Former F1 driver David Coulthard is full of praise for Max Verstappen after the Dutchman claimed his first title in 2021, and reckons that he has already established himself as one of the greats in Formula 1.
Verstappen claimed 10 victories and 18 podiums last year en route to his dramatic last gasp victory over Sir Lewis Hamilton, but his rapid rise to stardom had begun back in 2014 when he contested his first practice session with Toro Rosso.
Having out-performed Carlos Sainz at the team a year later, he would move up to Red Bull to replace Daniil Kvyat, who had been dropped following incidents with Sebastian Vettel in Shanghai and, most notably, Sochi.
The then 18-year-old claimed a spectacular win on his Red Bull debut at the Spanish Grand Prix, and has not looked back since.
Having out-qualified an array of team-mates 90 times in 118 races with the Milton Keynes squad, Verstappen’s imperious pace puts him very much on par with Hamilton at present, but former Red Bull driver Coulthard reckons he has already put himself on the list of all-time greats.
“He already is. Really,” he told makers of a new documentary by Viaplay.
“I didn’t really feel mature until I was in my late twenties and I think I was at my peak in my early thirties. That means there may be a lot more to come from Max.
“He is remarkably mature for his young age.
“Let’s not forget that he was 17 when he entered Formula 1 and he won his first Grand Prix when he was 18.
“That he took that opportunity and triumphed makes him exceptional.
“All Formula 1 drivers are good, just like all Premier League footballers are good. But it’s about finding the guys who are exceptional.”
Last season’s title protagonists entered the final round of the season at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix level on points and, having claimed 10 wins to Hamilton’s eight, the perhaps cynical perspective was that the Dutchman may have been prepared to wipe the 37-year-old out to win the championship.
Coulthard theorises that whether it happened on track or in the barrier, Verstappen was not going to be denied on the final lap after a contentious Safety Car restart by now former race director Michael Masi.
“I knew he would either crash and become World Champion, or catch up and become World Champion. So yes,” he added.
“But I didn’t expect him to make his overtake so early. That just showed his fighting spirit.
“As soon as there’s a gap, even if it’s not really a gap, he goes for it.
“That makes him a worthy champion in my eyes.”
A plethora of darting, late aggressive moves from the 24-year-old last year epitomised what had been a thrilling season in which, for the first time in his career, one could argue Hamilton looked uncomfortable up against a title rival.
“He managed to get inside Lewis’ head and Lewis knew he had to leave room,” said Coulthard.
“No other driver has that effect on Lewis.
“Lewis is a fantastic driver and deserved to win that race, but I also think Max deserved the title because of his fighting spirit.”
Verstappen has recently signed a new deal with Red Bull that runs until at least the end of 2028, and Christian Horner has also stated his joy at having the “best driver on the grid” around for the next seven seasons.