He has denied a team so habitual of staying at the front end 0f the grid, an absolutely free reign. At least, that is what is evident from the six runs held so far. On more than one occasion, he has been a destroyer of hopes of a team ever used to prevailing with an aura of invincibility. He was untouchable at Imola and in a league of his own at Monaco. While in the last season, he displayed spurts of brilliance, never fully getting the measure of a team to which he’s now become a most potent adversary, in 2021, he has truly emerged as a force to reckon with.
His name is Max Verstappen, and going down without a fight doesn’t find any place in his DNA.
And in clinching his second pole of the 2021 World Championship season, the Dutchman whom you’d associate with fiery temper as also flashes of unforgiving speed has truly emerged a worthy opponent to the greatest driver on the grid- Lewis Hamilton.
Hours back, when the Red Bull driver set a blinding lap at 1:29:990, he denied the very team the glory of pole position that’s left little to the imagination in the last few runs at Le Castellet.
Rewind the clocks to the 2018 and 2019 editions of the French Grand Prix and you’d find Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton on the top of the podium not a driver in a royal navy blue racing suit.
Though, Sunday’s 53-lap contest could well become a slugfest of speed that may mark Max Verstappen as the winner, provided the youngster can excellently engage in tyre management and is assisted by the blink-of-the-eye quick pit stops that Red Bull have displayed a mastery at.
And should he manage to keep the nose of his Red Bull out in front, he’d do well to write a new chapter at the event’s history in becoming the first Red Bull driver to win at France, a track where the likes of Williams, Alfa Romeo, Brabham, Ferrari, Lotus and the likes have triumphed on multiple occasions in the past.
But, it must be said, you could be a one-race wonder or a flash in the pan when you capture pole ahead of the Mercedes for one odd occasion; but you’re something different when you deny the fastest car on the grid and the strongest constructor in the F1 circus a front row start on multiple occasions.
And in the next few hours, though aware of the fact that in his rear mirrors would be none other than Lewis Hamilton, beginning from P2, Verstappen would be mindful of just how important it is to win at Circuit Paul Ricard.
Not only from the perspective of extending the dainty 4-point lead he currently enjoys over Hamilton, but also from the standpoint of denting a mental blow to Mercedes should he manage to become the first of the twenty drivers to cross the checkered flag.
For Formula 1 doesn’t only deal with matters of pure speed, it’s also a mental contest that tests nerves endlessly.
Though, surely it won’t be a cakewalk.
Picture the slightest of efforts it took and the smallest modicum of time for Lewis to pass Baku pole-sitter Charles Leclerc to spoil Ferrari’s party. At Portugal, Hamilton passed both Bottas and Verstappen effortlessly with glee.
So what Verstappen, a habitual attacker, would hope to succeed at, would be to display a mastery at defensive driving, perhaps aware that on the scale of straight line speed, Mercedes enjoy a slight advantage.
Amid soaring track temperatures, a testing Turn 6 that brought out not one but two Red flagged sessions during Saturday’s quail and the increasing pressure of denying both Mercedes a chance to lunge ahead, the 2021 French GP is poised to be a classic Red Bull versus Mercedes duel.
Both teams, one must remember, lost out on scoring opportunity at the previous run at Azerbaijan. This only means both Verstappen and Hamilton will be equally hungry with the desire to excel at Le Castellet.
Though, what it means for fans could well be seeing a feisty contest at a track that’s been described as dreary and a bit sleep-inducing.
So let’s open our eyes awake and evidence what could be an absorbing battle for a little over two hours today.