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Pre-Montreal analysis - Verstappen under scrutiny

05 Jun 2015

One of the things that makes Formula One racing so exciting, and inflames passions, is that drivers can be both heroes and villains; what goes around, comes around.

In Canada on Thursday - at a track on which the safety car has been deployed in 11 of the last 17 races - Toro Rosso’s Max Verstappen made a pretty robust defence of himself after Williams’ Felipe Massa again called his driving in Monaco “pretty dangerous” prior to his accident on the 64th lap when he ran into Romain Grosjean’s Lotus, crashed heavily at Ste Devote corner, and changed the face of the race.

The 17 year-old Dutch rookie suggested at the time of the accident that Grosjean may have brake tested him, something which angered the Frenchman and was disproved by Lotus’s data. Now he says of his own resultant five-place grid penalty here: “I learned the cars are pretty strong. I was happy about that, that I didn’t have any injuries. I’m happy… I didn’t have any problems after that, I went go-karting on Wednesday, so I was fit again. Yeah, I will have some work to do on this track, but I think it will not change me as a racing driver. I will keep fighting and especially when you want to fight for points, I will still go for it.

“I was attacking, I wanted those points, especially after the pit stop we had. What did I learn from it? I don’t know. Maybe turn a bit earlier to the right, try to avoid it a bit more and maybe try to do it another lap again. I don’t think there were so many things I had to do differently, up until then.”

Massa explained yesterday: “First of all, I said when I had the interview after the race, he was not penalised and they asked me what I thought and I said ‘I think he needs to be penalised because what he did was wrong.’ So that’s what I said and I think, especially when you’re in your first year, 17-years old and if you do something like that and you’re not penalised, it’s completely wrong. I think the FIA needs to be strong in a proper way which is what they did actually, that’s the only thing I said and I don’t change my mind. That’s what I believe. We need to follow the rules. I said what he did was wrong.”

Verstappen responded: “Well, everybody can have their opinion, that’s the first thing, but I looked at my data, I didn’t brake any later. I have braked later in the race before that but on the lap I crashed, it was exactly the same lap as the lap before, and I got my penalty. I’m focusing on Canada right now and maybe you should review the race from last year and see what happened there.” The latter was a reference to Massa’s shunt late in the 2014 epic with Force India’s Sergio Perez, in an incident for which Perez was penalised.

“I don’t think there’s any reason to look back at Monaco,” Verstappen added. “Just focus on Canada like I said and we’ll try to score some points again. I will not change my driving style.”

Veteran Jenson Button also threw his hat into the ring, cautioning Verstappen to be careful with comments made in the heat of the moment. “You’ve got to be very careful what you say in the press,” the 2009 world champion counselled. “To point the finger at someone and say they brake tested you, that’s pretty serious. I don’t think that happens in motorsport these days. We’re all grown-up and we don’t things like that in Formula One.”

Grosjean himself has said that he was also upset that no apology had been forthcoming about the incident that ruined his race when he was running in the points. But perhaps of all the drivers out there, the Frenchman is the one most aware that you can rehabilitate yourself. Back in 2012 he became F1 racing’s ‘enfant terrible’ after a series of incidents, the worst of which led to a one-race cool-off ban from the Italian Grand Prix after the dramatic start-line accident he triggered at Spa-Francorchamps.

“I worked a lot with a psychologist, which I'm still doing,” he admits. “That helped me a lot. Of course I wasn't being crazy or stupid or dangerous for others on purpose. I was taking the wrong decision at the wrong time. Of course, it was always happening into Turn One, unfortunately, with one very big scary moment in Spa… I thought, what's wrong? I was trying to really understand, and finally I got it. It's hard to come back when you've got drivers treating you as I was treated. You need a very strong mentality. So I think now I do manage to use my brain when I need it and to back off when it's needed. So, in a race, I can now use different skills of myself. Today I know when I go for an overtake that there are many more things that I assess beforehand. And to think that all of that has come from the experience I had [in 2012], it was kind of almost easier to have all those problems, to be able to learn.”

Meanwhile, Lewis Hamilton’s loyal defence of Mercedes, whose strategic planning cost him the Monaco Grand Prix - possibly the most spectacular bungle since Ford Motor Company insisted on a so-called ‘dead heat’ result at Le Mans in 1966 and thus ended up cheating Ken Miles and Denny Hulme out of a rightful win - continued as he stonewalled about his true feelings on that loss. Fresh from a visit to the final stages of the Gumball 3000 Rally where he drove a Koenigsegg Agera HH from Los Angeles to the finish in Las Vegas, he said: “I’m really not going back to Monaco. I’ve moved on. I don’t even have to think about it. I couldn’t care less about it, I can’t do anything about the past so there’s honestly no point in thinking about it. I don’t look back, I’m looking forwards. I have not thought about the last race for a long time and I’ve just really been thinking about the next race, putting my mind to other things, training and trying to come back strong this weekend. So, it’s really irrelevant what happened in the past now. There’s nothing you can do about it so there’s no point dwelling on it.

“It’s about trying to shape the future. I’ve got a great team, got a great car and there’s a championship to be won so that’s all I’m focused on. Doesn’t matter what I feel or had felt or feel now because actually I don’t feel anything about it. I’m literally thinking about this race, I’m excited, I feel good, I feel fit, I feel strong so all positives.

“I have full trust and confidence in the team. We’ve won, we’ve had pretty incredible success together. One race doesn’t dent the solid foundation that we’ve got.”

David Tremayne