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Max Verstappen Q&A: P4 in the championship would be a bonus

24 Nov 2016

When he made his switch from Toro Rosso to Red Bull ahead of the fifth round of this year’s championship, Max Verstappen was 10th in the drivers' standings. But with better equipment at his disposal the Dutchman has since surged to P5, and goes into the season finale with a chance to snatch fourth from Sebastian Vettel – a man he has enjoyed his fair share of dices with this year. Ahead of Abu Dhabi, we spoke to Verstappen about his second campaign in F1, his hopes for 2017, and what P4 would mean to him…

Q: Max, one has to go back a long time to find a driver who has caused a similar amount of controversy as you in one season. Probably Michael Schumacher in his prime. Can you understand all the excitement?

Max Verstappen: Ha, it was not planned! I never really targeted to be controversial in any way or form! (Laughs) I am racing in the best possible way I can - that’s it. But of course I also fight for positions - whether it is to defend or to attack! That is the way I am. I never sat down and thought ‘Well, I want to be the most talked about driver on the grid’…

Q: …but on many occasions you are. You were on the podium with the two Mercedes drivers and the fans were shouting your name…

MV: …oh yes, that is positive - but it is never planned. Probably it comes naturally as I always do the best race that I can - and that must appeal to the fans!

Q: Staying on the topic of excitement, what’s been your best moment of 2016?

MV: The win in Barcelona because I didn’t expect it at all. The second best moment was Brazil!

Q: What have you learned since Barcelona? Being thrown into a top team and expected to swim immediately…

MV: I have learned a lot when it comes to handling the car. To understand more and to set it up better. Then of course there is a learning curve in race experience. But that is all very normal: the more you race, the better the car is that you have.

Q: Was there never a feeling of worry? ‘Oh my goodness, I better not waste the chance I’ve been given…’

MV: To be honest I never had that feeling. I knew what I was able to deliver - and that in the end it will go step by step. There is nothing that falls from the sky - you have to work hard for it.

Q: The fact is the moment you sat in a competitive car you were going after all the established guys. Sebastian Vettel seems to have been your preferred target on occasion - has it spiced up the situation that you are with the team he left two years ago?

MV: ‘Target’ is absolutely not the right word, as it was never planned that way. It just happened. We have almost the same speed with the cars - so we do see each other a lot on the track! (Laughs) 

Q: Probably more than he would like to…

MV: …and I don’t care. I race the way I feel is appropriate for me - and that promises success.

Q: What about you sitting in the car that he left two years ago? Any spicy situation there?

MV: Maybe for him. Definitely not for me!

Q: How do you cope with the fact that in Mexico they called you dangerous - and two weeks later in Brazil you are the ‘rain god’? Does that make you dizzy?

MV: Not dizzy, that is Formula One! You are a hero one day and loser the next day. That’s the nature of Formula One racing. So you better not read or listen to any comments. Best stay neutral. I have seen that before so once you know how the game goes you don’t get bothered any more. Yes, it is not always very nice - but that’s how it works.

Q: But in the end you have been called ‘dangerous’ and that is a different attribute…

MV: …I never considered myself dangerous so these comments don’t get to me in any way.

Q: Mexico presented one of the oddest podium situations: there you were with the two Mercedes guys - getting ready to go out for the podium - and the next thing we see is you being turned away and Sebastian Vettel appearing in your place. How did they tell you that you that you weren’t third?

MV: Well, I saw it immediately on the screen. So I simply packed up my things and then they came saying ‘Sorry, Max, you’re not on the podium!’ As I cannot change the result I thought ‘Ok guys, next race!’

Q: Then of course in Brazil you made the podium for real after a great drive. When the TV cameras panned to [Red Bull motorsport consultant] Helmut Marko his eyes were sparkling. Are you the answer to his prayers as the next Sebastian Vettel? 

MV: Helmut gave me the opportunity to break into F1 and gave me the opportunity to race with a competitive car. He really made a big decision to swap the cockpits of Daniil (Kvyat) and me. He took a big risk! And I paid my debt back immediately that weekend [in Spain]. And that made him look good - and me of course. Helmut is a very correct person - a straightforward guy. If you do well he will tell you - but also when you do poorly he will not keep back his words! So my guess is that he was enjoying Brazil, as he is a real racer!

Q: Your drive in Brazil earned you comparisons to the great Ayrton Senna. There are five champions racing right now - have they all become too tame? Some would say you are making them look old!

MV: Ha, they are old! Have they become too tame? It is difficult for me to judge that. I am racing the way I have always raced, and whether that is old school or new generation - I have no idea! It’s the way I am and not something that I have learned over the years by copying somebody. It’s me! 

Q: Are you taking more risks than somebody who is already famous and rich?

MV: Well, I need to take more risks than for example Lewis Hamilton or Nico Rosberg. With the package that we have - one that is not as competitive as the one from Mercedes - you always have to race one hundred and ten per cent! One hundred per cent would not do - so of course there is more risk involved.

Q: You are now fifth in the standings with a chance for P4 after Sunday’s race, as you are only five points behind Sebastian Vettel. Are you going for that?

MV: It would be nice. But it is sure not the target. It would be a bonus - but the title, that would be the target!

Q: All drivers when asked say they would like to be world champion one day - and for most this is a far cry from reality. With you it seems a natural thing. When will you be able to make your first attempt? In 2017?

MV: If the package is good - yes! Helmut indicated that the package will be fantastic - so yes, I am ready for it. I was already ready before I got into Formula One! (Laughs)