It was almost as if Max Verstappen had been awakened from his season’s trance as he faced the backlash to what happened on his radio during the final round in Brazil. The cowardly and moronic elements on the fringes of toxic social media had issued death threats to him, his family and the other participant in this drama, Sergio Perez.
But even the less extreme anger reactions come from a place that doesn’t understand the distinction between a competitor and the person in which the competitor resides. There is a bubble in which a competitor isolates himself from the everyday world, especially in something as lonely and extreme as racing an F1 car.
“The outside world is cut off, silenced and all the focus is on delivery”
This is where they happen and going there becomes routine. The outside world is cut off, silenced and the focus is on performance. At Red Bull in particular, but at all teams to some degree, the lead driver feels supported by everything around him, makes it feel like his racing family and everyone is there to focus on him.
The reality of the team is that it’s a big organization with hundreds of people working to produce this car and race it. But that’s not a feeling a driver wants to take with them in the car. They are intense competitors and the cars are just the instruments through which they compete.
Sometimes the two worlds collide, as we saw in Alpine’s sprint race in Brazil the day before the Verstappen controversy. Fernando Alonso and At Esteban Ocon two outbursts of contact on the opening lap that ruined the races for both led team manager Laurent Rossi to tell them that if they had been other employees than drivers, prioritizing the team would have resulted in instant dismissal for serious misconduct. But they are drivers, with a rare skill set that the team relies on. They are only employees in a formal sense, not in a visceral sense. They are reluctantly hired mercenaries forced to be part of a team. It was the very heart of the attraction of the race, this rebellion against the mediocrity of everyday life.
But once it’s all over they’re out of the fight zone and chilled out, they’re not that fierce. They’re a pretty cool group of people overall. Remember the contrast between the Red Bull era Sebastian Vettel, his refusal to comply with Multi 21 or apologize for it, the “number 1” victory finger, etc., the contrast between this guy and the smiling, funny and caring Vettel underneath? Some of the other drivers made reference to it yesterday when asked what they thought of his retirement.
“Some of the things he did for me; yeah, I’m just very, very grateful,” said Daniel Ricardo. “I think he’s a very caring person… but I think he’s definitely able to separate that. As a competitor, I think back to 2013 when he won every race in the second half of the season. And it was like a relentless approach, like he just wasn’t satisfied. He just wanted to ultimately destroy the competition. And you could just see, like, the raw competitor in him and that willingness not to win, but to destroy if you want, and you had to admire and respect that.
“One thing I will always remember for the rest of my life,” Verstappen says, “is last year, at Silverstone, I came back from the hospital to go to my motorhome to collect all my things and there he was, waiting for me when I got out of the car. And he said, ‘Are you okay, Max, how are you?’ And that goes to show how he’s, you know, a super nice, caring person who’s not just there for the performance, but also wants to do well, you know. I think it’s also very nice to be remembered like that.
“When I was in Formula 2, I was doing simulator work for Ferrari,” recalls Charles Leclerc. “It’s not an easy job to do, because it’s really very tiring and I thought Seb probably didn’t even know I was on the simulator. And I got a letter one day, just thanking me for all the hard work. And that meant a lot to me at that time.
Talk to those around Verstappen and they’ll tell you that for all his in-car assassin persona, his dominant personal trait away from the race is that of a peacekeeper, always wanting to make things right for those who are hurting him. surround. There isn’t really a ‘side’ to him, no cynical, calculated strategy, but his running persona, very much trained and honed by his father Jose Verstappen — a man whose fierceness in the car extends far more to the outside world than it does with Max — is zero compromise and binary. So when asked in Mexico if he would be willing to help Perez to a home win in his pursuit of second place in the league, his answer – likely based on the qualifying events of Monaco, who played a crucial role in Perez’s victory over Verstappen to win the race. – was a firm “no” and, in his usual direct and open way, he explained why.