If you were to characterise Max Verstappen’s 2018 season so far, you might mark it down as one of change, featuring steadily improving fortunes, a constantly developing car package, major shifts in the team line-up and of growing racing maturity, as evidenced by his faultless drive to victory in Austria and his controlled drive to second in Singapore.
As he gets set to celebrate his 21st birthday on race day in Russia, Max reflects on his results so far, winning at the team’s home track, life after Daniel and what he’s expecting from the races to come.
You’ve had five podiums and a win so far this season. Are you pleased with the return?
Yeah, the beginning was a bit tough but we managed to turn it round in a good way and I’m very happy with the latest results. I think we maximized on a lot of tracks where we didn't expect to do that well and I got a good amount of points back, which I lost at the beginning of the season, so I can’t really complain about how it’s been going lately.
In Singapore you qualified second with a fantastic lap. How did you feel after your lap and did you know you were on for a good time?
I think that last qualifying lap was really good and because of the problems we had throughout qualifying, it was important to stay calm and overcome the problems. So, to deliver that lap it was very rewarding and the lap felt very smooth. In Singapore it’s all about thinking you can do a clean lap and if you can do it without any mistakes then you’re usually on for a very good lap, and that’s exactly what happened.
How would you summarise your race and finishing P2? To come out of the pits in front of Vettel must’ve given you a lift?
The race was good, but it was a shame to lose P2 on the first lap, although with a great strategy from the team we came back into second. That of course was a great result for everyone and the Team were rewarded for their hard work across the weekend, so I was very happy with that.
The Austria win was obviously a highlight. How did you celebrate afterwards?
It’s always going to be very special in Austria winning with a Red Bull car at the Red Bull Ring. In the races just before that it was already going quite well but it was very nice to get that win on the board. The big bosses were all there, I had a lot of support from the orange army around the track, it all made it very special.
I actually didn’t really celebrate that much afterwards; I went home! You quickly realise you have to prepare for the upcoming races as well, so you can’t go too crazy. I don’t think you need to celebrate every single race victory as hard as your first one, let’s say.
What’s it like to have that huge support following you around?
Yeah, it’s great to see that there is so much support around the world. Austria is not even that close to Holland and still there were so many people coming. It was just beautiful to see.
You’re about to celebrate your 21st birthday, but you already have a wealth of F1 experience. How much of an advantage is that going forward?
I’m still very young and I guess the more experience I get the faster I’ll be. For sure the target next year is that the package will be even more competitive and we’ll see what we can do.
The summer break was defined by the announcement that Daniel is leaving the team at the end of the season. You had almost three seasons as team-mates, will you stay close when he leaves?
I don’t see why not. It’s not like he’s gone, he’s just going to a different team. As a friend and as an ex-team-mate… he was always a strong competitor and he’s generally regarded as one of the best in Formula 1, so it was great to have him as a team-mate and to grow together to higher levels.
Next season, Pierre Gasly is coming in as your team-mate. How did you react when you heard that news? You have shared competitive history in karting.
I knew quite early on that he was coming into the team, after it was announced that Daniel is leaving. Pierre is a great guy. I know him from go-karting days. He’s super nice, super easy-going and for sure he’ll be a very fast team-mate.
Any welcome pranks you’re planning for him?
I’m not that kind of person, normally, but maybe something spontaneous at the time.
You were at the recent E-Sports draft. Are you looking forward to seeing how that develops?
Yeah, it’s interesting to see. I know a few of those guys and I know they are very fast on the sim, so I hope they do a good job.
Do you think they could adapt to the real thing?
I don’t know what they want to do, whether they want to stay as a professional sim racer and get more time on the sim at the factory, or whether they actually want to become a racing driver.
It depends on how much you want it and on what sponsors you can find, which is not easy in formula racing. I guess it just depends on the person and what they really want to achieve. You can do a lot of different things.
Finally, what are your goals for the rest of the season?
My goals are to just try to be as consistent as possible, which means being fast and trying to get the most out of the package we have.