It’s been a wild season for young Max Verstappen.
The talented Dutch teenager has been promoted to Red Bull, become the youngest winner in Formula One history and bickered with some of the top teams and drivers in the sport. His aggressive tactics have even prompted a rules clarification for safety.
”Mad Max” is brash, won’t be intimidated and to many, he’s a much-needed dose of excitement for Formula One and a future champion. The kid seized on his chance to be fast and famous and won’t let go.
”Why wait?” Verstappen said. ”I have a great car, a great team, and I want it all as quickly as possible.”
Verstappen is squeezing everything he can into this season as Formula One races this week in Mexico City. At the U.S. Grand Prix in Texas last week, Verstappen provided days of drama worthy of a 19-year-old still learning how to navigate a grown-up sport.
The teams had barely left Japan two weeks earlier when Mercedes considered, then opted not to file a complaint over his defensive moves against Lewis Hamilton in a braking zone. Verstappen finished second and Hamilton’s third-place finish pushed him further back in the 2016 title chase against teammate Nico Rosberg.
By the time drivers got to Austin, several used their Friday meeting to complain about their precocious rival. Having heard similar comments several times this season, Formula One officials issued a rule clarification: blocking during braking would be deemed illegal and punished. It took about 10 minutes for the media to call it the ”Verstappen Rule.”
”Maybe they can get past (me), now,” Verstappen said.
Conflicts have also flared in the Red Bull garage.
After getting an early warning during the race to save his tires, Verstappen barked over his car radio that he’s ”not here to finish fourth!” A few laps later, he mistakenly went into a pit stop without a team order. He was out of the race a few laps later with a gearbox problem.
Even that disrupted teammate Daniel Ricciardo. Unable to race but still mobile, Verstappen tried to nurse his car around the track before he eventually pulled over and stopped. That brought out a yellow flag, which meant Ricciardo lost valuable time in his battle for second with Rosberg. Ricciardo finished third.
”When I saw Max out there, I thought, `Ah hell, my boy’s done it again.’ That was a devastating moment, but we’ll keep soldiering on,” Ricciardo said.
Team leadership was not amused.
”We have 80 engineers and strategists, but it’s all useless if a driver decides alone to come into the pits,” Red Bull racing consultant Helmut Marko told Autoweek.
Verstappen is the son of race driver Jos Verstappen, who made 106 career Formula One starts, and his talent caught a lot of attention from teams growing up. Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff tried to sign Verstappen when he was 14 before Red Bull snagged him.
Wolff, whose drivers are chasing each other for the team’s third consecutive championship, has alternately called Verstappen ”refreshing” and ”dangerous” and has even compared him to Formula One’s revered Ayrton Senna.
”He comes in here with no fear, no respect, puts the elbows out,” Wolff said earlier this season.
That approach has worn thin on some teams, most notably Ferrari and its two former world champion drivers Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen. Raikkonen has warned Verstappen could cause a ”massive accident” with his driving.
But Verstappen’s critics have done most of their shouting at him from the rear. Before his car failed him in Texas, Verstappen finished second in Malaysia and Japan. His five podium finishes in the last 10 races are three more than Vettel and Raikkonen combined.
And back in Spain, when the Mercedes cars knocked each other out in a first-lap crash, Verstappen leaped to the front and doggedly held off Raikkonen for his first career victory in his first race for Red Bull.
Verstappen drives with swagger and a win Sunday in Mexico would come on his 20th birthday. His critics have done little damage to his confidence or skills behind the wheel.
”No,” Verstappen said. ”I am a grown-up boy.”