Max Verstappen v Lewis Hamilton Monza theory emerges with key skill acquired

Oliver Harden
Red Bull driver Max Verstappen laughs as Mercedes rival Lewis Hamilton looks on.

Max Verstappen laughs as Lewis Hamilton looks on.

The way Max Verstappen raced Carlos Sainz for the lead of the Italian Grand Prix revealed how much he has matured since his 2021 crash with Lewis Hamilton at Monza.

That is the view of respected F1 pundits Jolyon Palmer and Anthony Davidson, who agree that Verstappen has learned to bide his time in wheel-to-wheel combat.

Verstappen set a new F1 record at Monza with his 10th successive victory and, now with a 145-point lead over Red Bull team-mate Sergio Perez with eight rounds remaining, is almost certain to be crowned a three-time World Champion in the coming weeks.

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The Dutchman secured his maiden title in 2021 at the end of a titanic tussle with Hamilton in a season defined by a number of collisions between the pair, the most dramatic of which arguably occurred at Monza’s first chicane.

A terrifying incident while fighting for position saw them touch rear wheels, with Verstappen’s Red Bull mounting Hamilton’s Mercedes and its rear tyre making contact with Hamilton’s helmet.

Both men walked away uninjured, with Verstappen pipping Hamilton to the title in highly controversial circumstances three months later at the infamous Abu Dhabi decider.

Two years on, Verstappen spent the early stages of Sunday’s Italian GP behind the pole-setting Ferrari of Carlos Sainz before capitalising on the Spaniard’s mistake under braking to take the lead.

Before that moment, Verstappen wisely elected to back out of a move around the outside of Sainz at the scene of his crash with Hamilton.

Appearing on the BBC’s Chequered Flag podcast, former Renault driver Palmer feels Verstappen’s current dominance – having now won 37 of the last 58 races – means he can now afford to be more patient.

Put to him that Verstappen decided against attempting a bold move on Sainz, Palmer said: “He never needs to, does he? He never needs to because he has the best car and he’s a league ahead of everyone else.

“Rewind a couple of years and he did go for a bit of a – what shall we call it? – interesting move, an optimistic move on Lewis Hamilton and that was the exact position he found himself in with Sainz.

“But unlike two years ago – when he had to be clinical, he had to go for everything against Hamilton – he has the best car on his own now.

“He’s got the margin, he can be safe and it’s not do or die, which it has been in the past for him.

“So the car that he’s got now allows him to be a little bit more pragmatic in battle.” recommends

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Davidson, who made 24 grand prix starts between 2002 and 2008, also made reference to the 2021 incident in his post-race Sky F1 analysis of Verstappen’s abandoned move on Sainz.

He said: “If you’re going to give yourself a realistic chance of going around the outside to make sure you’re there for the next corner, you’ve got to have your front wheel absolutely alongside the other front wheel of the other car.

“It’s very reminiscent, I feel, to [the] situation here from 2021 with Max vs Lewis. In that moment, back then, Max did carry on around the outside and didn’t back out of it.

“I believe that moment in 2021 taught Max well. So what does he do? He puts the brakes on, backs out of it and lives to fight another day.

“That was brilliant, it was brilliantly done.”

With Red Bull aiming to become the first team in F1 history to win every race in a single season, Palmer believes Verstappen can cement his greatness by winning each of the remaining eight races too.

He added: “I don’t see anyone else touching him for the rest of the year.

“The only thing is whether reliability works against him or fate in some form, really, because on pure performance he’s just so far ahead of the rest of the field.”

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