BusyFormula #004: Is Verstappen the next Formula1 World Champion?

max verstappen

If you have been following Formula1 even mildly for the last few years, then you know who Max Verstappen is. If you haven’t, then you need to know that he is the youngest driver to start a Formula1 race at just 17 years.

He also happens to be the youngest points-scorer as he scored points in his second race (Malaysian GP) in his debut season in 2015.

Max’s ‘youngest’ records don’t stop there as he also holds the distinguished record of being the youngest race winner in Formula1 at just 18 years old at the Spanish Grand Prix in 2016.

He is one of the fastest drivers on the current grid and easily the fastest of his generation.

During F1’s last outing in Monaco two weeks ago, Max won the twelfth race of his career and took over the championship lead for the first time in his already distinguished young career.

He is currently locked in an intense battle for the championship with seven-time world champion Sir Lewis Hamilton, who could become the undisputed king of F1 this season if he wins his eighth world title, a record never seen before in Formula1 history.

Given the pedigree of the man Max is trying to dethrone as world champion, we have decided to look into what makes Max the man that many believe to be the next World Champion and the one most likely to end Hamilton’s reign of dominance over the sport.

What makes Max special?

Max Verstappen exploded onto the Formula1 scene in 2015 when RedBull shocked the world by making the 17-year-old one of the drivers for Toro Rosso, Red Bull’s junior team, in 2015.

This decision proved inspiring as Max would score points in 10 races for the team, finishing fourth twice for 49 points across the season. For comparison, his teammate Carlos Sainz only managed 18 points that season.

I remember being excited by the young Verstappen in his debut season. I couldn’t figure out whether it was the sheer level of talent or the fact that he was the son of a former driver that made him so fearless in his debut season.

He pulled off bold overtakes on Daniel Ricciardo, Fernando Alonso, and Sergio Perez in his first season and quickly got the bosses’ attention at Red Bull.

Not only the bosses were impressed by Max’s style. His go big or go home attitude has won him many fans over the years, and he now has an army of orange that follows him to every track to cheer him on.

In addition to his exciting driving style and brazen persona, Max has a quality that is consistent with every world champion in F1 and every winner in life as well.

He takes the opportunities that are given to him. During the 2016 season, Red Bull made the audacious call to execute a driver swap at the Spanish Grand Prix.

Daniil Kvyat was demoted to Toro Rosso (now Alpha Tauri), and Max was promoted to the senior team. While pundits and critics thought that the move was premature, Max Verstappen grabbed the opportunity by the horns.

He qualified on pole and took his first race win that weekend, and sealed a move that might have been temporary had he not hit the ground running. Everybody in the F1 paddock knows that Red Bull takes no prisoners. You either perform, or you are out.

That has been the fate dealt to Max’s last two teammates, Pierre Gasly and Alex Albion, who couldn’t keep up with the Dutchman’s pace.

That could have easily been Max’s fate had he not been on pace with Daniel Ricciardo.

That race in Barcelona in 2016 was a make-or-break race for Max, and it took a world champion’s drive from Max to make it work.

Is Max Verstappen ready to become a world champion? Has he smoothed out all the edges in his driving style, consistency and attitude to beat Lewis Hamilton over a 23 race season?

My answer is no, and here is why.

What are Max’s weaknesses?

While Max has all the talent and at Red Bull, he has all the support and resources he needs to become a world champion, I don’t think he is ready just yet.

He just took over the championship lead of an F1 season for the first time in his seventh year in the sport. For someone so experienced and talented, this milestone is coming relatively late despite still being only 23.

Max has had plenty of time to challenge for the title. While the argument that Red Bull has not had the car to challenge till now is sound, it is an indicator of a lack of experience at the top.

Max has had no preparation for defending a championship lead. And we all know that Lewis is better when he is the hunter.

Unless the Red Bull dominates the Mercedes on outright pace, Max will not enjoy being hunted by Lewis this season. This season will likely serve as a character builder for Max in preparation for his eventual world championship win.

Can Max be consistent all season?

While Max has performed well in the first five races of the season, picking up two wins and three second-place finishes, it remains to be seen if he can keep that level of consistency across the entire season.

It is consistency that will beat Hamilton in the end, not isolated moments of brilliance.

And the statistics are not on Max’s side concerning consistency. He has failed to finish in 26 out of the 124 races he has taken part in.

That’s a retirement rate of 21%. Five of those retirements came last season. The fewest retirements Max has had in a season were two in 2019.

Should he manage to take the DNFs out of his numbers this season and maintain this near-perfect start, he will be in contention at the end of the season. But that seems unlikely.

Julius Kakwenzire is a self-confessed F1 addict. When he’s not getting emotional at the race track’s proceedings, he’s working on great fintech products at Lupiiya.

Kakwenzire Julius