The Rise and Fall of Max Verstappen and the Bulls from Mars

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There is no denying that the current relationship between Max Verstappen and Red Bull Racing is dominating current Formula One news. Recent reports seem to suggest this relationship is crumbling, from Verstappen’s point of view. Max’ comments made on various media outlets, and especially on Dutch TV, only fuel this argument.

So far, this season has had too few downsides to vent my poisonous opinion(s) and, after a bad night of sleep, it seems I found something to dig my teeth into. All of you have to agree it has been a fairly long time since I had a real ‘bruznic’s opinion piece‘. But before you start to feel your rage build up, read it all very carefully and try not to see it too much through your “orange tinted glasses”. And don’t worry, I’ll try not to offend too many people in the process.

I felt the need to start this article because of the recent comments made by both Jos and Max. However, I do feel it is more Jos than Max. It wasn’t until Jos started to make his statements that Max’ went down the same road.

And perhaps herein lies Max’ biggest problem. I know Jos wants to protect his name, his son, his investment. But to alienate the team that gave his boy the chance might not be the best thing to do. Let’s not forget that this is Formula one, a cutthroat business, in which each and every participant has one common goal: to win. And in order to win sometimes there are taken harsh decisions. Something Jos should know like no other. First of all because if it wasn’t for the promise Max shows nobody, apart from some elderly Dutch guys, would ever talk about Jos again.

Second of all, you all know how it went down in his career. In the same fashion as Max he took the F1 scene in a fast and stormy manner. From a lower class he came in to F1 with massive interest in his name. One test for the big boys and nearly everyone wanted to sign him. But let’s not forget how fast it went down-hill for Jos. After the one year at Benetton, which wasn’t even a full season, he never came close again to driving at the top. He went from potential world champion to field-filler from late ’93 to mid ’94.

Does he really want to force Max down the same road?

So let us begin at the beginning. Yes, it is true, Max has had his fair share of bad luck this season. After the Belgian Grand Prix his retirement count has gone up to six. Compared to Ricciardo’s three times, it is a lot. Certainly if you compare it to the fact that the Belgian GP was only the twelfth GP of the year. But let us acknowledge just how many of his failures are Red Bull’s fault:

• Bahrain GP: Brake failure
• Spain GP: Crash
• Canadian GP: Electrical failure (battery)
• Azerbaijan GP: Oil pressure
• Austrian GP: Anti- stall and clutch issue
• Belgian GP: Software issue

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While I don’t mind pointing a finger, I do feel it should be directed at the right problem. You cannot lay full responsibility at Red Bull Racing for these problems. They do not make their own brakes (Brembo), nor their batteries (GS Yuasa) or clutches (AP Racing). So that leaves two failures related to their Renault powerplant and one to a crash. Again three times you can’t blame Red Bull. Well, perhaps for the fact that by being such a bad mouthing customer no-one wants to offer them a better engine.

Can I also point out the irony in something that happened after the Belgian race? When they asked Jos about Max’ troubles he said that he could not believe people who said that Max would overdrive his car. In this day and age you can’t break a car by driving it too hard. Of course everyone on the Dutch TV made that opinion their own, right after the interview. Happy to forget that they used exactly the same argument when Hamilton’s car broke a lot more than Rosberg’s last year. You can’t have it both ways, either no-one can overdrive the car, or everyone can.

Which brings me to the next question: ‘Why does Jos, and later on Max, feel the need to lash out at Red Bull?’

Well, the rumors surrounding the young Dutch lad of wanting to move to a bigger team have always been there. Before the Milton Keynes based team could secure him, back in August 2014, it was no secret that the Verstappen’s were flirting with Mercedes too. The only reason why he went to the Bull’s junior program is because they contractually agreed to get him in an F1 car sooner.

And I remember, when Red Bull dropped Kvyat in favor of Max, Jos saying he would take a step back. He had done what he could to get his boy to the top, where he belonged. And from there on out he couldn’t do any more. There were more capable persons for this part of Max’ career. So what changed?

We have seen reports that linked Max to both Ferrari and Mercedes for the 2018 season, yet Red Bull have categorically stated (in the form of Helmut Marko and Christian Horner earlier this season and now even Dieter Mateschitz) Max cannot go anywhere. He has a contract that ties him to the Austrian team up until the end of 2019 . And, he has no contract clause. Red Bull didn’t fall for that trick again, after losing Vettel. There are rumors of Ricciardo having a clause that Red Bull should make him a winning car. One win to his name this season, so no breach of contract there. Who knows just how much of the info about Verstappen’s contract and the ‘no clauses’ statement is true?

Also, Ferrari locked in Vettel with a new contract, after giving a new deal to Raïkkönen. Where does this leave Mercedes? Well, Hamilton has stated that he has the power to quit after this season if he wantes to. This was all the silly season needed (for Verstappen anyway). But recently Hamilton has said that he couldn’t remember giving that interview. This suggests that the Briton is not finished with F1, and his run at the highly competitive German team hasn’t come to an end.

And let’s not forget there is one driver on the market who looks like an even bigger prospect: Fernando Alonso. Considered by most, in the armchairs and on the grid, as the best of his generation. Showing every week that he, perhaps now in the winter (or Autumn?) of his career, is at the top of his game. I am one of those who think that Alonso is the best driver to arrive in F1, after Schumacher. But by that I purely mean his race-craft. His abilities to outdrive a car’s potential has been proven in F1 for ages now. But the reason why I mention him here is because of the other part of his package.
I fear, if the Verstappen’s keep going down this path, they’ll end up just like Alonso. Make no mistake, there is only one responsible for the ‘downfall of Alonso’. And that is Fernando himself!

There is no denying that his career does not reflect how we feel about him. In the end he only managed to secure two world titles in his career, and I highly doubt there will be another. But if you look at the others he just missed out on (2007, 2010, 2012) he could have been a 5-time champion. A number much closer to how it should be. To think that he would have done it in (some) cars not capable of winning championships in the hands of someone else, would have only made his legacy bigger!

But, and this is the main reason for dragging Alonso in to this article, the toxic relationships between him and his teams has been the biggest factor in his career.

If someone were to write a book about all the complaints Alonso has made about his cars, they could write a trilogy on 2017 alone.

While many of us laugh at his radio messages, which put down Honda’s effort endlessly, you have to consider how that makes the people feel that put in countless hours of hard labor. I don’t want to sweet talk Honda, it is an embarrassment what they deliver, but there is another way to do it.

Don’t forget that F1 is the biggest team-sport in the world. Apart from the hundreds of people we see on TV, there are thousands back at the factories. How would you feel if a driver slags off everything you did that week, constantly. I know how I would feel…

There are more examples of how Alonso has been the cancer of a team. Hamilton has gone on record to state that he wouldn’t want Alonso to be his team mate, due to past experiences: “My relationship with Fernando was toxic, and it intoxicated the whole team.” Just like Rob Smedley said that his “Fernando is faster than you” message to Felipe Massa was the turning point for the Ferrari team. It was the moment where Ferrari reverted to being about one driver again. And perhaps, by taking Alonso as he is (emotional, aggressive, passionate and angry), Ferrari got themselves in more troubles than they needed to.

Massa himself said that he never had a problem with Alonso when they were out of the car, or when Fernando was driving in front of him. But when he was behind him the troubles started. Alonso would turn in to a different person. And who doesn’t remember the “Ferrari must improve” messages after every race where the result wasn’t what he hoped for? Granted, between them there have been brilliant races, which confirmed just why I dared calling him the greatest of his generation. But blaming the team for the bad races, and lauding yourself for the good ones isn’t exactly noble.

Now, prior to the Monza weekend, Toto Wolff said why he doesn’t consider Alonso for the second seat in his team. “I think the best drivers always accept the challenge and Fernando would clearly be a challenge, but it is much more than Lewis feeling at ease with Fernando, it is the whole dynamic of the team that plays its part and you have to look at the personalities and characters and how they’d fit in.” On top of that “Fernando has some history with Mercedes and it was not always the best.” By which Toto Wolff hints at Alonso’s involvement at the ‘spy-gate’ scandal.

In the end Alonso’s career can be summarized in to the following Alonso reincarnations: Minardi- Fernando, WDC winning Renault- Fernando, Angry McLaren- Fernando, Angry Renault Fernando, Angry Ferrari Fernando, Angry McLaren- Fernando2.0

Should this be the mould for Verstappen’s career too? It is no secret that the intrateam relationships at Toro Rosso weren’t of the highest level. Dutch media reported that the rivalry between Verstappen and Sainz, in the garage rather than on track, is the direct reason why the Red Bull management got Max out of there. A move made to protect their investment, since they wouldn’t want to lose him. Promoting him to the A-team, with a new and improved contract (for them and Max), was key to secureing just that. Remember, it happened before the half way point of the season, by giving the axe to another driver of their drivers. While reports in the Dutch media declared Max had a contract in place, that would have moved him up to the A-team anyway, at the end of the season. Speeding up this process probably had some ulterior motive, if you ask me.

It is no secret that a top team in Formula One got held by the balls, by this young boy and his dad. That is a quite unique situation. Leave it to the Dutch to do it right, right? Haha. And in the whole ‘power to the people’ agenda, it is a good thing. But I think there is a fine line between doing it right and messing it up.

Remember, when Alonso started hat behaviour he was already a double world champion, the youngest ever at that time. Verstappen is, so far, only the youngest Grand Prix winner ever. Hardly the same situation. And the biggest thing I have against it, is that Alonso never became more than a double world champion. Can anyone, honestly, claim that number reflects well on how we feel about him?

Now… for those of you who think Max is also a future (multiple?) world champion, and who are still reading, can you imagine how you will feel if someone writes a similar article about him in 10 years time unable to mention a championship to his name? Remember that the list of those with talent who didn’t make it is longer than the one containing those that did. There is no doubt the young Dutch driver is a diamond in the rough; His Monza qualifying was further proof of that; but I’d hate for him to never become anything more.

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Update: my friends over at ‘mobil1: the grid’ just uploaded a clip of Max on the relationship with his dad. (good example of great minds think alike😁)   Check it out.

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