Drive of the Year: Max at the Brazilian Grand Prix

Constantly changing conditions, a great race track and a precocious talent were all the ingredients required to deliver the best race of the year – the Brazilian Grand Prix at Interlagos.

A race where we had everything and more, where Max Verstappen thrust himself on centre stage and produced one the most outstanding drives in recent Formula 1 history, among the best ever.

The Dutch teenager delivered a thrilling performance to claim third place at the chequered flag having been down in 15the place with less than a dozen laps remaining in the race.

Red Bull team chief Christian Horner said, “It is one of the best drives I’ve seen in Formula 1, his recovery was amazing. We gave it a go on the intermediates, it was the kind of call that could have won him the race, but the rain got heavier.”

“We put him on extreme wets and said let’s go for it. From the moment he got going after that restart he was determined to get on that podium. He was looking for the grip, he has done a lot of karting and was using that experience and those lines.

“He was absolutely fearless in pretty horrific conditions. It was an amazing drive and he deserved that podium and the reaction from the crowd,” added Horner.

From the start Verstappen was on it, clinically ambushing Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen and claiming third place into Turn 1 when the field was released.

Then a little later in the race Verstappen he went around the outside of Mercedes driver Nico Rosberg through Turn 3, on the wettest part of the track, with a clinical move that defied belief.

Thereafter Dutch teenager held on to second place ahead of Rosberg, surviving a huge moment which only his masterful control (and a dollop of luck) kept the Red Bull out of the barriers. It was more than the save of the season, more like the save of the decade.

Red Bull appeared to gamble as they pitted Verstappen for Pirelli intermediate tyres, which in retrospect was bad call. They pitted him again with ten laps to go for wets, relegating him out of the points down to 15th, upon which he delivered one of the most audacious drives in memory.

He dispatched his Red Bull teammate Daniel Ricciardo and Ferrari’s four times world champion Sebastian Vettel with consummate ease as he carved his way to third place and a well deserved spot on the podium where the crowd were vocal in their appreciation.

Verstappen’s father Jos, himself a former F1 driver, told Sky Sports, “I have never seen something like this, he has surprised even me. I have seen many races he did, but it was incredible. He did himself proud. It is what we want to see more of in F1.”

For his performance, akin to the great Ayrton Senna at Donington in 1993, Verstappen was given a massive ovation by fans and team personnel gathered around the podium. where master of ceremonies Martin Brundle was so impressed he requested a handshake before he interviewed the 19 year old.

Indeed the kind of drive that won’t be forgotten, etched up there among the greats of Formula 1 as media, pundits and Formula 1 figures were unanimous in praising the performance.

Respected Italian motorsport magazine Autosprint wrote: “Verstappen has regained admiration of Formula 1 fans. He did not win the grand prix because of the risky choices of Red Bull in terms of strategy. It was a great race by Verstappen, who was flying over the water and you could tell with the naked eye he was superior in those conditions. He knocked over opponents as if they were bowling pins. He caught and passed Vettel, humiliating him.”

El Confidencial headlined the feat: “Max Verstappen on day that he reminded us of Ayrton Senna on track.”

And reported: “How many times have we seen Niki Lauda doff his famous hat? Jos Verstappen was being interviewed at the end of the race in Brazil. As Lauda passed he interrupted the conversation with the journalist and they greeted one another. Then, the great Austrian raised his cap and complimented Verstappen senior for the display his son gave on the day. There could be no greater sign of respect from the man who wears the cap to hide the aftermath of an accident that almost cost him his life.”

After the race Lauda told media: “He did the job, unbelievable, the way he passed was just incredible. I know the guy is good but he proved to everybody what he can do.”

Mercedes chief Toto Wolff, who saw his drivers Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg finish one-two in the race, said of the Dutch teenager, “The Verstappen Show! It was really unbelievable driving, great entertainment. Physics are being redefined. He drives inside, outside, no matter how. He really inspires. It’s great that he is in Formula 1.”

Sky pundit Marc Surer said: :”The boy is just great. Verstappen showed again and again his superior mastery of his car. At the start, he took a position into Turn 1. In the duel with Perez, Verstappen aquaplaned on a curb, but remained full on gas.”

Nico Rosberg: “Hats off to Max. It was really difficult to guess where the tires still have grip and where not. An inch could be too much. Max did a great job.”

Former F1 driver and TV pundit, Martin Brundle said: “We knew it was good, and as you pointed out as a future world champion. And has cemented that impression.”

Formula 1 winner and former team owner Gerhard Berger, “It was incredible. He was always experimenting with different lines, even behind the safety car he was studying the circuit. Engineers from other teams were telling their drivers to copy him. He knew exactly what to do, and that’s amazing for his age. He found impossible lines and made the other drivers seem inexperienced.”