After a year of almost unflustered supremacy, Max Verstappen left Brazil in an irritable mood on Monday and with much to ponder as he flew to the Gulf with the prospect of another turbulent weekend at the season-ending Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.
The two-time world champion, embroiled in arguments with his Red Bull team and a collision with old foe Lewis Hamilton in Sunday’s Brazilian Grand Prix, was given a five-second time penalty for driving into the seven-time champion.
Before he departed, the stewards also handed him two penalty points on his super licence to add to his irritations. He has only a modest seven in a 12-month period, but it did nothing to soothe him after Red Bull’s worst result since the season-opening Bahrain Grand Prix in March.
George Russell led Hamilton home in a dominant Mercedes one-two to claim his maiden Grand Prix win ahead of the two Ferraris — a result that suggested Mercedes have recovered fully from their early-season struggles and seized the momentum.
Russell had also won Saturday’s sprint race to secure pole position for Sunday while Hamilton finished second for a third consecutive race, having climbed back from being eighth after clashing with Verstappen.
The Dutchman, annoyed by his car’s high level of degradation and lack of pace, refused team orders to give sixth place to team-mate Sergio Perez on the final lap in a curt radio rebuke. “He’s showed who he really is," said the Mexican.
An emergency meeting followed, with placatory statements and handshakes, but the damage was done. “It’s not conducive to team spirit," said former driver Timo Glock. “Next year, Perez will consider whether to support Verstappen again.
“A year ago, he made him world champion – so he could have returned the favour and helped him in return. I don’t understand his reaction. Something much bigger must have happened."
Verstappen declined to explain his motives, but reports in the Netherlands suggested it had been a ‘payback’ for Perez’s alleged decision to crash deliberately during qualifying at the Monaco Grand Prix, ending the session and spoiling his team-mate’s run. Perez took third place on the grid ahead of Verstappen and won the race.
The intra-team row at Red Bull dominated paddock chatter, but Verstappen still took another verbal swipe at Hamilton for not leaving him enough space when they clashed.
“That’s what happens," he said. “I thought that after last year we might have forgotten everything and could finally fight. I thought ‘let’s have a great fight’ but he had zero intention to leave space.
“If you asked me if I would do it again, I would say ‘without a doubt’."
Hamilton was unfazed. “You know how it is with Max," he said, knowing that Verstappen and Red Bull were stung by their first emphatic defeat in eight months.
“The most important thing for us is this result," added Hamilton. “Going into the winter, the team knows that we’re on the right track now."
Asked if he felt singled out for attack by Verstappen, he said it was “natural when you have success and the numbers on your chest that you become a bit of a target, but that’s ok. It’s nothing that I haven’t dealt with before."
In the aftermath of a chaotic race, Russell, who in 2009 queued up for Hamilton’s autograph, was full of praise for his team-mate’s generosity.
“Here we are," reflected Russell. “Thirteen years later, as team-mates, on this journey together. Our goals have been made clear and we need to work together to get Mercedes back where they belong.
“We have a good, honest and transparent relationship and we are here to fight and here to win."
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