Max Verstappen may not have scored a victory yet in 2019 but he’s one of the stars of the first five races.
The 21-year-old scored his second podium of the season last time out in Spain and lies third in the world championship. Behind the dominant Mercedes pair but ahead of both Ferrari drivers.
Ferrari’s strategic fleetness of foot may have been more Stumbling Donkey than Prancing Horse but, make no mistake, Verstappen is very much the rampant stallion.
In Monte Carlo, qualifying will be more crucial than ever.
SOUNDBITE (English) MAX VERSTAPPEN
F1 DRIVER, RED BULL:
“Some tracks are anyway better for overtaking than others. You always have only a few tracks on the calendar where you can’t really overtake and some tracks have a lot of opportunities.”
Monaco is the hardest of them all. Verstappen will be desperate to make amends for last year. He had the quickest car but got sucked into a psychological supremacy battle with former Red Bull team mate Daniel Ricciardo.
Just 0.15 seconds separated them in FP1. They were split by 0.19 seconds in FP2. In FP3 Verstappen got to within one one thousandth of a second!
Disastrously though, he repeated his 2016 crash at the famous Swimming Pool section. The car could not be repaired for qualifying, so his challenge was over before race day dawned. Ricciardo then won from pole, which hurt...
But the mistakes of an error-strewn beginning to 2018 appear to be in the past. Verstappen has comfortably shaded new teammate Pierre Gasly. And the senior Red Bull team, he says, is not suffering from such a relatively inexperienced driver pairing.
SOUNDBITE (ENGLISH) MAX VERSTAPPEN
F1 DRIVER, RED BULL:
“I don’t think it’s an advantage but also not a disadvantage because I’ve done four seasons now in F1 and I guess you can rely on the experience you have done. Pierre has done one and a little bit but the team is so experienced they will help him.”
Will anyone challenge the downforce-laden Mercedes around the streets of the Principality? If anyone can, it’s Verstappen.