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)