AUSTIN, Texas — Max Verstappen thinks he is currently producing the best form of his Formula One career and believes a comparison to teammate Daniel Ricciardo vindicates that opinion.
After a difficult start to the season punctuated by several high-profile mistakes, Verstappen has been one of the strongest performers on the grid. After squandering the chance to win the Chinese Grand Prix with several clumsy overtaking attempts he reached the lowest moment of his season at the Monaco Grand Prix in May — his crash in final practice forced him to miss qualifying, where Daniel Ricciardo took a pole position which he would convert into victory the following day.
But Monaco was a turning point in both driver’s seasons. Since then, Verstappen has not been out-qualified by his Australian teammate or beaten by him in a race where both made the chequered flag. His run has included six visits to the podium, including as winner of the Austrian Grand Prix, while he has not finished lower than fifth position. Ricciardo has not been back to the podium since Monte Carlo.
The 21-year-old says he is operating at the best of his ability currently and has warned rivals there is plenty more to come.
“Yeah, definitely,” Verstappen told ESPN when whether he was performing at his best currently. “I think anyway so far every year I’ve become stronger.
“I missed out on those two victories at the start of the season and basically gifted them to Daniel. But that’s the way it goes. I of course didn’t enjoy the initial part of the season but I think it made me a better driver, learning from those moments. From then onwards the experience you get makes you a better driver and it should keep on like that.”
Verstappen thinks a key to his current Sunday form has actually been unlocking his best performances on Saturday in qualifying, where he initially struggled to match Ricciardo when they were first paired together in May 2016.
Asked if he felt he had got the better of Ricciardo during their time together, he said: “I would say 2016 initially not, because I was new in the team and especially in qualifying… In Formula One, in general, when you are behind in qualifying then that’s it, you can’t really do much unless you have a really good start and you already in front. I didn’t expect that year to just come in and be stronger than him. It’s a slow process.
“I managed to turn it around in qualifying from 2017 onwards but then I had a massive amount of bad luck where the engine kept breaking down, or failing, so because of that Daniel would end up on the podium and stuff like that — so it was a bit of an unfair season review. But when you looked at qualifying again it was heading in the right direction.
“This year, qualifying was very strong. In the beginning of the season I made some mistakes and stuff and it didn’t really work out. But from then onwards I was definitely stronger compared to 2017. So it’s like the good things from those two years are coming together properly now finally.”
Verstappen and Ricciardo will race as teammates just four more times this season. Ricciardo is moving to Renault for 2019, with Toro Rosso driver Pierre Gasly moving up to replace him.