Max Verstappen is dividing the Formula 1 paddock and fans alike as he breathes fresh air into the sport – but it is tainted with danger.
The Dutch teenage sensation again courted controversy at the Belgian Grand Prix, a race in which he desperately wanted to excel but instead finished outside the points.
Verstappen was caught up in a first lap racing incident where three drivers tried to fit onto the same piece of tarmac. It is hard enough getting two into one, never mind three.
The Red Bull driver, along with Kimi Raikkonen and Sebastian Vettel, was left with a damaged car and had to pit for repairs, dropping him out of contention.
During the red flag, the result of a horrific crash for Kevin Magnussen, Verstappen stropped down to the Red Bull pit wall and told his team boss that it was Vettel who was responsible as he “just turned in.” Christian Horner reassured him that yes, it was the German who squeezed from the outside.
Listening on, you were left with the impression of a young boy pointing the finger at another after having kicked the ball through the living room window.
And there was more to follow. Verstappen later engaged in on-track battles with Raikkonen and Vettel, and also making contact with Sergio Perez at Les Combes.
Raikkonen, who during the race stated that Verstappen’s “only interest is pushing me off the circuit completely”, later spoke of his fear that the 18-year-old is courting a big accident.
“If I had not braked, we would have had a massive accident,” said the Finn. “It will happen sooner or later if this doesn’t change. I am fine with good, hard racing but that is not correct.”
Vettel agrees, saying “if you drive like that it won’t end up too well.”
It is not just Ferrari who have concerns as Toto Wolff, who said Verstappen reminds him of Ayrton Senna, added his voice. “I just fear that it might end up in the wall heavily one day. As much as we like his [unpredictability]… for me it’s refreshing but it’s dangerous.”
The biggest worry, though, is Verstappen’s response to the criticism/concerns.
“I think that’s a big lie,” he said in the immediate aftermath of the Belgian race. “I’m just defending my position. If somebody doesn’t like it, it’s his problem.”
Even after a bit of time to calm down, he still feels that the world is out to get him. “I was a victim in the first corner,” he told Autosport, before justifying his “quite aggressive” driving against the Ferrari team-mates.
“They should understand that first of all they destroyed my race in Turn 1 so why should I say ‘OK here you can go’,” he said. “Of course it was quite aggressive, but they destroyed my race so it’s not like I say you can take my position that easy as well.”
Tit-to-tat is 300 kph is going to one day end in tears.