Who can stop Max Verstappen? After two retirements in three races to start the season of defending his title, “Mad Max” is almost untouchable and Ferrari, Charles Leclerc and the others can only see the damage. On the sequence Imola, Miami, Montmelo, Monaco, the leader of Red Bull has accumulated one hundred points all round, 20 more than Pérez and 55 than Leclerc and Sainz. A chasm set to widen a little more in Baku this weekend? Not sure as the Azerbaijani capital is a nemesis for Verstappen who has never triumphed there in five attempts.
Of the 22 circuits offered to pilots in this 2022 marathon, seven still escape the prize list of the still young 2021 world champion (Bahrain, Australia, Azerbaijan, Hungary, Italy, Singapore and Japan). Now narrow the list down to those where he has never even been in the podium ceremony and the number drops… to two. Monza where he has a 7th place for best result and… Baku of course. In northern Italy as in the far east of Europe, fate seems to be working against him.
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2018 and the responsible accident
His Red Bull has only seen the checkered flag twice in five appearances for an 8th place under the name “European Grand Prix” for the first in 2016 and a 4th in 2019. The rest? Two heartbreaks and a very embarrassing accident. 2017, in the fight with a certain Sergio Pérez – who knows him has made Baku his garden (three podiums including one victory) -, he sees his engine break and has to give up. 2018, attacked at the end of the interminable straight line by his teammate at the time, Daniel Ricciardo, he made the shift too much and knocked out the two Red Bulls K.-O.
“It is useless to pass the blame insofar as we represent one and the same team“, he defends himself. Already pampered by Christian Horner, he is not publicly questioned and the boss decrees an explanation behind “closed doors“. So much for a heartbreak and the accident responsible. From the first, it was obviously appropriate not to draw any conclusion. From the second, it is of course appropriate the opposite.
Is Verstappen protected from his passion?
This Verstappen, criticized, scolded for his cavalier ways has of course evolved. More mature, obviously more sure of himself now that he is world champion, he knows how to be respected but exceeds the limits less. At least he knows how to play with it, as he showed in Monaco by putting one wheel and only one on the yellow line when leaving the pits in front of Charles Leclerc. Is he therefore completely safe from himself, from his ardor? If the outcome of the final duel against Lewis Hamilton was positive for him last year, he could have cursed this Azerbaijan Grand Prix from which he left disgusted and deprived of 26 points.
Remember that on lap 47, while he was prancing in the lead, his left rear tire had burst, forcing him to retire. Verstappen and Red Bull lashed out at Pirelli, saying “everything was comfortable“. The truth is that “Super Max” was racking up the fastest times in “qualifying” mode with worn “hard” tires. He had chosen the panache and paid dearly for it.”Can’t wait to go back to Baku“, he told The Independent, referring to a “work to be completed after last year“. Indeed, Max.
Serene as possible, would the 2022 version of the Dutch repeat the error? Not sure. “It’s a tricky track with large braking zones and tight racing, finding the best set-up for the car will be difficult“, says Verstappen.
Urban, the Baku circuit offers very long straight lines, a sector in which the Red Bull has one or even two lengths ahead of Ferrari since the start of the season. Miami had proven it by the absurd and Verstappen had ended up crunching Leclerc guilty of an error. 2022 could therefore well be the year of Verstappen’s consecration in Azerbaijan. Unless it is, as in Monaco, a little below the performance of its rivals or fate interferes. He alone seems to be able to seize up the Red Bulls at the moment…
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