Max Verstappen’s antics on track have been compared by former F1 driver Stefan Johansson to those of world champions Ayrton Senna and Michael Schumacher.
Verstappen had a number of incidents with rival Sir Lewis Hamilton in 2021 en route to his maiden world title, earning himself seven penalty points in the process.
The pair collided at the British Grand Prix in July, sending Verstappen into the wall and out of the race, leaving Hamilton to win in front of his home crowd despite picking up a 10-second penalty for the crash.
They would then suffer another nasty-looking crash in Monza, with the Red Bull ending up on top of the 37-year-old, before a few smaller clashes in Brazil, Saudi Arabia and Abu Dhabi.
Verstappen appeared to push his rival off the track in Sao Paulo without being penalised, before a bizarre collision between the pair occurred in Jeddah as the Dutchman attempted to let the Mercedes driver past having once again forced him off the circuit.
They would then make contact on the first lap at the Yas Marina Circuit in the season finale.
Furthermore, Verstappen was given a grid penalty in Qatar for failing to slow under yellow flags.
The Dutchman has often been accused of taking his racing – particularly his defence – too far since his arrival into Formula 1 in 2015, and while a comparison to two great champions of the past is otherwise flattering, Johansson sees the greatest similarities in aggression.
Senna and Schumacher were both known for their robust manoeuvres on track, with many believing that Schumacher deliberately hit Damon Hill in 1994 to claim his first world title, and attempted to do so again to Jacques Villeneuve three years later.
Senna famously punted fierce rival Alain Prost off the track in 1990 to secure the championship, and both the Brazilian ad Schumacher had such a competitive edge that their behaviour came into disrepute on more than one occasion.
Johansson takes issue with Verstappen’s similar traits.
“The issue we have right now on track is that Max has taken the Senna playbook and the Schumacher playbook to a whole new level,” he explained in his blog.
The Swede praised the calibre of racing we see up and down the grid from the majority of the drivers, but concedes that there is less interest in the midfield battles.
“Generally, I think there’s a good code of conduct between the drivers. Most of the current crop of the new generation of drivers are racing very clean but hard, there’s been some really great battles this year but they’re not at the front and therefore it goes un-noticed for the most part. No one cares about the guys in fifth or sixth place.”
Michael Masi and the race stewards have been under fire following several contentious moments last year, not least at the season ending Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, when Masi elected to only allow five lapped cars through following a late Safety Car.
This allowed Verstappen to pass Hamilton on the last lap of the 2021 season for his maiden championship, and this added to what was already a burning fire following several incidents over the course of the season in which Masi’s competence and bias was questioned.
Johansson regrets that he does not feel a positive change to the stewarding in Formula 1 coming any time soon.
“I don’t have a lot of optimism for the changes from the officials. Every year decisions about driving standards and enforcement are getting worse, more and more muddy with more grey areas,” he added.
The 65-year-old has warned that if Verstappen’s hard racing is left unchecked, then the floodgates will be opened for other drivers to do the same.
“If Max can get away with what he’s gotten away with in certain cases this year, then like Leclerc said, ‘Ok, fine. If that’s how we’re going to race, then that’s how we have to race,” noted Johansson.
Mercedes protested the race result following the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, but saw this denied by the stewards.
They then lodged an intention to appeal the championship classification before withdrawing it several days later, instead insisting that they will work closely with the FIA in their investigation into the controversial events in Abu Dhabi.