2021 Formula 1 World Championship leader Max Verstappen has regained his title momentum after a historic win at his home race, however, heading to the Italian Grand Prix he is placing Mercedes as favourites for Monza.
Much has been written about the fabulous occasion that was the 2021 Dutch Grand Prix, Verstappen winning there and Lewis Hamilton chasing to finish second, which means the Red Bull driver now leads the championship standings after 13 rounds by three points.
At Zandy, the momentum that went AWOL for Max and his team in the two races before Holland, returned as the RB16B enjoyed an edge which their ace maximized as usual. But Monza with its long straights where the thirst for top speed needs to be quenched, Mercedes will have the upper hand.
At least that’s what Verstappen believes ahead of this weekend at the Temple of Speed: “I expect Monza to suit Mercedes as it hasn’t been our best track for the last few years but this year we are more competitive so you never know.
“If we continue what we have been doing, working well together as a team, and nail every little detail then we can be competitive but Mercedes might have a top speed advantage on us.
“The track looks easy on paper but it’s actually quite difficult to nail a lap there because with a low downforce set up and the long braking zone the car is moving around quite a lot. It’s a bumpy track with quite old tarmac and the fans there are really passionate about racing and Formula 1.
“Naturally there is always a lot of Ferrari support there but the fans just love F1 and it’s great to see that energy with the Italians,” acknowledged Max.
But his reality won’t be the challenge from the normally blank-firing Reds this weekend, as they are unlikely to feature at the sharp end. The spotlight will be on the Mercs and the Bulls, and Verstappen knows it: “I don’t think either us or Mercedes have a big advantage over the other.
“At Zandvoort, you could see in qualifying and the race that both of our cars are super close and Lewis was applying pressure for the entire race which meant we couldn’t afford to make any mistakes on the track, in the pit lane or on the pit wall, and we didn’t.
“I think it’s the finer details where you can make a difference. When you enter a race weekend you have to work hard as a Team on the set-up and fine-tuning the little details, that’s where the gains can be made.”
Reflecting on Sunday’s victory in front of his adoring Orange Army, Max said: “I couldn’t have asked for more in Zandvoort but now it’s all eyes on Monza.
“The Italian Grand Prix is only around the corner and it’s very tight in the championship so the celebrations can wait and some rest between the race weekends will be important.”
One of the standout traits that emerged this weekend is that, increasingly, Verstappen is unflappable. He took the added pressure of performing at home, to an expectant crowd and in a race made for him in his stride. He never put a foot wrong when mere mortals, and many drivers, would crumble.
Consider that Ayrton Senna took eight years to win his home race and when he did it was an emotional meltdown. Max won his home race at the first attempt and remained cool as a cucumber leaving the meltdown to his ecstatic fans.
Verstappen explained how he dealt with the pressure: “People always think there is more pressure for drivers at their home Grand Prix but for me it’s more enjoyable. You don’t sit in your car thinking you have to deliver because you have to deliver all the time in F1 anyway so it’s no different.
“From my side, it doesn’t really change anything in terms of pressure if it’s your home race or not. Of course everyone does expect a lot from you at a home race so it’s nice to be able to deliver and especially to win in front of the Royal Family, but it was a brilliant performance from the whole team.
“Strategically we were very sharp but I’m aware that not every weekend will be like Zandvoort so we have to keep working as a team and keep pushing as there are still a lot of races to go,” added Verstappen, who will be hunting his 11th pole, a sprint race victory and 18th F1 victory on Sunday.