When Max Verstappen approached a festive penalty zone in Sunday’s race, he was standing on a ladder with rearview mirrors pointed toward their future.
Wherever his new Red Bull Racing teammate Daniel Ricciardo would go, Verstappen would soon move in, too. The Belgian did so for fourth place. The Dutchman followed for fifth.
Despite a lack of patience that dogged him when he was a rookie in 2016, it is clear that Verstappen is not quite as adventurous as he was then, nor is he willing to give the Formula 1 stewards all of his personal information for judging a move. He quickly skirted the Australian on the third lap, quietly side-swept him, then slowed to a crawl when he saw his teammate coming at him.
Perhaps he was thinking of something from the heat-beaten desert that he had never seen before. At the end of the 11th lap, he did one of his signature wild-goose chases, flying down the center of the track to get back up into Ricciardo’s wheelwashes and then leaving the slower-turning driver in his wake.
At the end of the 19th lap, following a new tires, he came down the center and brought the whole pack to a halt.
“I was preparing for some time,” said Verstappen. “Then in the last race in Monza, I just did a slow side-by-side. That was a surprise, because we didn’t really even have any tire changes that day.”
In what was a difficult race for Ricciardo, who finished 14th, Verstappen took over as his principal rival when it was over. “Daniel is a very skilled driver, so he fights with himself,” he said. “But after today’s race, I am back on the podium again. That feels very good.”
His reward? Being directed toward the team shop in the city of Sainte Devote, far away from F1 country. “The security guards really liked me,” he said. “But I was fine with that. Maybe I should apply now.”