Max Verstappen, who appears to have derived his driving technique from watching Ben-Hur, has certainly divided opinion in . The 18-year-old is either Mad Max or the most exciting new talent the sport has seen since Ayrton Senna burst on the scene in the mid-1980s.
My own view veers towards the latter. Jenson Button spoke for a lot of people when he said recently that Formula One had “a long way to go before it’s good again”. A lot of people – me included – have said many negative things about the state of the sport. There are so many things that could be made better. So when we get someone who brings a genuine thrill to F1 we should celebrate it, although it will be interesting to see how the tifosi here take to him after he played a part in compromising the races of both Ferrari drivers in .
On Thursday, as we arrived at Monza for preparations for Sunday’s Italian Grand Prix, that Charlie Whiting, F1’s race director, was to hold private meetings with Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen to discuss Verstappen’s driving, so we have not heard the last of this.
The Red Bull driver’s technique – especially the way he has defended his track position – is also certain to come up at Friday night’s drivers’ briefing. It is his aggressive overtaking which normally catches the eye.
Raikkonen in particular appears angered by what happened at Spa. After the race he said: “I’m all up for fair battles and close racing. But when I have to back off after Eau Rouge on the straight when I made my move – I had to brake not to hit him, because he turns after I make my move the first time – that, I think, is not correct. We were fortunate there wasn’t a big accident because of that.”
Not surprisingly, Red Bull’s team principal, Christian Horner, sees it differently. He said: “I remember Sebastian getting criticised a few years ago and there have been a few other drivers that history has demonstrated who have shown that fighting spirit. That fighting spirit is part of why there was such a big crowd [at Spa]. It was great to see the passion and enthusiasm.
“Some 80,000 people turned up to the circuit and there was a good race put on. Drivers are the heroes in this sport and occasionally that special one comes along. I haven’t seen anything like Spa since the Schumacher times, or Alonso in Spain, or Nigel Mansell at Silverstone.”
Last week I took a busman’s holiday and went to the Czech Republic to watch the latest round of the European Rally Championship. But I managed to get hold of a TV showing Sky’s coverage from Spa and it was a most entertaining hour or two. The officials looked at Verstappen’s driving after the race and decided to take no further action. In all probability someone will have a quiet word with a driver who does not turn 19 until the end of this month but is clearly not overawed by the world champions who surround him on the grid.
What happened in Spa was just a racing incident. Verstappen has obviously ruffled any number of feathers. But as Felipe Massa at the end of the season it is time to welcome a genuine star of the future, one who seems destined to win the world championship in the next few years, and do so with some brio.
Right now – apart from Lewis Hamilton – Verstappen is the biggest thing in the sport. Even if his driving sometimes reminds me of the chariot racing sequence in William Wyler’s epic film.