Why Verstappen is this year’s next best driver

Max Verstappen showed his worth during the first half of the 2019 Formula 1 season and ended it with two victories and finishing third in the championship. Though the second half will be commencing at the end of August 2019, Verstappen proved that he is undoubtedly the next best driver on the grid after Lewis Hamilton.

The young Dutch driver had a strong start to the year, but at some point it seemed as if it was all going backward for him and his Red Bull Racing team. Being the crafty racer he is, Verstappen pulled it all together to leapfrog both Ferrari drivers in the championship standings.

Just how did Max’s season progress?

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Missing the podium

Verstappen got his season off to a very good start, finishing the opening race in Australia in third place behind the Mercedes-AMG duo of Valtteri Bottas and Hamilton. It would be another four races until the Spanish GP where he would again finish behind the dominating Mercedes duo, followed by a string of races where he failed to make it to the podium.

For a racing driver like Verstappen it could not be the easiest thing to miss out on a podium, but like all drivers, you persevere. His championship hopes were at all not helped by incidents involving the Ferrari duo of Sebastian Vettel and Charles Leclerc, yet he managed to keep his competitive nature and a sound head on his shoulders. In the hunt for this year’s championship Verstappen currently lies third on 181 points, just seven behind Bottas on 188. Hamilton, on the other hand, sits comfortably on 250 points – almost three race victories ahead of the Dutchman (25 points for a race win).

In Austria, Red Bull’s home race, Verstappen secured his and Red Bull’s first win of the season. He followed that up with another victory in Germany just two races later; making it two victories in three consecutive outings. He would have won the twelfth race of the season in Hungary and headed into the four-week summer break on the back of really strong performances, but the racecraft of five-time world champion, Hamilton, put a halt to proceedings.

Still, to be the driver who’s splitting the Mercedes duo from the Ferrari duo is a mighty fine feat in itself.

Almost left Red Bull

What many might not know is that when Verstappen signed to join the Red Bull team on a full-time basis back in 2016, his contract was said to be of the tightest ever drawn-up and that the conditions for a release were as hard to come by as chicken teeth.

That contract will run its course until the end of the 2020 season and will Verstappen then be allowed to find a new team from 2021 onwards. If not Red Bull, he is very likely to consider either Ferrari or Mercedes-AMG. But it came to light that, reportedly, one of the clauses in Verstappen’s contract is that 1) if the team fails to give him a car that can win at least one race, or 2) he fails to be in the top three in the overall standings come the 2019 summer break, he is then allowed to talk to other teams about joining them for 2020.

Fortunately for Red Bull Racing, they came good on both clauses and will Verstappen see out his contract with the Energy drinks company.

Read: Hamilton breaks Bottas and co. in 2019

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Another thing that could play a part in Verstappen’s decision to stay with Red Bull beyond 2020 is Honda. The Japanese automaker is supplying Red Bull Racing and sister team Toro Rosso with engines this year after four terrible years with McLaren. Following no success with the British team and a mutual agreement to part ways, Honda got their first podium (Australia 2019) and their first race win since, albeit as an engine supplier, since 2006.

But Honda made it clear that their future in F1 is unclear beyond 2020 and do they not know whether or not they’ll stay on when the new rules and regulations kick in in 2021. Honda’s failure to stay with Red Bull after 2020 could also force Verstappen’s hand at leaving the team at the end of next season.

The 2019 F1 season resumes at the end of August for the Belgian GP (30 Aug – 1 Sep).