Formula 1 flashback: Verstappen stars in the rain
27 March 2014 – Throughout the 2014 season, GPUpdate.net will be posting a Formula 1 flashback prior to each event. For the Malaysian Grand Prix edition, we spoke to Jos Verstappen, who stole the show at Sepang in 2001.
In mid-March 13 years ago Verstappen made an incredible impression in his Arrows, outwitting a clutch of his rivals as the lights went out and delivering a master class when the heavens opened. Despite starting from 18th position, the Dutchman found himself running in the top six after just two corners. He made further progress as the rain arrived, occupying a podium position when the Safety Car was brought out to neutralise the field.
As the rain subsided and the track began to dry up, Verstappen lost ground when his rivals were able to unleash the full potential of their superior machines. After a brave battle with the McLaren of Mika Häkkinen and Jordan's Heinz-Harald Frentzen, he ultimately took the chequered flag in seventh place, just outside the points.
How do you look back at this race?
It was one of my better races. People really saw my way of racing. I made a good start and, two or three laps in, it started to rain. I came in at the right time and jumped a few cars. It was so good. All year long we had a car that was fast on the straights but lacking downforce in the corners. Later on, I had that nice fight with Häkkinen.
At the start you jumped from 18th to sixth. How were the first few hundred metres from the cockpit?
I was just trying to make the best possible start! I slipped between some cars at the first corner, where someone spun in front of me (Rubens Barrichello's Ferrari tipped Ralf Schumacher's Williams into a spin). But I was on the right of the track, so it went well for me. But my starts were always good, so it was no different this time.
And then the rain came pouring down…
Yes. For me it was always a good situation to start on the dry tyres and for rain to arrive, especially when there was no practice for this. If people have driven on a wet track earlier in the weekend, everybody knows what to do if it rains again. But it is obviously very different if the first storm comes during the race! Then you as a driver, especially in the opening few laps, can really make a difference.
You were running as high as second at one point. Did you ever begin to think of the podium?
It was still very early in the race. The track surface dries very quickly in Malaysia when the rain stops. Half an hour on and the track was dry again from the heat. I know it was going to be tough, but we did our best.
You ultimately finished seventh. Could you live with that outcome?
It was a horrible feeling, because at that time you did not score a point for finishing in seventh position. We were not very happy after the race, as I thought I would get at least one point from it. It was certainly a great effort, but for me the result was very disappointing.
Michael Schumacher, who won the race despite an early error, spoke highly of you...
He said that he was impressed with how I had driven. But that did not make much of a difference to me. I knew what I could do. But it was nice that he said what he did to the rest of the world.
Why do you think that people still talk about your performance in Malaysia?
In every race I had some great moments with drivers, but this time it was with Häkkinen. Other guys who I fought in Formula 1 could also drive well, but the fact that it was Häkkinen in a good car perhaps made it a bit more special for others. For me, it was simply a fun fight, but it was also very nice to go up against a McLaren.