In his relatively short F1 career to date, Max Verstappen has gone toe-to-toe with the Ferraris of Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen on numerous occasions – and in Suzuka on Sunday the old sparring partners were at it again, resulting in more broken carbon fibre and more finger pointing.
In the opening 20 laps of the Japanese GP, Verstappen was involved in contact with both scarlet cars, and though he survived the two incidents to finish where he started in third, the Dutchman was left upset with how events played out, and especially with the five-second time penalty he received following his opening lap run-in with Raikkonen.
Verstappen comes together with Raikkonen on lap 1
Verstappen was stung by the stewards for re-joining the circuit in an unsafe manner after locking up at the chicane and then banging wheels with Raikkonen when coming back onto the track.
The 21-year-old said he was aggrieved that he’d been penalised despite trying to do things by the book.
“I braked a little bit too late into the chicane so I did everything I could to get back onto the track. I think I did it in a safe way because I was not crazy fast onto the track.
"But Kimi chose the wrong line in the chicane. He could also have waited for me to come back on to the track. We touched a little bit. I think it’s really ridiculous those five seconds – but we managed to survive that.
“Looking back at it, if I get a five-second penalty for that then next time I will just cut the track and do like Valtteri [Bottas did],” he added later, referring to Bottas' lap 48 lock-up at the chicane. “I was just trying my very best to still make the corner, not make it look like I lock up and just cut the corner. But I know what to do next time.”
Verstappen was similarly pointed in his analysis of his lap 18 tangle with Vettel, which saw the German spin after hitting the side of the Red Bull during a botched overtaking attempt at Spoon Curve.
Vettel, whose title hopes took a further hammering as he could only recover to sixth, would later accuse the Dutchman of defending too vigorously, saying ‘he pushes when you shouldn’t push’ – but Verstappen was having none of it.
Vettel spins after failed overtaking attempt on Verstappen
“In that corner you can’t overtake. I even gave him space but he understeered into my car.
“For me it was a bit similar to China this year where I made the mistake because he was a lot faster and he could have easily overtaken me the next lap. So I think even the most experienced drivers make these mistakes.
I think we both already got penalised with damage, but looking back I think it was a similar scenario to China and I got a penalty there. But at the end of the day, it is like it is. It’s just not nice that it happens.”
Should Vettel have known better than to attack as he did? His former boss at Red Bull Christian Horner certainly thought so.
“You know with Max he’s never going to give an inch, so with different drivers you take different liberties,” he reasoned. “Obviously it’s cost Sebastian dearly today.”
Second not possible
Despite the damage on his car, Verstappen was able to close drastically on Valtteri Bottas in the final stages of the race, making the most of his soft tyres with the Finn on the harder mediums.
However, Verstappen revealed afterwards that he felt he'd been fighting an uphill battle, despite forcing the Finn into a couple of errors.
“I think he was pushing, because otherwise you don’t go off the track. But you can’t really follow that close [at this track], and we don’t really have the top speed.
“If you have the top speed then maybe you have a chance. We were just trying to be as close as possible in case it would happen again with a mistake, but it didn’t happen. I’m still very happy with third.”
Verstappen has now scored three successive podiums at Suzuka, and seven rostrums this year. Behind the Dutchman, team mate Daniel Ricciardo finished fourth – the first time Red Bull have had both cars in the top four since the French GP in June.
“Hopefully we can take this momentum into Austin and especially Mexico,” said Horner. “That’s the next one we’re pinning our hopes on.”