Max Verstappen is currently navigating uncharted waters — not that you would be able to tell.
For the first time in his short, but action-packed Formula One career, the Dutch sensation is leading the drivers’ championship.
Despite the chance of achieving his childhood dream of winning a world title being a real possibility this season, Verstappen is taking everything in his stride.
There is a certain pressure that comes with being the championship leader, in particular when you have seven-time world champion Lewis Hamilton breathing down your neck, but it’s not a pressure that Verstappen seems to be feeling.
“It doesn’t make any difference to be honest,” the Red Bull driver matter-of-factly tells CNN Sport’s Amanda Davies. “We always wanted to be here and now that we have a very competitive package, we are just very happy that it’s happening and now we just have to keep it up.
“I mean, it’s still a very long season, we’re not even halfway. Of course the gap at the moment looks nice, probably on paper, but also it’s very easily gone. So we just have to make sure that we don’t make mistakes and stay on top of it.
“I never really look at these things. At the end of the day, they don’t really make a big difference in terms of how I feel about it.”
Still only 23 years of age, it’s a testament to Verstappen’s mental strength that he has been able to win each of the last three races after his mishap at the Azerbaijan Grand Prix, which saw him spin out down the main straight due to tire failure just five laps from the end.
It was a quite brilliant drive at the Monaco Grand Prix back in May that saw Verstappen take the lead in the drivers’ championship for the first time and his performances have only improved since, allowing him to open up a 32-point gap over Hamilton.
But as Azerbaijan has no doubt taught him, all that hard work could come undone in an instant.
“I’m not enjoying it at the moment to be honest, not more than what I would be doing the last few years,” Verstappen says. “Because I know that it doesn’t say anything at the moment.
“I want to be there at the last race and finish it off in that way, because of course you can be happy right now, but then if you lose out at the end of the year, then there’s nothing to be happy about.
“So that’s why I’m quite neutral in everything and I’m just very focused on what I have to do.”
Nobody has ever doubted Verstappen’s championship-winning credentials as a driver, so far in his six-year career the common consensus has been that it’s the Red Bull car that has let him down.
This season, however, that looks to have changed.
Red Bull, headed up by team principal Christian Horner, has made dramatic improvement’s on last year’s car and have finally provided Verstappen with a vehicle capable of challenging Hamilton and Mercedes.
Verstappen believes the team’s dominance at tracks they haven’t generally performed well at in the past — France, for example, where the Dutch driver this season secured pole and the race win — will stand them in good stead for the upcoming British Grand Prix, where Hamilton and Mercedes have dominated in recent years.
“The team, including Christian, they focus on giving me that car, which they have given me this year and now we’re just working really well together,” says Verstappen.
“I think we really made a good step forward from last year and now it’s all about keeping that up [and] improving, because we cannot just rely on what we have now until the end of the season. We just have to keep trying to be better.
“You have to be positive as well, but we know that they [Mercedes] are going to be very strong there [Silverstone], they are bringing upgrades so it’s not going to be easy. I’m confident that we can do a good job here as well.”
This weekend’s British GP will be the first of three races this season to feature a brand new qualifying format.
The usual one-hour qualifying session will still feature, but it will only decide the starting positions for the sprint qualifying session, rather than the race itself.
It will be this new sprint qualifying session, a 100 kilometer, 17-lap race, that will decide how the drivers line up for Sunday’s grand prix.
Points that count towards to drivers’ championship total will also be awarded to the top three drivers in sprint qualifying, with three for first place, two for second and one for third.
“I’m actually quite open-minded,” Verstappen says of the new format. “I’m not against it, I’m not for it at the moment. I just want to see how it progresses. It’s very new.
“For sure it will be a bit of an adjustment to be made in terms of how you approach the whole weekend. But I guess time will tell, we’ll just find out how it goes.
“It’s difficult to say right now [if it will impact the race]. After FP1 [first practice], you make your changes for qualifying and you can’t really adjust the car anymore, so you hope that you make the right changes.
“So you will find out a little bit during the sprint race or qualifying race if it’s good or not — and if it’s not good, then you’re in trouble.”
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