Feature: Verstappen's rapid rise blunted
17 June 2017 – Max Verstappen's stunning ascent from karting talent to F1 winner in just over two years captured the attention of the world, as he put in some outrageous displays, punctuated by on-the-line driving. However, as with many talents, he has hit a brick wall, and not through fault of his own, as GPUpdate.net explains.
In most sports, the upwards trajectory of a talented teenager typically flat-lines, either through limited opportunities, injuries, lack of application or so forth. The response to setbacks often defines a sportsman as much as their pure career statistics. In Formula 1 there is a similar tangent, though a youngster's rise is heavily influenced by matters outside of their control: machinery.
Max Verstappen is in a slightly different predicament, for his career has been squeezed into such a short timeframe that it is scarcely believable for him to still be awaiting his 20th birthday, while he is only in his fourth season of car racing. Verstappen's trajectory has been almost continuously upwards, bar a mere handful of dips, between 2014 and 2016.
Verstappen's stardom was such that Red Bull was prepared to offer him a Formula 1 seat aged 17, and in 2015 he applied his craft in Formula 1's midfield, thrilling with his race craft, while a set of circumstances aligned after four Grands Prix in 2016 that allowed him to join Red Bull. Victory on his debut in Spain merely heightened the sense of aura around Verstappen; as the season wore on his one-lap pace gradually improved, and he profited from Red Bull's blossoming pace to regularly compete for podiums. Few will ever forget his wet-weather exploits in Brazil.
The reality has turned out quite differently. Mercedes and Ferrari have battled for victories, with Red Bull firmly third-quickest, occasionally able to challenge the teams ahead, though sometimes being threatened by the chasing midfield.
Verstappen has still provided glimpses of the talent which captured a legion of enthusiastic fans; his starts in China (from 16th to seventh) and in Canada (from fifth to second) were virtuoso displays, the former as if he'd Playstation-ed the first lap. But whereas his China start proved to be the building block for a podium finish, his equally stunning getaway in Canada came to a shuddering halt just 11 laps later.
Having referred to his Canada exit as "absolutely rubbish", Verstappen expanded further on current struggles to Dutch broadcaster Ziggo Sport.
"It's clear to see the car got better, now we have to wait on engine power," he said. "As you might have heard, there will not be any updates this year, and that's something I worry about, because Renault promised that. We haven't received a lot of updates in 2017, which is a pity, and causes me to worry about next year. I want to win and I think the team is capable of winning. This year we wanted to fight for the title, but we are far away from are target now, which is of course not something you want to happen, so we have to work."
This is hardly a new phenomenon. Sebastian Vettel, Lewis Hamilton and Fernando Alonso have all had difficult moments, learned from setbacks, and re-emerged from the other side stronger, with their reputations enhanced. There is every reason to believe that Verstappen will soak up the lessons of 2017 like a sponge and add further elements to his armoury, making him an even more potent threat once he is equipped with machinery capable of fighting for the title. It's what the great drivers do.
Dealing with the setbacks of 2017 may well define how Verstappen approaches the future…