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BAHRAIN, BAHRAIN - FEBRUARY 21: Max Verstappen of the Netherlands and Oracle Red Bull Racing prepares to drive in the garage during day one of F1 Testing at Bahrain International Circuit on February 21, 2024 in Bahrain, Bahrain. (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images) // Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool // SI202402210881 // Usage for editorial use only //

Herbert: Intimidation is what makes Verstappen so special

BAHRAIN, BAHRAIN - FEBRUARY 21: Max Verstappen of the Netherlands and Oracle Red Bull Racing prepares to drive in the garage during day one of F1 Testing at Bahrain International Circuit on February 21, 2024 in Bahrain, Bahrain. (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images) // Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool // SI202402210881 // Usage for editorial use only //

Three-time Grand Prix winner Johnny Herbert admits he wishes he knew what makes Max Verstappen “so special” as a racing driver, however, he believes “intimidation” is the Red Bull driver’s strongest trait, and reminiscent of Formula 1 greats.

During a roundtable interview session this week with journalists including GRANDPRIX247 -made possible by Grosvenor Sports – we asked Herbert what made the 26-year-old triple F1 World Champion Verstappen so special, Herbert replied: “I wish I knew the answer to that one!”

Notably, Verstappen topped testing times on day one of Bahrain F1 Testing, ahead of the season-opening Bahrain Grand Prix next week. He put the tongue-wagging Red Bull RB20 through its paces. Spending most of the day at the top of the timing screens, ending P1 on the timesheets with 142 laps covered by the #1 car, more than anyone else on Wednesday.

After explaining how comparatively primitive F1 technology was during his decade in the top flight (1989 until 2000) when data was collected in bytes on floppy-disks, not terabytes on supercomputers, Herbert elaborated: “These younger generation drivers can absorb all that information and actually apply it when they get in the car.

“Max is one of those very rare, raw, naturally gifted drivers that we’ve seen over the decades going back to the Jackie Stewarts, the Jim Clarks. And then all the way through with Niki (Lauda), Jody (Scheckter), (Nelson) Piquet, and the list goes on through to Michael (Schumacher).”

Johnny: Today drivers arrive in F1 more complete

SPA, BELGIUM - AUGUST 28: Max Verstappen of Netherlands and Red Bull Racing talks to former racer and Sky Sports F1 pundit Johnny Herbert on the drivers parade before the Formula One Grand Prix of Belgium at Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps on August 28, 2016 in Spa, Belgium (Photo by Charles Coates/Getty Images)

“There’s always these rare ones that come through,” recalled Herbert. “But what’s different these days is drivers seem to me to be more complete. They just have this unbelievable ability to do the job that they do naturally when they’re in the car. But also everything that goes on, on the outside and around them.

“To be honest, that is something in the 60s 70s 80s, and probably even in the 90s, that was very, very limited. Social media is another thing that’s put on top of all that. To absorb all that pressure, and still actually put the performances in as Max does so consistently [is special]. That’s always the thing with the greats, they always do it so consistently. He just has this pure natural ability to [make an] impact.

“I suppose the most powerful thing he has is probably intimidation. He intimidates other drivers. And that’s part of it. That’s what I remember. Mansell used to do it, Ayrton used to do it. Niki was like that, you know, they all have this unbelievable ability to be the best.

“The attitude is: You ain’t gonna pass me. And if I’m gonna pass you, you KNOW, I’m going to pass you. That’s intimidation and that’s such a powerful thing which Max has got. Other than the speed he has as well of course

“But it’s pure intimidation. Do I like that? Yes, I do. Because that is a big, big and important part of it,” declared the 59-year-old Briton.

Verstappen’s “intimidation” has already begun in his quest for fourth F1 crown

BAHRAIN, BAHRAIN - FEBRUARY 21: Max Verstappen of the Netherlands and Oracle Red Bull Racing walks in the Paddock during day one of F1 Testing at Bahrain International Circuit on February 21, 2024 in Bahrain, Bahrain. (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images) // Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool // SI202402210850 // Usage for editorial use only //

Herbert competed in 165 Grand Prix weekends with three F1 victories among them. His teammates over the years included the likes of Michael Schumacher, Mika Hakkinen, Heinz-Harald Frentzen and Alessandro Zanardi.

A current example of the “intimidation” that Herbert refers to was evident on day one of 2024 F1 testing in Bahrain. Straight out of the box, in the cockpit of the #1 Red Bull RB20, Verstappen blew off the winter cobwebs plus the dust on the desert-based track during an early outing on PIrelli’s hard tyre.

Pushing the limit early on, sliding wide on the sandy surface as he explored the limit. And Verstappen got faster and faster as the very green track rubbered in. Then he decided to flaunt what the RB20 already had, in the tank, when he popped a 1.31.344 fast lap to end the day on top. His 19 rivals have been warned!

When summing up his first stint of the season in the RB20, Max said simply: “It was a nice day.”

Master of the understatement by the one who went faster than anyone went around Sakhir on Wednesday, which also happened to be 1.1 seconds faster than the next best in P2. Now that’s intimidating and it’s only F1 Testing!

Big Question: What makes Max Verstappen so special?