The Flying Dutchman has been in the form of his life leading up the summer break, and will now battle with Bottas for runner-up in the Driver’s Championship.
It’s been quite the half-season for Max Verstappen. The 21-year-old is now the main man at Red Bull and looking up to the mark, having outshone former teammate Pierre Gasly to the point of replacement. In the last four races up to the break Verstappen racked up 78 points with wins at Austria and Germany, and found his first pole position at Hungary. It leaves him third in the standings, comfortably ahead of Vettel in fourth and only 7 behind Bottas on 188 points.
Bottas is a man under pressure. The Finn’s contract runs out at the end of the driving season, and there’s mounting speculation that Mercedes will employ a fresh face in Estaban Ocon. But Bottas was doing relatively okay up until the final two races before the summer break. With wins at Australia and Azerbaijan, Bottas made podium in every race this season up to Hockenheim.
Mercedes boss Toto Wolff will be on Bottas’ case in the second half of the season, and it leaves the door open for Verstappen to take run away with second.
Grid penalties and Singapore opportunities.
The second half of the season throws up some good tracks for Red Bull. But the team faces a grid penalty and that could come soon. With the season resuming at Spar before Singapore the weekend after, and Monza after that, Red Bull could well choose to take the penalty straight away. Already on the second engine update, Red Bull will soon be going onto their third which will initiate the grid penalty. In order to go for the win at Singapore, where the team are expected to excel, Red Bull will likely take it at either Spar or Monza.
Verstappen will be looking for his 8th career win at Singapore before heading to Sochi, where he’s finished 5th in both his races there, and then to Suzuka where again Red Bull are expected to score well. It’s the home race for Red Bull and their Honda engine, and it’s where Verstappen competed in his first practice session with Toro Rosso in 2014 becoming the youngest driver to take part in an F1 Grand Prix weekend.
But the Dutchman scores well in Japan and when that’s over the F1 calendar heads to Mexico, where Max looks to make a hat-trick of wins.
Max is mad for Mexico.
Winning the last two Mexican GPs, Verstappen will definitely have this race in the back of his mind and so wi his team as they fight with Ferrari for second place in the Constructor’s Championship. In 2017 and 2018 Verstappen wrestled his way into the lead at the first corner at Mexico to then go and control the race, last year pipping his teammate Daniel Ricciardo. It’s also where Hamilton won his fourth and fifth championship, and it could well be the venue for his sixth.
After Mexico the races head north for the US GP, before Brazil and the Abu Dhabi finale. Though Mercedes will likely claim race wins in these, Red Bull and Verstappen expect to be there or thereabouts on three tracks where the Red Bull car can deliver – Verstappen has set the fastest lap in two of the last three Grand Prix’ in Brazil, and now warranting an extra point, it could prove pivotal in his battle for second in the Drivers’.
Over to you, Max.
It’s all down to the driver now. For Verstappen, a new teammate shouldn’t affect his form, but a strategic grid penalty is needed by his team, probably straight off the bat at Spar. Finishes need to remain consistent, but the key for Verstappen is qualifying strong and getting wins where Red Bull can compete.
His opponent in the battle for second, Bottas, will be hoping he can compete at the level required, but the speculation surrounding him leaves him in a prime position for Max to state himself at the top, and go for silver.