COMMENT: Max Verstappen is maturing quickly

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Max Verstappen.

It was a showreel of overtaking manoeuvres that at least a handful of Max Verstappen’s peers on the grid might have been content with over the duration of a season.

But the flying Dutchman passed a total of nine cars on the opening lap alone of the Chinese Grand Prix having started an uncustomary 16th place after an engine misfire in the first qualifying session.

It led one commentator to liken it to a teenager on a video game such was the ease with which the 19-year-old picked holes through the field.

His launch of the grid was near perfect but, in the opening split second, the space in the road looked like closing in front of him amid heavy spray from the still damp but drying Shanghai circuit.

But he picked exactly the right pockets of Tarmac, knowing instinctively where the dry patches of the road were.

By turn one, he already had the Force India of Sergio Perez, which had qualified in eighth, within his sights, while arguably the pick of his moves on that lap came on turn eight as the cars around him wobbled with grip and his Red Bull was seemingly glued to the track, wet or dry.

Verstappen has made no secret of his love of the wet, so often an indicator of natural talent behind the wheel, and once again he drove as though he had webbed feet in those early exchanges.

The wet helped him in that it created a concertina effect, closing up the field more readily than the norm and enabling him to at least be at the business end of the race when the real thinking is that the Red Bulls are probably about 45 seconds off the overall race pace of defending champions Mercedes.

The Red Bull has always been aerodynamically strong, a trademark of Adrian Newey’s cars that they boast more downforce than most.

But for all the machinery at his disposal, this was all about Verstappen and understandably he was named driver of the day by the watching public despite a masterclass from Lewis Hamilton in winning from lights to flag.

If there was to be a move of the day from the entire race, the Red Bull driver’s on his team-mate Daniel Ricciardo in the same machinery was it. Stuck behind him going into turn five, he picked up his slipstream, threw a brief dummy and scythed up the inside.

Verstappen has long been known for his aggressive driving. In his opening season, it was often seen as over-aggression, his moves deemed too dangerous by his more experienced peers. Not so in China.

And there appears to be a new-found maturity from him this season, highlighted in two distinct but differing moments.

First came in the dying laps of the race when he started barking his grievance at Romain Grosjean, who himself produced a litany of fine overtaking moves in the Haas, compromising his race late on.

In truth, Grosjean was doing no such thing, clear enough up the road to not create any turbulent air for the following Verstappen.

But what the Dutchman was doing was thinking ahead, alerting race director Charlie Whiting to a potential situation that might ensue in the laps ahead to affect his race outcome, a sign of his burgeoning maturity.

So too, the manner in which when struggling with understeer late in the day, he managed to keep Ricciardo at bay to hold onto a thoroughly deserved podium place.

The only sadness amid it all is that Red Bull are too off the pace right now to be truly competitive, Verstappen needing wet races at present to give him a sniff of clinging to the coat tails of both Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel.

That pair clearly rate their rival highly, both in their post-race interviews alluding to what he had pulled off on track, Hamilton joking – but with a serious edge – he would be looking back at Verstappen’s performance to see if there was anything he could learn.

Hamilton has made no secret of the fact that he relishes having as many title protagonists as possible to make the world title that much sweeter when it comes.

Repeated back slaps and references to “this guy” in the post-race celebrations shows he puts Verstappen in that bracket as a key challenger. F1 is in the midst of a two-way battle for the title between Hamilton and Vettel.

How salivating a prospect and deserving a one for that particular tussle to include Verstappen.

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Alonso ecstatic over race performance before retirement at Chinese GP

F1i 9/04/2017
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Fernando Alonso

Alonso started 13th in the tricky conditions but put his flair and skills to good use, climbing as high as 8th before the transmission of his MCL32 decided to call it a day.

Despite another retirement, Alonso reckoned his drive was even better than in Australia! “Yeah, incredible,” said Alonso.

“I thought Australia would be unrepeatable and here it was the same or even better. The conditions helped and so we took advantage of that.

“People were spinning left and right and we were gaining places more or less for free, and then when the track was damp we were keeping the pace of the best with a top speed deficit that’s pretty incredible.

“One of the best things that have happened to me,” he added.

Alonso believes that he was en route to challenge for points before his driveshaft issue, even affording himself the luxury of keeping Valtteri Bottas Mercedes behind at one point.

“I think we’d be fighting with Perez and Magnussen for the final points,” he said.

“I think we could have scored one or two points like in Australia in an incredible way, because running ahead of Bottas and that he can’t overtake you for two or three laps was one of the most surreal things that have ever happened to me.

“He was like 300m behind me and he passed me on the straight but then I could sort of stay with him on the following lap, so it was one of the most surreal things that have happened to me.”

Alonso admits that because of their lack of testing mileage McLaren are still in discovery mode at this stage of the season.

“As we said in Australia: having not done testing, we are discovering new problems race after race. Let’s hope we can have a normal reliability soon to be able to finish the races.”

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F1 round-up: Hamilton beats Vettel to win Chinese GP

Lewis Hamilton powered to victory in the Chinese Grand Prix on Sunday, gaining revenge for his defeat by Sebastian Vettel in the Formula One season opener in Melbourne.

The three-time world champion, who started on pole, steered his Mercedes to a crushing Shanghai win, beating Vettel's Ferrari by just over six seconds with Max Verstappen finishing third for Red Bull.

What did you make of the action?

Share with us your thoughts by commenting below, using #360fans on Twitter or getting in touch via Facebook. DRIVER OF THE DAY Max Verstappen was inspired, rising 13 places over the course of the 56 laps from P16 to P3 displaying a stunning pace and sense of timing few of his rivals on the grid can come anywhere close to matching. The 19-year-old may have finished 45 seconds behind Lewis Hamilton, but his first podium in Shanghai illustrated why he’ll be a force to be reckoned with over the season... providing he can avoid starting 16th. FASTEST LAP Hamilton had a majestic weekend, leading in every lap of the race before clocking the best time of 1:35.378 on lap 45, just as Sebastian Vettel was beginning to breathe down his neck in the final third of the GP. Vettel’s 1:35.423 on lap 40 proved the second-fastest, with Valtteri Bottas’ 1:26.849 on 41 third as he tried to push himself back into the podium picture following a disastrous spin earlier in the race. BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT Antonio Giovinazzi endured a nightmare Chinese Grand Prix with a weekend full of problems. The Sauber driver crashed in Q1 and was subsequently hit with a grid penalty for a changed gear box. Started from P18, the Italian crashed out on the 4th lap to end his Sauber stint on a sour note - with Pascal Wehrlein expected to return for the Bahrain GP next week. ONE TO WATCH On his debut season with Force India, Esteban Ocon once again impressed with a 10th-place, replicating his encouraging placing in Melbourne a fortnight ago. The Frenchman was brilliant in the closing stages, overtaking the vastly experienced Williams of Felipe Massa 10 laps from the end to take 10th place and then delivering his fastest lap of the race – and the ninth quickest overall – on 55 to confirm his place in the points. Esteban Ocon. Esteban Ocon.

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