Verstappen remains cool under pressure despite Hamilton’s Qatar victory

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Formula One drive Max Verstappen.

Max Verstappen held onto second place in Qatar despite a grid penalty (Picture: Getty)

Max Verstappen did not have the pace to challenge Lewis Hamilton in Qatar, so by finishing second and scoring the fastest lap of the race via a penultimate lap pitstop he can consider the result the best possible outcome.

He and Hamilton were in a class of their own, with the winning Mercedes crossing the finish line a whole minute ahead of third-place man (and welcome podium returnee after a record 146 grands prix) Fernando Alonso.

However, there was unnecessary stress in the Red Bull camp. Verstappen, along with Hamilton’s team-mate Valtteri Bottas, were demoted on the grid because they did not slow sufficiently under yellow flag conditions in qualifying.

Verstappen, who took P2, found himself starting seventh on the grid. Bottas’ sentence was lighter, a three-place drop putting him sixth.

The stewards, who change race to race, and race director Michael Masi, who is permanently in charge, have come in for criticism recently.

In some circumstances, they have been accused of sticking their oar in when they might have turned a blind eye, and in others they have decided not to investigate or punish actions which perhaps they should have.

Formula One driver Lewis Hamilton.

Lewis Hamilton has closed the gap between him and Verstappen to just eight points (Picture: Getty)

At least they have been unbiased in upsetting both of the title rivals.

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Red Bull were let off the hook on Friday when the FIA reiterated there would be no investigation into Verstappen’s lap 48 defence in Sao Paulo.

On Sunday, Verstappen got his grid penalty for the yellow flag infringement, and after the race team boss Christian Horner had to go and grovel for publicly criticising the marshal who put out said flag.

Let’s deal with the flag first — waved yellows, no less. It is the signal for there being an incident or obstruction ahead and to slow down.

Whether or not declaring it as a waved yellow event was appropriate is irrelevant in that moment.

And even if the screen on the driver’s steering wheel is not flashing yellow, they still need to look out for the flags at each physical marshals’ post.

Easier said than done, sure, but Max has been racing since he was four. He has accepted he made a mistake.

‘I knew I was going to get a penalty. When I saw the result, I was not shocked and surprised,’ he said, his only surprise being the stewards took so long to issue the penalty.

‘You just focus. You have to pass a few more cars than you would normally like, but luckily it worked out really well on lap one.’

Red Bull principal Christian Horner was unhappy with the timing of the yellow flag (Picture: Getty)

That’s one cool cucumber. Max is just a couple of races away from the title decider and the pressure is enormous, yet he is not letting himself get distracted by setbacks.

He must also know he can’t give anything away to Hamilton, or Red Bull to Mercedes. Eight points separate the drivers, Max ahead, while Merc lead Red Bull by five.

The stress seems to have got to Horner much more. He and his opposite number at Mercedes, Toto Wolff, have been expressing their emotions to a greater extent than their charges, who are almost zen by comparison.

Horner’s reaction to the waved-yellow incident was understandable but, as 24-year-old Verstappen advises, he and the team need to stay focused.

The marshals at all the tracks around the world are volunteers and Masi moved to protect one of them in a moment of criticism (Horner complained of a ‘rogue marshal’), defending the marshal’s judgement.

After being accused of bringing the sport into disrepute, Horner apologised and has agreed to attend a marshalling seminar.

Everyone’s ready to move on but perhaps team representatives should be able to voice criticism — whether valid or not — without fear of the book being thrown at them. Despite the apology, Horner has no regrets over his conduct.

‘I’m a straight-talker,’ he said. ‘The way I’ve conducted myself, I’ve got no issues with, and I would do exactly the same (in future).’

A case of sorry/not sorry? ‘I think the only issue, regarding the marshal, was that if there was any personal offence taken, it was not intended.’

@AdamHayNicholls


MORE : Lewis Hamilton wears LGBTQ+ rainbow flag helmet during Qatar GP qualifying


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