen is a future F1 world champion.
The teenager was promoted from Red Bull’s junior team Toro Rosso to the main outfit early in the season and showed he’ll be a fixture on the grid for years to come.
He won his maiden grand prix in his first outing in Spain and even received comparisons to three-time world champion Ayrton Senna after a special performance in terrible conditions at the Brazilian GP.
He finished fifth in the drivers standings, two spots behind teammate Daniel Ricciardo. There’s a lot to like about the Dutchman, and his ascent to the top of the F1 world is only a matter of time. But for now, Ricciardo is still number one in the Red Bull garage.
Boss Christian Horner and Co. are giving the Aussie first crack with the new car the team will use in season 2017. When the RB13 hits the track in late February for testing, Ricciardo will be first behind the wheel, with Verstappen to follow on day two.
It’s not overly surprising given the 27-year-old is the senior driver who won plenty of plaudits for his driving in 2016, but it’s still an important boost for the man who will face even more pressure from Verstappen this year. Wanting to remain top dog at Red Bull is something he was vocal about last year.
But one day Verstappen will take that role. The youngster has shown he has a hot temper at times this season, copping flak from drivers for his aggressive approach on the tarmac. But importantly, he’s impressed his bosses with his classy attitude when not burning rubber.
Horner recently revealed one example of Verstappen’s amiability from midway through last season. The young gun’s business class seat back from the Canadian Grand Prix were double booked and he had to sit at the back of the economy section near the toilets.
But in a sport whose star performers are used to five-star luxury treatment — a lifestyle they can mostly afford — Verstappen happily took his place in cattle class without any fuss.
“Max is very, very good — and he’s so enthusiastic about everything. He’s like a labrador puppy that just wants to get into everything.
“Whether that’s the history of the sport, whether that’s what’s going on in the junior formulas, or in karting, he loves his racing. He feels privileged to be a Formula 1 driver.”
The nature of F1 means teammates are often enemies. Just look at Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg — both drove for Mercedes but were each other’s fiercest rivals. However, there’s no concern at Red Bull that Ricciardo and Verstappen’s ambition for individual glory will lead to any regrettable confrontations that may harm the team’s overall pursuit of success.
“They work very well together,” Horner said. “At no point has there been any concern about how those two race each other.
“On top of that, they actually quite like each other. That’s not a requirement from the team, it’s just that they live in the same building in Monaco and Daniel has been a little bit like a big brother to Max, outside of the car.
“Inside the car, they’re both as hungry as each other, they both want to win and they’ll both race each other hard. But as long as it’s hard but fair, that’s fine by us.”