2016 | The Year Of The Underdog - Story No. 6

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© SportsCafe

2016 | The Year Of The Underdog - Story No. 6

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Faizan Qadiri


Our underdog series has seen teams and individuals upset the odds to write their names into legend. Our next story takes us into the world of motorsports where a young Dutchman wrote his name into the history books and breathed life back into a sport that had lost its sheen over a decade.

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When we were 17, none of us had a driving license to drive a car around in the streets and neither did Max Verstappen. But he was driving for a professional team in Formula 1. While most just thought he had got in easily as the son of Jos Verstappen, an ex-Formula 1 driver himself, Verstappen Jr was not going to be content being just another name on the board. In the last seven races in the 2015 season, he was in the points on six occasions but was never quite able to make it onto the podium with his Toro Rosso car.

The now 18-year-old started the 2016 campaign with Toro Rosso and picked up exactly where he had left off the previous year and put points on the board in the first three races of the year. But everything wasn't as great as it sounds. In the very first race of the season, Verstappen was heard arguing with his team about how he should be allowed to overtake his teammate Carlos Sainz when both players were in a position to get their team points, and ended up clipping the rear end of Sainz's car with just three laps to go. As BBC quite aptly put it, "it was the performance befitting of a moody teenager".

I didn't expect the season to go like this, that I would be at Red Bull and would have won a race and has such memorable races as well. I can't complain.


Verstappen's break came in unexpected circumstances - a mistake by Red Bull driver Daniil Kvyat. On the first lap of his home Grand Prix, the Russian hit Ferrari's Sebastian Vettel, who in turn crashed into Kvyat's teammate Daniel Ricciardo, that resulted in a major backlash from the racing community. Both Ricciardo and Vettel demanded apologies, and Red Bull called the race a disaster. The response Red Bull came up with was for Verstappen to be promoted to the senior Red Bull team while Kvyat was dropped down to the Red Bull-owned Toro Rosso.

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The move worked like a charm for the Red Bull team. After becoming the youngest driver to start a Formula One race, score points in Formula One, and the youngest race leader, Verstappen shocked the racing fraternity by becoming the youngest driver to ever win a Grand Prix. Never had a teenager won a Grand Prix before. Not the great Ayrton Senna. Not Sebastian Vettel. Not even Michael Schumacher. And he wasn't done. Even though he didn't win another race throughout the season, which was down to the fact that Mercedes had a far superior car compared to the rest of the chasing lot, he managed to get on the podium six more times, helping Red Bull finish above Ferrari in the constructor's Championship.

But it isn't just the win and the podium finishes that sets the youngster apart from the rest of the field. Max completed an astonishing 78 overtakes in a season, - the highest ever recorded since stats were being kept in 1983. He was the only racer to overtake Sebastian Vettel - a feat that even Mercedes drivers Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg were unable to achieve. The records just keep on shattering when the teenager was around and it has resulted in the Dutchman gaining a cult following.

What I see is that he brings a completely new approach to the 'reigning establishment'! He shows them again how racing should be - how it was in the past. I remember when guys like Senna and Schumacher came, they also had a different approach and were a shock awakening for the establishment of their time.

Red Bull motorsport advisor Helmut Marko

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But the main reason why the youngster has made our list is the fact that he has made the followers of the sport sit up and take notice again. In Formula 1, every decade has seen a race when a driver produces a performance that lives on in the minds of fans for years to come. Senna did it at Monaco in 1984. Schumacher was the hero in 1996 in the Catalan Grand Prix and Hamilton did it at Silverstone in 2008. Max Verstappen did it in the 2016 Brazilian Grand Prix, where he showed maturity and skill well beyond his years, on a drenched circuit. After a bright start, an error saw him drop down to twelfth on the grid. However, through sheer persistence and aggressive driving on a wet and slippery surface, the youngster managed to finish on the podium earning praise from every corner.

Whether or not, he manages to live up the expectations that have been placed on his teenage shoulders remains to be seen. But you can be sure that the name MAX VERSTAPPEN is one that is not going to go away soon.

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