As the sun sets on the 2018 Formula One season in the sand of the Abu Dhabi desert on Sunday, it’s also fitting that one legendary career is being eclipsed by the huge promise of another one on the rise.
Fernando Alonso bids an emotional farewell to F1 after a 17-year career which has glittered, but also certainly lost some of its gloss since back-to-back world titles were hoisted in 2005 and 2006.
Those championships were won with a superior Renault outfit when Alonso was just 24 and 25. He was set to dominate the sport but a move to McLaren in 2007 coincided with the ascent of another bright star, Lewis Hamilton, and the Spaniard was put in the shade.
A dream move to Ferrari in 2010 failed to yield the predicted and coveted third title and he returned to McLaren in 2015. But his twilight years have been spent in mediocrity with the British marque enduring a cursed relationship with engine manufacturers Honda.
Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel have won eight of the last nine championships, but it is Max Verstappen who is viewed as the sport’s future.
The Dutchman is only 21 years old, but has already claimed five race wins and his 2018 tally of 234 points is his best record in an early career which is nevertheless already in its fifth year.
And not being able to race against an Alonso at the peak of his powers is something Verstappen is saddened about.
“It’s a bit of a shame because I never really raced against him,” the Red Bull driver said ahead of Sunday’s season-ending Abu Dhabi grand Prix.
“Of course he was in Formula One when I was there but I never really had a fight with him. He’s been at the back because of the issues they (McLaren) had.
“That’s one thing I regret because I’ve been racing against Seb and racing against Lewis already and that’s been nice, but never with Fernando.
“Back in the day when I was watching TV, he was always the one really fighting them. Of course it’s nice I race with him but I never fought against him which is a shame.
“(I don’t know him) outside of Formula One but he’s always been super nice to me and I really appreciate that.”
Verstappen has been brash and abrasive in his early career, both on and off the track, especially this season – typified by being ordered to undertake two days of “public service”, a penalty from the FIA for pushing Esteban Ocon at Interlagos earlier this month after the Force India driver collided with and cost Verstappen victory in Brazil.
But he is also undeniably brilliant and big things will be expected next year of a man who will enter 2019 as the unequivocal Red Bull team leader following Daniel Ricciardo’s move to Renault.
Verstappen has his own racing simulator at home to help him prepare for next year, but he admits he’s more likely to be playing football video game FIFA during the winter break.
“I will probably take two weeks off, like not training at all,” added Verstappen. “I’ll probably play some FIFA. Not much sim racing. At home I have my sim but my friends are using it more than me.”
Verstappen lines up in sixth at Yas Marina Circuit and even though most drivers will want to end the season on a high, he is not holding out much hope of victory in the UAE on a track notorious for being difficult to overtake on.
“I personally don’t think so,” Verstappen responded to journalist’s questions after qualifying on Saturday about whether he can win.
“First of all this track is really different to Brazil where you can’t really follow that well, because the corners are not made for it. In Brazil you can do a few different lines but here it’s all 90 degrees so there’s only one line.
“The approach is the same, the outcome is less of an issue compared to middle of the season, but everything is already decided. You still want to do a good job of course.”
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