INTERVIEW: Max Verstappen on 2019 season, dealing with pressure and world title hopes

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While Lewis Hamilton can sail off into the sunset during the off-season satisfied with his sixth world title, Max Verstappen will be sitting in his family home in Belgium content with the strides he has made, but plotting his next moves up the F1 grid.

His displays in the second half of the season, in particular, have proven why he is considered the most exciting driver in the sport and the man who could potentially challenge Hamilton in 2020.

Verstappen has arguably been one of the top two drivers of the season, aside from Hamilton, who has recorded 10 wins in comparison to the Dutchman’s three victories and eight podiums.

But Verstappen has extracted the maximum from his Red Bull at every grand prix so far and is not afraid to get his elbows dirty when the going gets tough.

His richly deserved triumph in Brazil two weeks ago, when having to fend off Hamilton for large spells of the race, and capitalising on his second pole of the season, was sublime.

It was a 10 out of 10 performance for the Monaco resident who dominated all sessions throughout the weekend at Interlagos and again reaffirmed his status as being the future world champion in the making.

Speaking to Sport360 at Yas Marina Circuit, Verstappen said: “I think it’s been an alright season. The three victories were nice. We had our difficulties at the start of the season, then after the summer break, but overall, we learned a lot so it’s been positive. I think everyone is just excited for next year as well.”

Given he is such an established name and one of the most popular drivers on the grid, it is easy to forget Verstappen is just 22 and remains the man Hamilton admits is keeping him motivated.

The former Toro Rosso driver, who will make his 102nd race start this weekend, is mature beyond his years and his aggression, confidence and superb race craft shows he has all the right tools to be a menace for years to come.

And while Verstappen is someone who isn’t afraid to voice his emotions, he’s also equally adept at blocking out the noise of his potential achievements and vast potential in the sport.

“For me it doesn’t change anything. I just have to focus on myself. You have to believe in yourself that it is possible. I think if we have the car, then as a team, I am confident we can do it,” he said.

“I enjoy what I’m doing so it doesn’t add any pressure. I listen to the people close to me who have been involved in my career a lot. I trust myself and I have fun. It’s not all about F1. Your life is about more than that. Many drivers forget that sometimes. I have a good balance with things off the track too.”

A relaxed figure, Verstappen has all the attributes necessary to win a world championship. Now, it’s a matter of Red Bull and Honda providing him with a title winning car.

Honda was criticised during its three-year relationship with McLaren. However, the manufacturer has enjoyed greater reliability this season, with Red Bull sitting third in the constructors’ standings on 391 points, 88 points behind Ferrari.

The team have some strides to make before the start of the 2020 season, but Verstappen is confident the Honda-powered engine will allow them to close the gap on Mercedes again next campaign.

“Throughout the season, they really improved a lot. I think we are close to Mercedes and we are still closing the gap to Ferrari,” said Verstappen.

“I think next year is a good basis to start from what we have now. We’ll find out at the beginning of the season how others have improved. I’m feeling confident.”

In the season-ending Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, Verstappen has finished 4th, 5th and 3rd respectively during his time at Red Bull, while making his way to the front row of the grid on Saturday represents his best qualifying return in the UAE capital.

This success comes as no surprise, such is the power of the RB13 and the confidence of the man behind the wheel.

“Driving into the night is special thing to have. It’s the end of the season. Everyone is relaxed but you also want to finish on a high and have a good result,” he said.

“The corners are quite slow here in Abu Dhabi, so you have to be precise with hitting the apex. If you make a mistake on one corner, you will miss the other one. It’s good to have a different challenge around the calendar.”

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