Now that the teams have gone home, the tyres have cooled, and the fans can breathe again, it’s time for Max to reflect on what has been a transitional season.
That’s not to say it’s not been a successful season for the Dutch driver. He’s taken three wins, claimed his first Pole Position and finished third in the Drivers’ Championship.
With a new engine partner, aero changes, meaning a different wing shape and a teammate swap you might think that Max would be ecstatic about what he achieved in 2019, but being the perfectionist, he always wants more. “It’s been good, but it could’ve been better,” he said at the end of the season. “The start of the year was a bit tricky for us, because we couldn’t fight at the top, but we always maximised the results and then we started to really kick on. We had some crazy fun and good races. This saw a rise in confidence across the entire team and was a massive boost for everyone.”
Max believes the new aero changes for 2019 were a contributor to the slow start, as well as having a new power unit in the car. The Team used five engines over the season, even though these were planned Honda upgrades rather than a reliability issue, it takes its toll on the season. “The new wing took a bit of time to work out, but then over the course of the season we got used to it. Throughout the season we have improved both the car and engine and I’m very pleased with that, because at the end of the day if you want to fight for a world championship, you can’t retire. We took five engine changes, but they were for upgrades, not for an engine being worn out, which is a good thing,” he explained.
Highs and lows
Talking to Max, there is one obvious high from the 2019 season. “Of course, it was the wins in Austria and Germany – which was just a crazy and hectic race – but Austria, was perfect, it couldn’t have gone better. It’s not an easy place to overtake, but it was great to win at Red Bull’s home track, it was the first win for Honda in the V6 era, and there were a lot of Dutch fans there, it was perfect! It was a massive boost for everyone,” said Max. “This has been my best season. As a person you always grow, you become a better driver throughout the years and learn a lot. Not only in driving, but in life, so I can say this has been my best season,” he added.
Even away from the F1 circuit Max is all about racing and spends a lot of his time sim racing online, so even when he was not inside the RB15, he’s still on the track and that was his other big high of 2019. “My 24-hour race win in sim racing was my highlight off the track this year – there was a lot of drama involved.” Explained Max.
For Max, there has been very few lows points, and he’s actually careful about calling them lows. “There weren’t lows, there were just unlucky moments. Overall, it’s been positive and everyone is very excited about next year,” he said. “After the summer break we had some unlucky runs, but we started to pick it up again. We always kept believing and pushing hard as a team. We always seem to make the right decisions when we’re under pressure, which is a big bonus.”
The biggest ‘new’ for Max in the 2019 season was the new Honda engine, it was big news after the Team moved away from Renault after 13 years. It was a step into the unknown, but with the season now complete Max believes it was the right choice. “What was important to me was that we had a reliable engine – something we’ve struggled with in the past – and we didn’t retire once because of a Honda issue. That’s something we need if we want to fight for the World Championship. I am really impressed with how Honda work. There is no limit, they will do everything for you.” Max went on to say: “There’s a lot of potential there. Throughout this year every goal they set, or everything they promised, they delivered and more. That’s what you want to see, so I’m very happy we’re continuing the partnership and I hope we can go even further next year.”
No break from racing
Just because the F1 season has finished for the year, it doesn’t mean Max has finished racing. He loves his sim racing and now he has some time at home he’ll fire up the computer and race. And even though he races in his own name, he’s in championships on merit. “I’ll be doing a lot of sim racing and try to compete in some championships next year as well,” said Max. “I race under my own name, so some people I compete against are harder on me and others are nicer. It’s great. I was on the sim after Brazil and some people wrote me messages in the chat, saying well done and that it was cool to be racing with me online – it’s nice, I find it very relaxing, you have your headphones on and are chatting to friends online, not always about racing!”
Fighting for the World Championship
Now that the season has closed all eyes and focus is on 2020 and there has been plenty of talk in the media about Max’s chances to lift the World Championship trophy at the end of next year. Other drivers have also labelled the Dutchman as the one they need to watch out for. And even though Max would never say an attention-grabbing headline claiming it’s going to be his year, there is an air of confidence in what he’s been saying about the future.
“This  season was very positive, the consistency was overall good and we ended the season strong. We maximised the results at the start of the season even when we weren’t winning, but our strategy was good and if we keep that up next year it will be an exciting season,” said Max. “Mercedes is the dominant team and we are still behind because there are a few things missing from the car. I think we can also find more performance in the engine, but everybody wants to improve, and I’m the same. We don’t want to be on the same level as them, we want to be ahead of them.”
Even though Max is the one in the limelight, he knows that for the Team to be successful in 2020, it’s going to take everyone to be on their A game and he concluded by saying: “We all want to win – we have the winners’ mentality in this Team and we want to get back to those days of Red Bull dominance. We want to win more races, which hopefully means we’ll be fighting for the title!”