Formula 1 likes a good nickname. Michael Schumacher, for obvious reasons, is called the ‘Red Baron’. His statistical milestones notwithstanding, the German ace lifted the sport to a new level by sheer weight of personality.
Lewis Hamilton is leaving no stone unturned and no challenge unaccepted in his bid to raise the Formula 1 bar in this hybrid-era age. The Briton’s dominance on the track has seen him dubbed ‘Hammer-time,’ perhaps a warning to the others that ‘their time is up.’
But in Max Verstappen, we seem to be having a different creature, away from the wizardry of Schumacher and the records of Lewis. To understand just why the Dutchman is called ‘Mad Max’, we just need to pay an ode to his classic 2016 drive at Interlagos, the home of the Brazilian Grand Prix.
In a season when the Nico vs. Hamilton contest divided opinion (and resulted in Rosberg being crowned World Champion) it was this sterling drive by Max Verstappen that stunned Formula 1 and united his critics and fans in appreciation.
The Verstappen Enigma
Having become the youngest race-winner that year when he emerged on top in Spain, the Max Verstappen juggernaut continued and reach its crescendo at Interlagos, the penultimate race of the season.
But implicit in Verstappen’s 2016 Interlagos drive, a race-win regarded as the greatest of his relatively young career so far, was the presence of rain.
While the 2016 Brazilian Grand Prix was correctly predicted to end in triumph for Mercedes, it was Max’s incredible podium finish that made headlines – garnering more attention than Hamilton’s win or Rosberg’s second.
Rain flooded a closely fought race between the two Mercedes drivers in the 71-lap contest. But this was no ordinary rain. It did seem that Interlagos had been, quite frankly, washed away.
Melting the Iceman, Lap Seven
By lap seven, with the race already under the control of the safety car, Hamilton led from Rosberg. Raikkonen completed the top three, with Max chasing the former Ferrari driver a little over two seconds further back.
Verstappen, aware of his rival’s lack of grip, decided to attack rather than sit there and wait for the rain to subside. His first victim was ‘The Iceman’ himself, who Max passed with a sterling move up the inside of turn one at the Autodromo Jose Carlos Pace.
On lap 13, the Safety Car was deployed following Marcus Erricson’s crash into the barriers. When the race resumed on lap 19, Verstappen’s attacking instincts were on full display again. A lap later, Kimi skidded off the track and out of the race after struggling with the slippery conditions. This consolidated Verstappen’s third place as the race was red-flagged due to intense rain.
Rosberg – The Sitting Duck, Lap 32
On Lap 32, Verstappen, now almost on the tail of Rosberg’s Mercedes, prepared to put away his next target. And that’s exactly what the Red Bull driver did, diving up the German’s right to take second place.
This was the moment which compelled Martin Brundle to cry out from the press box: “What confidence; the boy just goes out there and finds a way out!”
But just as it appeared that was the end of the excitement, Max’s attacking intent grew more intense and the race more interesting.
Max Makes his Red Bull Dance in the Storm
One of the most dramatic moments of the race came on Lap 38, when Max, running in second, somehow found a way to balance his Red Bull despite the conditions prompting David Croft to state: “How has he managed to keep that Red Bull intact?”
And therein lay the enigma: where others – most noticeably Vettel and Raikkonen faltered – Verstappen continued his charge with 33 laps to go.
On Lap 44, the safety car came out again. This time, thanks to Williams’ Felipe Massa, who, driving his final Brazilian Grand Prix (home race) crashed into the barriers. With 27 laps to go, Verstappen dropped to 10th place when his team asked him to pit for fresh rubber.
The Safety Car Comes Out Again
The moment no one expected to see from such an inexperienced driver in the torrential rains at
On Lap 66, Verstappen, who was now battling Vettel, dived up the German’s inside to win the battle for fifth. So staggering was the Dutchman’s control that Vettel, who had to yield, went wide on the grass.
Then, with only four laps to go, Verstappen found an easy target in Toro Rosso’s Carlos Sainz, the Spaniard hardly putting up a fight. Now up into fourth, Max had Force India’s Sergio Perez to contend with. On Lap 69, the Dutchman would exert his might, using the superior straight-line speed of his Red Bull to complete the task just before the hairpin.
By that time, the two Mercedes cars were up and away and Max, who demonstrated great resilience despite battling inclement weather against more experienced drivers, settled for third. But as a gauge of his talent, it was a performance that was second to none.
Words by Dev Tyagi