I’m going to repeat myself. In 2007, when all the accolades were being piled like frankincense and myrrh at the feet of Lewis Hamilton, I reckoned we were looking at a future champion if the timing and opportunities would present themselves like three kings and a bright star. While the British press were quick to ascribe titles yet earned to the kid off a couch in Stevenage, I was a little more reticent to agree that he was a lock to eclipse Michael Schumacher’s achievements even though the press had all but handed him that fortuitous praise.
All these years later, Hamilton has won three titles and broken many records and while the timing and opportunities have presented themselves, we’re still waiting on four more titles and 39 more race victories before we can officially say we saw the bright star and it led us to Lewis.
Max Verstappen’s recent run in Brazil brought forth flashes of Schumacher and Ayrton Senna in the rain and with good reason. You must consider he was on fresh rubber but even so, his passing and aggression were very much like those two greats before him. It is the same feeling now as I had back in 2007, we very well may be looking at a future champion who will make a big impact on the series but only if timing and opportunities allow. Engine, chassis, right team, right competition level etc.
The youngest to ever do anything in Formula 1 is now poised to take over the spotlight from Lewis Hamilton and it remains to be seen how the young Lewis, still bouncing around in that adult body of his and occasionally Snap Chatting pictures of bunny ears in press conferences, will react to becoming the old, grizzled veteran whose memories are becoming longer than his future in F1—see Fernando Alonso for references.
I’ve no doubt that Lewis isn’t done with this sport and he’ll win more titles and races if Max Verstappen’s timing and opportunities haven’t matured or arrived. Should the 2017 regulation changes level the field or favor Red Bull, Lewis could find himself chasing a very talented Verstappen home to the podium ceremonies.
In a Facebook Live session sponsored by Hisense, Verstappen answered questions from fans and it was a nice event that Hisense hosted. I recall, however, my conversation with Ferrari CMO, Stefano Lai, when I asked him about these types of events and he said, with Italian accent in tow, “Todd, we tried that with Fernando and we got a few dozen questions answered but do you know how many people we upset by not getting to their questions? Thousands”. It’s always a tricky thing to host a live session for thousands and thousands only to reach a few personally but red Bull and Hisense did a very nice job of it.
During the interview, Max was careful to not associate himself to past champions saying that the most important thing for him now is to focus on himself and not the comparisons. That’s a mature approach given that Hamilton was very keen to take on board the Senna comparisons as that was his hero growing up. Sebastian Vettel tried to steer away from Schumacher comparisons but not all the time. For Max, he has no F1 heroes and that includes his father Jos Verstappen. Very mature indeed.
I argued that the pressure, comparisons and accolades for Hamilton before he’d won anything could be dangerous for the young man and I would argue there have been a few seasons with Hollywood distractions that instant wealth and fame has hurt in his career. Resiliently, Lewis has bounced back and is on top form ready to run with anyone, any day, any time and that’s why he’s a champion.
For Max, he too is ready to run with anyone, any day and any time and if he had the car, he would be making life miserable for Lewis Hamilton and his teammate Nico Rosberg. All that being said, I will follow my own caution back in 2007, that we need to give Max time to grow and the opportunities to materialize in order for him to achieve what he is capable of. Sure, I saw the Brazilian Grand Prix and immediately thought he looked like Schumacher out there but comparisons aren’t always fair…or wanted in Max’s case and I respect that even more about him.
In the case of Alonso, opportunities can evaporate like a Lindsay Lohan acting career and what seemed to be a multiple world titles stopped at just two. Wrong timing, wrong opportunities. If Max can avoid these crotch-kicking setbacks in his career arc, he’s be champion but the bigger question might be, how many times will he be champion? It’s certainly within him but like 2007, I don’t ascribe anything to anyone before it happens in F1. Not even Lewis Hamilton or Sebastian Vettel.
In Brazil he reminded me of Schumacher but ultimately, he looked like Max and that’s a very mature approach for a 19-year-old. He’s not here to replicate, he’s here to define.
If you missed the Verstappen interview, you can catch a replay right here.
Hat Tip: Hisense FB page