After a year of almost unstressed reign, Max Verstappen left Brazil in an irritable mood on Monday and has plenty to think about as he heads out to the Gulf with the prospect of another turbulent weekend in the season-ending Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.
The two-time world champion, who got into an argument with his Red Bull team and collided with old rival Lewis Hamilton at Sunday’s Brazilian Grand Prix, was sentenced to a five-second penalty for leading him to the seven-times champion.
Before he left, the hosts also gave him two penalty points on his super license to add to his annoyance. He only had a mediocre seven in a 12-month period, but he did nothing to calm him down after Red Bull’s worst result since the season opener at the Bahrain Grand Prix in March.
George Russell drove Hamilton home in the dominant Mercedes 1-2 to take his first Grand Prix win ahead of both Ferraris – a result that indicated Mercedes had fully recovered from its early season struggles and seized the momentum.
Russell also won the sprint race on Saturday to secure pole position on Sunday while Hamilton finished second for the third race in a row, having returned from eighth after a confrontation with Verstappen.
The Dutchman, alarmed by the high level of degradation in his car and lack of speed, refused team orders to give sixth place to teammate Sergio Perez on the last lap in a quick radio reprimand. “He showed who he really is,” said the Mexican.
An emergency meeting ensued, with statements of appeasement and a handshake, but the damage was done. Former driver Timo Glock said: “This is not conducive to team spirit. Next year, Perez will consider whether to support Verstappen again.
A year ago, he made him a world champion – so he could return the favor and help him in return. I do not understand his reaction. Something much bigger has to happen.”
Verstappen declined to explain his motive, but reports in the Netherlands suggested it was a ‘recovery’ of Perez’s alleged decision to deliberately crash during qualifying at the Monaco Grand Prix, ending the session and spoiling his teammate’s career. Perez finished third on the grid ahead of Verstappen and won the race.
Intra-team feud at Red Bull dominated ring chatter, but Verstappen still took another verbal swipe at Hamilton for not leaving enough space when they clashed.
He said, “That’s what happens. I thought after last year we might have forgotten everything and we could finally fight. I thought ‘let’s have a big fight’ but he had no intention of leaving space.”
“If you asked me if I would do it again, I would say ‘without a doubt’.
Hamilton was unfazed. “You know how it is with Max,” he said, realizing that Verstappen and Red Bull had taken their first sure defeat in eight months.
“The most important thing for us is this result,” Hamilton added. “With winter coming, the team knows we are on the right track now.”
When asked if he feels like he’s been targeted by Verstappen, he said that “it’s normal when you have success and the numbers on your chest that you become a bit of a target, but that’s okay. Nothing I haven’t dealt with before.”
In the wake of a chaotic race, Russell, who in 2009 queued up to sign Hamilton, was full of praise for his teammate’s generosity.
“Here we are,” Russell said.
“We have a good, honest and transparent relationship and we are here to fight and here to win.”
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