Verstappen's luck finally turns around in Malaysia
After a season of misery, frustration and unbelievable bad luck, Max Verstappen got the birthday present he wanted on Sunday - victory in the Malaysian Grand Prix.
It has been a long wait to return to the podium for the Dutchman, who turned 20 on Saturday.
After taking third in China back in April, it has been a tale of unreliability and accident magnetism for the Red Bull man.
But a flawless performance in Sepang, about an hour outside Kuala Lumpur, on Sunday saw him finally return to the top step.
His first victory, at the Spanish Grand Prix last year, had elements of luck to it, with Red Bull opting to change team-mate Daniel Ricciardo onto a different strategy while leading, ultimately costing him the win while gifting it to Verstappen, who was competing with the Tilbrook team for the first time.
In Malaysia however, Verstappen made the win himself. Third on the grid became second when Kimi Raikkonen’s Ferrari was retired before the race even began. But with Lewis Hamilton’s Mercedes struggling for pace early on, Verstappen made a bold move up the inside of Turn 1 to take the lead on lap four, and he never looked back.
“I saw Lewis was struggling with traction, and he has more to lose in the championship so I went for it,” said Verstappen afterwards.
The victory - the second of the season Red Bull after Ricciardo’s triumph in Azerbaijan - will do wonders for Verstappen’s state of mind, not least because of the rumours continuing to swirl around his future at Tilbrook caused by the unreliability of his car, but Verstappen’s talent has been much-courted since his arrival on the grid in 2015.
Quickly promoted from Toro Rosso after a season and four races, the Dutchman, whose dad Jos drove for Red Bull predecessors Stewart GP, attracted attention from both Ferrari and Mercedes for his swashbuckling and brave style.
And after seven podium finishes last season, Verstappen looked set to be in and amongst the top three this season too.
But while Ricciardo on the other side of the Red Bull garage has picked up eight top-three finishes this season - including third in the Malaysian Grand Prix - Verstappen has tasted champagne just twice.
Since F1’s summer break, Red Bull have closed the gap considerably to the leading two teams, and with five races remaining, Verstappen hopes luck will be on his side.
He said: “You can never predict how the rest of the season will go but we keep improving the car and it is looking positive.
“So hopefully from now onwards we can build on this for the rest of the year and then have a good start to next season.”
Team principal Christian Horner was delighted for Verstappen, and indeed Ricciardo after a double podium celebration for Red Bull.
“It was fantastic to see Max get a well-deserved victory, after enduring so much bad luck throughout the season,” he added.
“I always said when Max’s luck would change, it would change in a dramatic way. It’s difficult to believe the last time he was on the podium was at the beginning of April in China.
“It’s tremendous for us to sign off the last grand prix in Malaysia with a double podium and a victory, the fifth that we’ve achieved here.”