Appearing to bear a grudge is far from a good look and for a double Formula One world champion it cannot help but diminish the sheen of success. Max Verstappen might have felt he made a point in refusing to give up his place to teammate Sergio Pérez at the São Paulo Grand Prix but his actions came across like those of an irascible child, self-obsessed to the point of being unable to grasp the needlessness of his actions nor the potential harm they might bring on himself in future.
At Interlagos, George Russell took his first F1 win and Mercedes’ only victory so far this season in a celebratory atmosphere. In his wake Red Bull’s Verstappen and Pérez were enduring an altogether more fractious Sunday afternoon. After Verstappen had clashed with Lewis Hamilton his chance of a win had gone but having moved through the field he found himself in sixth in front of Pérez.
Verstappen and Red Bull have long sealed both drivers’ and constructors’ titles already but the Mexican is in a tight fight with Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc for second in the championship. Red Bull, for all their success, have never secured a one-two in the drivers’ and really want to this year, with a car that has dominated over both Ferrari and Mercedes.
The world champion was duly told to move over for Pérez so he could take the additional two points and move in front of Leclerc before the final round next week in Abu Dhabi.
To the consternation of his team, the Dutchman flat out refused and Pérez, subsequently finishing seventh, is now only level on points with Leclerc. When asked why, Verstappen said: “I told you already last time, you guys don’t ask that again to me, OK? Are we clear about that? I gave my reasons and I stand by it”. The comments appeared to suggest this was some form of payback for a perceived slight by Pérez.
Verstappen already has the title, he would not have been giving up a place to cede a win but for a meaningless sixth of relevance only to Pérez and Red Bull. He has the team built around him, the car developed to suit his driving style (the opposite to how Pérez would prefer it) and yet the driver whom has been praised roundly for how much he has matured in recent years was having none of it.
The Red Bull team principal Christian Horner was moved to apologise to Pérez over team radio and the Mexican’s reply was acidic. “It shows who he really is,” he said.
It is believed the issue stems from this year’s Monaco GP where Pérez crashed in qualifying, preventing Verstappen from a shot at taking pole. Pérez went on to win and there have been unsubstantiated reports that he has since admitted he crashed deliberately and that this stuck so vehemently in Verstappen’s craw he has refused to let it go since.
He declined to elucidate on the reasons for his actions after the race in Brazil and Red Bull, who pulled their drivers into their motor home immediately afterwards to clear the air, would not reveal any details other than to say the drivers had spoken to one another and the matter had been cleared up.
Verstappen smiled when asked if it was Monaco that had influenced his decision and replied: “I’ll let you work that out yourself”. So if it was Monaco, that was a full 15 races ago. Verstappen has since won 10 races and taken the title. At the meeting before Monaco, in Spain, Pérez had dutifully moved over to let Verstappen past not once but twice, to his own disadvantage. Yet it seems Verstappen could not just let it go.
His name was trending on Twitter on Monday and for once the combative F1 twitter-sphere seemed to have united in expressing distaste and displeasure at his actions. No one, it seems, likes a sore winner.
The usual cliches, competitive spirit, will to win, nice guys finish last, have all been since bandied around but other drivers with similar traits have demonstrated more gracious behaviour in ceding to teammates when necessary. Indeed in recent years Hamilton returned a place to Valtteri Bottas at Hungary in 2017 and in 2016 Nico Rosberg, in a fierce no-love-lost scrap with Hamilton, let the British driver pass at Monaco, because it was to the benefit of the team.
Verstappen’s decision undermined his teammate and it might yet come back to bite him. The Dutchman has previously acknowledged how crucial Pérez had been in holding up Hamilton at the crucial Abu Dhabi GP last year. Pérez’s response in Brazil to Verstappen’s behaviour was blunt.
“I’m very surprised, I don’t know what happened, especially because of everything I’ve done for him,” he said. “I don’t understand his reasons, if he has two championships, it’s thanks to me.”
Which is the bigger picture Verstappen might have been better thinking of rather than risk alienating Pérez when his role as wingman may be vital in another season.