Max Verstappen: ‘At the end of the day I know I will always be right’ | Sport

Max Verstappen has condemned the criticism he has received after a difficult start to the season as resentment driven by hate and jealousy. The Red Bull driver has enjoyed a strong run as he heads into this weekend’s Austrian Grand Prix, however, and while his self-belief has remained steadfast, he does admit that dealing with his detractors and his travails on the track has ultimately proved to be a character-building experience.

The 20-year-old, now in his fourth season in Formula One, has been at the centre of attention after a run of incidents cost him dearly in the opening races. He has faced vocal condemnation of his driving style – which he was urged to change – and accusations that he was failing to learn from his mistakes. He has, however, scored three podiums in the past four races and insists he has changed nothing, ignoring the attacks on his abilities and character.

“In every sport there is always hate and people being jealous, so I guess it is that,” he says. When asked if he thought he was being singled-out because of jealousy, he says: “For sure. People always think they know better. In football everybody thinks they can be head coach and do it better. It’s the same in F1, they always know better, even if they have no experience of it.”

The Dutch driver, in a good mood and buoyant from his recent performances was happy to once again address the subject that has been raised so many times of late that before the Canadian Grand Prix he had warned of delivering a headbutt to anyone who yet again brought up questions on his driving style. He made light of it in France after Sebastian Vettel’s first-lap incident with Valterri Bottas but conceded in Austria that the process has been wearing and infuriating.

“In general the spotlight has been on me,” he says. “But up until this year it was all amazing and great and then you have maybe two or three bad weekends and all of a sudden it’s: ‘You can’t drive any more.’ It is very unfair and on social media you have all these keyboard warriors who just type something and they never say it to my face. That’s very weak I find. Most of it has been very unfair. Sometimes people make mistakes and I admit I make mistakes, I have always been clear on that but then they make such a fuss about it and try to over‑complicate the situation to try to find something behind it that is not there. That annoys me.”

Verstappen has always attracted attention. Since being the youngest driver to take part in a grand prix, aged 17 years, 166 days in 2015 for Toro Rosso, questions have been asked about whether he was mature or experienced enough. He answered them with some strong and some stunning performances on track. This season however was his weakest start yet.


Lewis Hamilton celebrates winning the French Grand Prix – video

He was excessively zealous coming back after losing a place in Australia and took damage to the floor of his car, later causing a spin. He crashed in qualifying in Bahrain and took a puncture that ended his race while trying to pass Lewis Hamilton. A clumsy attempt on Vettel in China led to the clash that cost them both and he and teammate Daniel Ricciardo came together in Baku, with both forced to retire. His first podium this season followed in Spain but was immediately marred by a crash in practice at Monaco that meant he missed qualifying.

Vettel was open in suggesting Verstappen should change his driving style after Shanghai but Monaco was perhaps of more concern. His crash there was almost identical to one he suffered in Monte Carlo in 2016. It cost him and the team hugely at a race where they were expected to be strong and which Ricciardo went on to win. It drew the strongest public criticism yet from his Red Bull team.

“You don’t get that many opportunities to win a Monaco GP. He needs to learn from it, and stop making these errors,” said the team principal, Christian Horner. When asked if he believed it would make the point that Verstappen needed to change his approach, Horner joined the chorus with “I hope so. I don’t know what else will.”

Yet in Austria, with Verstappen looking to build on his third place in Canada and second at the last round in France, both exemplary races, he insists: “I didn’t change a thing. I knew the start of the season had not gone to plan but I also knew how to solve it and that was by doing nothing. I knew what I could do.

“I thought about it a lot and maybe I approached a grand prix trying to be different and it didn’t work so I thought: ‘I am just going to do it the way I think I should do it.’”

Verstappen has always had huge confidence in himself and his own abilities. Before the season began he was adamant he had no interest in the mental side of racing. “I just enjoy it and drive as fast I can,” he says. “But so many people think your psychology is such a massive thing. For me, it’s not necessary.”

His problems may have caused others to doubt this approach but not Verstappen, although he has learned from the experience. “I’ve not changed my mind about psychology. This has just been character-building. Throughout my life there have been periods of character building and this was another step. Sometimes it is not enjoyable but sometimes you need it.”

The Dutch fans will be once again out in orange-swathed force at the Red Bull Ring and can be assured their hero will be bringing his full commitment, unchanged as ever. His self-belief has never wavered, even under a critical spotlight. “No. It only makes it stronger and stronger,” he adds. “Because you want to show them that you are right. At the end of the day I know I will always be right, of course there will be difficult times and there will be more in the future but I know what I have to do in the car.”

On Saturday he may have a little bit extra in said car, with Renault revealing they have added an upgraded qualifying mode for their engine in Austria. The single lap discipline is where Red Bull have suffered most this season against Mercedes and Ferrari and if they can begin among their rivals they have the chance to challenge them in race pace.

On early form in Spielberg however it is Mercedes who once again look to have the advantage. Hamilton, who leads Vettel by 14 points in the world championship, led his teammate Bottas in a one two-for the team in both Friday’s practice sessions. The major new aero upgrade they brought to Austria looks to be performing well while Verstappen was third in the first runs and fifth in the afternoon, with Vettel fourth and then third.

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