Former Ferrari driver Eddie Irvine believes that Max Verstappen is the quickest driver in Formula 1 at present, but his aggression is what occasionally lets him down.
The Dutchman was involved in several incidents with Sir Lewis Hamilton in 2021 on his way to the title, but Irvine suggests that his belligerence on track, just as it helped guide him to 10 race wins and 18 podiums, could easily have swung the title fight in the Briton’s direction.
Ultimately, the Irishman believes that Hamilton’s patience saturated, and the pair began fighting each other with equal hostility, as was evidenced in Silverstone and Monza.
“I think Lewis Hamilton drove all year last year in such a way that he could avoid accidents,” he said in conversation with La Gazzetta dello Sport.
“At one point he thought, ‘OK, now it’s enough. Now you can have it.’”
“That almost cost Verstappen the title, because Lewis destroyed Verstappen in Abu Dhabi.
“It’s a shame he didn’t win because he deserved it. He should have stopped him.”
Verstappen now appears to have a new rival in Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc, and the pair squabbled for victory in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia, engaging in tactical DRS battles.
It is evident that both of them are on par on an intellectual level – they both had the same idea of giving themselves a DRS advantage – but Irvine once again points to Verstappen’s perceivably excessive aggression as the key distinction.
“I don’t believe anyone is faster than Verstappen, but he still makes a lot of mistakes. Leclerc doesn’t do that,” he explained.
Elaborating on that, the four-time race winner disregards qualifying crashes for the Monegasque in Baku and Monaco for example, but points to race incidents caused by overzealousness.
“Having such an incident in qualifying is generally not so relevant,” he affirmed.
“Verstappen makes the mistake of always letting himself be carried away in terms of aggressiveness.”
Continuing his comparison, Irvine indicates that Leclerc is more “mature” than his fellow 24-year-old.
“[Leclerc] is very intelligent, has a personality, and is mature,” he stated.
“[In] that way Verstappen seems a bit ‘younger’ to me mentally, but he has been given a lot of talent.”
Having seen him win seven world championships and 103 races, Irvine acknowledges the brilliance of Hamilton, but opines that the reigning world champion has surpassed him for pace.
“Leclerc and Verstappen are both very strong. Hamilton is also exceptional, even though I don’t think he has the same speed as Verstappen,” he said.
“Max reminds me of [Michael] Schumacher. He can keep a great race pace and no one who is driving in the same car comes near him.”
As for the title battle in 2022, Leclerc has won two of the opening three rounds of the season in Bahrain and Australia, while Verstappen has retired from those same two due to reliability failures, but provided Red Bull can sort their proclivities, Irvine maintains that they will still prove very tough to beat on their day.
“It’s too early to say and every year that goes by it gets more difficult,” he divulged.
“You have to compete against Red Bull, Verstappen, and Adrian Newey. That is very difficult.”
Leclerc leads the Drivers’ Championship by 34 points from Mercedes’ George Russell, while Ferrari are 39 points clear of Mercedes at the top of the Constructors’ Standings.