Max Verstappen headed into Formula 1’s traditional summer break with no one in doubt he’s the future of the sport.
The Dutchman riding a wave of confidence, as his Red Bull Racing drive gets better and better - the squad’s partnership with Honda really starting to take off. As it prepares to leapfrog Ferrari as F1’s second best team.
Of course, there’s still some way to go - for the complete package. A fact that Verstappen learned the hard way in Hungary, when Mercedes’ 5-time F1 World Champion Lewis Hamilton switched to a two-stop race, and demolished the resultant 19-second gap in 18 laps…
… to pass the Dutchman four from home.
Verstappen was impressively magnanimous in defeat, though.
“P2 is still good, a good amount of points,” he said over the radio.
The crushing defeat came just 24 hours after Verstappen had beaten both Silver Arrows in qualifying for his maiden pole position…
… after 95 Grand Prix appearances no less - a long time to wait given his supreme talent and searing natural speed.
But it’s nowhere near the all-time record for most races without pole, with that stat owned by Racing Point’s Sergio Pérez on 170 GP appearances. Five ahead of Martin Brundle, nine on Johnny Herbert.
Verstappen entered 2019 on strong footing - having risen above the crash-strewn start to last season, with Daniel Ricciardo off to Renault, and Red Bull Racing built around him.
But make no mistake, the 21-year-old was focused on one thing… the all- important new Honda power unit.
SOUNDBITE (English) MAX VERSTAPPEN,
F1 DRIVER, RED BULL RACING:
“I’m very excited to just get started with the engine. I want to feel how it upshifts, downshifts, how the driveability is, how much power there is. And, from there onwards - you just start to work together with the car, [on] what you can improve.”
He’s since won two of the last four races, at Austria’s fast and furious Red Bull Ring - and a chaotic German Grand Prix. He’s also seen off teammate Pierre Gasly, who will swap places with Alex Albon from Belgium.
The stats forced Gasly’s downfall, who was outqualified 11-1, and 10-1 in races - when they could be compared. Verstappen also scored more than double the haul on points: 181 to 63 after 12 rounds.
Naturally, Verstappen is an asset that his team is keen to protect, knowing they have one of F1’s most coveted talents, who is at the peak of his powers but without the errors that once dented his reputation.
SOUNDBITE (English) CHRISTIAN HORNER,
TEAM PRINCIPAL, RED BULL RACING:
“He's at a period [in his career] that he's achieved huge maturity now as well, considering he's only 21 years of age.”
And those watching the sport are loving the rise of the new guard, which was on show in Austria with Verstappen racing Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc - with more young guns in the top-10.
SOUNDBITE (English) NICO ROSBERG,
2016 F1 WORLD CHAMPION:
"It was great to see [Verstappen v Leclerc in Austria]. I think we did see a glimpse of the future of Formula 1, which is Leclerc against Verstappen and then a couple of others joining into there. For example, even someone like Lando Norris for Great Britain. So, the future of F1 is bright because there is some really exciting talents, and exciting people to follow. So we don't need to be worried about the future there."
For now, Verstappen is keeping his powder dry while Red Bull and Honda work together to deliver a consistent frontrunning car.
But once they do, it will be time for the rest of the grid to look out - as the Dutchman’s era at the top begins