[F1 2019 VIDEO FEATURE] MAX VERSTAPPEN: MEXICO-BOUND

Max Verstappen heads to Mexico ready to bounce back from his second retirement in five races, the Dutchman seeking a third-straight win at the track where he’s proved a prize fighter.

The 22-year-old getting a chance to flex his muscles ahead of last year’s Mexico Grand Prix with seven-time World Boxing Champion, Jorge Arce, who wrapped his hands for sparring practice.

The boxing workout an energetic start to the race weekend.

SOUNDBITE (English) MAX VERSTAPPEN,
F1 DRIVER, RED BULL RACING:
“I mean I do a little bit of boxing at home [in Monaco] and of course now you have a professional trainer and boxer in front of you who can actually teach you the right movements and stuff because it's a lot of movements, as well as timing, so I think it's very useful for us to do this kind of workout.”

Verstappen, of course, has a lot of fight in him and so much potential to unleash in a dominant car. One he’s still yet to race, F1’s turbo-hybrid era monstered by Mercedes with 86 wins from 117 races.

The result…Verstappen has just seven wins from 98 starts, and no more than two each season since joining Red Bull Racing from Spain 2016. A win on debut proving his hype was justified.

Naturally, Verstappen went into the 2019 season with no goals or targets set. Honda expected to take time bedding into Red Bull’s top team.

SOUNDBITE (English) MAX VERSTAPPEN,
F1 DRIVER, RED BULL RACING:
“I just try to get the best out of myself. The goals, you have to wait and see what the engine and car is going to do. So, I guess up until Australia, anyway, you can’t even set goals because it’s a bit blind in Formula 1 it’s so related to the package you get.”

That package has since exceeded all expectations. Verstappen securing Honda’s maiden victory in F1’s hybrid era at Austria’s Red Bull Ring, the Japanese tears flowing given its torturous recent journey.

Just two races later, Verstappen won again at a wet Hockenheim, despite five pit stops and a spin in a chaotic safety car-affected race.

But, since then, the Dutchman crashed out in Belgium following contact with Alfa Romeo Racing’s Kimi Räikkönen at La Source.

… while there’s been a major change at the team: Alex Albon replacing Pierre Gasly from Spa onwards, with the Anglo-Thai racer far stronger, and closer to the often-untouchable Dutchman.

Japan was a nightmare, with Verstappen retiring with damage from a first corner collision with Ferrari driver Charles Leclerc. A disappointing result at Honda’s home race, where he’d hoped to take the win.

SOUNDBITE (English) MAX VERSTAPPEN,
F1 DRIVER, RED BULL RACING:
“We have still room to improve, and we know that we have to improve as well if we need to challenge for more wins and potentially a championship. So we keep working hard to try and achieve that.”

To do that, Honda needs to bridge the power gap, thought to be around 10 to 15 brake horsepower behind Mercedes….with the Prancing Horse another 20 ahead in qualifying, around 10 in the race.

And Red Bull motorsport consultant Doctor Helmut Marko has backed the Japanese to make the jump the squad needs.

“I think they are doing the right things and the right job. We believe next year we won't be third,” he said.

It’s a challenge for a rejuvenated Honda, and Red Bull, to close in to the other top teams…  one that Verstappen will be watching closely with just 2020 left on his current contract.

…because like former teammate Daniel Ricciardo, he can’t keep waiting around for a title charge. So Red Bull has to deliver.

… or risk losing perhaps its greatest asset, Verstappen.