Red Bull F1 driver Max Verstappen

‘Zero compromise’ Verstappen not understood by social media critics – MPH

It was almost as if Max Verstappen had been snapped out of his season trance as he dealt with the reaction to what happened over his radio on the final lap in Brazil. The cowardly idiotic elements of the toxic fringes of social media had threatened his life, his family and the other participant in this drama, Sergio Perez.

But even the less extreme angry reactions come from a place that doesn’t understand the difference between a competitor and the person where the competitor resides. There is a bubble where a competitor closes off from the everyday world, especially in something as lonely and extreme as racing an F1 car.

“The outside world is cut off, silenced and the entire focus is on delivering”

It’s where they perform and going in there becomes a routine. The outside world is cut off, silenced and the entire focus is on delivering performance. At Red Bull in particular, but all teams to a degree, the leading driver is made to feel supported by everyone around him, made to feel that this is his racing family and that everyone is there to focus on him.

The reality of the team is that this is a huge organization with hundreds of people working to produce that car and race it. But it’s not a feeling that any driver wants to take with them into the car. These are intense competitors and the cars are simply the instruments through which they compete.

Sometimes the two worlds collide, as we saw at Alpine in the Brazil sprint race the day before the Verstappen controversy. Fernando Alonso and Esteban Ocon’s two occasions of contact in the opening lap that ruined both their races led to team principal Laurent Rossi telling them that if they had been employees other than drivers, prioritizing themselves over the team would have resulted in immediate dismissal for gross misconduct. But they is driver, with a rare skill that the team relies on. They are employed only in the formal sense, not the visceral one. They are hired gun mercenaries who reluctantly have to be part of a team. That used to be the very core of racing’s appeal, that rebellion against everyday mediocrity.

But once it’s all over, they’re out of the combat zone and have been decompressed, they’re not that cool. They’re a pretty damn cool bunch of people overall. Remember the contrast between Red Bull era Sebastian Vettel, his refusal to follow Multi 21 or to apologize for it, the “number 1” finger of victory etc, the contrast between that guy and the smiling, funny, caring Vettel underneath? Some of the other drivers alluded to that yesterday when asked about their thoughts on his retirement.

Drivers join dinner in Abu Dhabi to celebrate Vettel’s retirement

George Russell

“Some of the things he’s done for me; well, I’m just very, very grateful,” said Daniel Ricciardo. “I think he’s a very caring individual… but I think he can definitely separate that . As a competitor, I think back to 2013, when he won every race in the second half of the season. And it was like a relentless approach, like he just wasn’t happy. He just wanted to ultimately destroy the competition. And you could just see the raw competitor in him and that drive not to win, but to destroy if you will, and you had to admire and respect that.”

“One thing I’ll always remember for the rest of my life,” said Verstappen, “is last year, at Silverstone, I came back from the hospital to get to my campervan to get all my stuff and he was there waiting at me when I got out of the car. And he said, ‘Are you OK, Max, how are you?’ And it just shows how he’s, you know, a super nice, caring person who’s not just there to perform, but also mean well, you know. I also think it’s very nice to be remembered like that.”

“When I was in Formula 2 I did simulator work for Ferrari,” recalls Charles Leclerc. “It’s not easy to do because it’s really, really tiring and I thought Seb probably didn’t even know I was on the simulator. And I got a letter one day just thanking me for all the hard work. And that meant a lot to me at the time.”

Ferrari drivers and Sebastian Vettel and Charles Leclerc talk at the 2019 Mexican GP

Leclerc has remembered what a positive presence Vettel has been

Grand Prix photo

Talk to those around Verstappen and they’ll tell you that for all his assassin character in the car, his dominant personal quality away from racing is that of a peacekeeper, always wanting to make things right for those around him. There’s really no “side” to him, no cynical, calculated strategy there, but his racing persona, much shaped and honed by dad Jos Verstappen – a man whose ferocity in the car extends to the outside world far more than with Max – is zero compromise and binary. So when asked in Mexico if he would be prepared to help Perez to a home win in his pursuit of second place in the championship his response – presumably based on events in Monaco qualifying, which played a crucial role in Perez beating Verstappen to win the race – was a firm no and in his usual straightforward, open manner he explained why.

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