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In-form Verstappen does not need distractions from 2019 challenge

12 November 2018 16:23

These should be exciting times for Max Verstappen, the Red Bull driver with four consecutive podiums approaching the end of the Formula One season.

Lewis Hamilton has again sauntered to the title, but Verstappen, the man in form, leads the list of challengers as attention starts to turn towards next year and the prospect of a potentially closer title race.

Where Sebastian Vettel has faded in the closing weeks and Hamilton's Mercedes team-mate Valtteri Bottas continues his long wait for a win, Verstappen has put the early season disappointment of retirements and lowly finishes behind him.

But the Dutchman himself has still managed to tarnish these fine performances, making the headlines for all the wrong reasons on Sunday.

In Brazil, Verstappen appeared destined for back-to-back race wins for the first time in his F1 career until his attempted lapping of Esteban Ocon on lap 44 saw the pair tangle, allowing Hamilton to storm through and take the lead.

The 21-year-old had every right to be frustrated with Ocon, who was handed a 10-second stop/go penalty, but he is far from the first driver to be let down by a rival's mistake. What came next - Verstappen angrily shoving the Racing Point Force India man in front of stunned team officials and prying camera lenses - did not show the Red Bull star in the best light.

The ego of an elite racing driver is renowned and this was not the first time Verstappen had shown petulance in recent weeks, bemoaning his team and his car as colleague Daniel Ricciardo qualified marginally faster in Mexico.

It is this relentless drive that will inspire Verstappen to take on Hamilton at the business end of the next campaign, yet such fury bubbling so close to the surface will equally do him no favours.

"I'm used to the fights with Max," Ocon said afterwards. "He's always been the same. It goes back a few years."

Meanwhile, Hamilton added: "I wasn't surprised by it. Max is that go-getter guy and, every now and then, it bites you."

Indeed, Verstappen's actions stood in stark contrast with those of Hamilton earlier in the weekend.

The five-time champion raged at Sergey Sirotkin in qualifying as the pair narrowly avoided a collision, but the Briton had apologised to the Williams man by the next morning, confessing it was an honest mistake. The drivers, unsurprisingly, did not come to blows.

Perhaps signs of immaturity should not come as a surprise with Verstappen, the third youngest driver on the grid this year, but he must grow up fast if he hopes to be a champion in 2019.

He will need all the help he can get to overhaul the experienced Hamilton next season and physically reproaching rivals is unlikely to earn the young talent many friends. A brief handshake has hopefully settled tensions.

It is up to Verstappen now to end the campaign on a high and ensure that next year, with a clean slate, his sensational driving is top of the agenda.

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13 December 2018

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12 December 2018

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