News24.com | Five pivotal races in Verstappen’s drive to the world championship
Max Verstappen clinched his second successive Formula One world championship in Japan on Sunday with his 12th grand prix victory of a dominant season.
AFP Sport highlights five races that proved pivotal in the Dutchman’s drive to the title:
Australia: ‘Unacceptable’ failure
Charles Leclerc looked the man to beat in his Ferrari as he won for the second time in three races at the start of the season.
Both came after Verstappen’s Red Bull had retired — in the season-opener in Bahrain with electrical problems two laps from the finish and in Melbourne with flames coming from his engine.
In between, Verstappen pipped Leclerc by half a second in Saudi Arabia, but he could not contain his anger after breaking down at Albert Park when destined for second place.
“We are so far behind. We need to finish races. It’s unacceptable,” fumed the Dutchman.
Red Bull heeded his words. It was to be Verstappen’s last retirement of the season.
Spain: Ferrari’s pain
Verstappen overcame a sequence of problems at May’s Spanish Grand Prix to register his third successive win and take the championship lead from Leclerc.
Beaten away at the start by his Ferrari rival, Verstappen was blown off into the gravel at one point and had to overcome issues with his rear wing drag reduction system (DRS).
He was aided by Red Bull ordering a disgruntled Sergio Perez to let his teammate through for victory after Leclerc suffered an engine failure on lap 27.
Red Bull team principal Christian Horner defended the team orders: “It is our responsibility to bring both cars home. It was the right thing to do.”
France: Leclerc disaster
Leclerc took full blame after crashing while comfortably leading the French Grand Prix in July, gifting another race to Verstappen, who extended his championship lead to 63 points.
Monaco’s Leclerc led for 18 laps until he spun off at a high-speed corner.
Leclerc’s howler allowed Verstappen to claim a crushing victory, his seventh of the season — and one of his most fortunate.
“It was hard to follow here with the tyres overheating so we stayed calm,” said Verstappen, who had pitted early for new tyres in hot conditions and had been sixth when Leclerc hit the barriers.
The Dutchman took the lead when the resultant safety car prompted the drivers ahead to dive into the pits for fresh rubber.
“You never know how it is going to go,” he said. “It was unlucky for Charles.”
Belgium: From 14th to victory
Starting from 14th on the grid at August’s Belgian Grand Prix, Verstappen scorched through the field to deliver crushing proof of his and Red Bull’s superiority.
Quickest in qualifying, Verstappen was relegated after taking new power-unit components, but made light of the penalty as he came home 18 seconds ahead of the pack.
By contrast, nearest challenger Leclerc, who began 15th after his own grid penalties, could only finish sixth.
Verstappen cut through the field after an early safety car. By lap eight he was already in the podium positions and four laps later he took the lead.
“Once we settled in after the safety car, the car was really on rails,” he said.
Italy: Maiden Monza win
Verstappen made it five consecutive wins as he raced from the fourth row on the grid to a maiden Monza victory.
It put him within touching distance of a second successive world title as he opened a 116-point gap to Leclerc, who crossed the line second in a procession behind the safety car.
Leclerc started on pole, with Verstappen only seventh after a five-place grid penalty, but so dominant was Red Bull’s pace that Verstappen was up to second place by the fifth lap.
Leclerc pitted early under a virtual safety car on lap 13, which handed Verstappen the lead, but the tactic backfired when the Ferrari needed to stop again 20 laps later.
Leclerc emerged 20 seconds behind Verstappen and was unable to cut the deficit by the time the safety car was deployed six laps from the chequered flag.