F1 season preview as Max Verstappen looks to defend world title
Max Verstappen was uncharacteristically gracious in defeat on Sunday, when Red Bull team-mate Sergio Perez stormed to an impressive victory at the Azerbaijan Grand Prix to deal the Dutchman a disappointing setback in his quest for a third consecutive F1 world title.
Misfortune was rarely far away from Verstappen in what turned out to be a tough weekend in Baku. The 25-year-old’s car was struck by George Russell’s in the sprint race, causing damage to his sidepod which ultimately prevented him from catching Charles Leclerc.
Verstappen therefore had to watch Perez bank valuable Championship points while crossing the line third himself. After leading the first few laps of Sunday’s main event, the Dutchman was then dealt another blow as a Safety Car allowed Perez to benefit from a shorter pit-stop and take the lead.
Once behind his team-mate, Verstappen did not have the pace to catch up as Perez solidified his reputation as a master of street circuits.
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Many would have expected Verstappen to react angrily after the chequered flag. He did so in Saudi Arabia earlier this season, snapping that he ‘does not turn up to finish second’ despite fighting his way through the pack to finish just behind Perez.
But according to former F1 world champion Damon Hill, who witnessed the aftermath of the race first-hand, Verstappen showed a lot of respect to his victorious team-mate with a classy gesture, despite seeing his Drivers’ Championship lead shrink to just six points.
“I saw Max and Checo get out of the car and he gave Checo a hug actually,” Hill explained to the F1 Nation podcast. “A big handshake and a hug. So I think there is respect there.”
When asked whether it came across as an admission from Verstappen that Perez had beaten him fair and square, Hill asserted: “Yes, absolutely.” The former wiped the floor with the latter last season, finishing almost 150 points ahead in the final standings en route to a second consecutive world title.
Verstappen’s classy gesture on Sunday may have come as a surprise to many, given the frosty altercations that have unfolded between the team-mates in recent seasons. Last year, Red Bull called emergency talks after Verstappen defied team orders by refusing to give a place back to Perez in Brazil, despite already having the Championship sewn up.
It remains to be seen whether the title-chasing duo can maintain a civil relationship as the season heats up. Perez is fancied again going into this coming weekend’s race, which takes place on another street circuit in Miami.
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