Formula 1’s Managing Director of Motorsports Ross Brawn says it is “clear” that Max Verstappen has changed his mindset in 2021 and is playing the long game now that he is equipped with regular front-running machinery.
Red Bull has enjoyed its strongest start to a campaign in the hybrid era with Verstappen taking a victory and two runner-up positions from the opening three races.
It has left Verstappen eight points behind reigning World Champion Lewis Hamilton.
Since Verstappen joined Red Bull after four rounds of the 2016 campaign the team has not been in contention for the championship, instead chasing occasional victories, but Brawn believes this year’s situation has led to a change in approach by Verstappen.
“It’s clear that Max is approaching this championship in a different way because he finally has a title-winning car,” said Brawn, writing in his post-race column.
“His mindset has changed and he’s got an eye on the whole championship.
“It had to change because when you’re a title contender, the focus has to be on consolidating when you’re not the fastest and when opportunities such as a mechanical issue for a rival or a Safety Car present themselves, you must be in a position to strike.
“If Lewis had had an issue or Mercedes made a mistake in Portugal, Max was in a position to react, so while it was frustrating for him [finishing second], he can see Red Bull are responding and he accepts that there will be an ebb and flow to this championship.”
Brawn nonetheless praised race victor Hamilton for his performance in Portugal, having at one stage dropped to third, behind Verstappen and team-mate Valtteri Bottas.
“Lewis was his usual imperial self in Portugal, pulling off brilliant – and ultimately crucial – overtakes on both Valtteri and Max to clinch victory,” he said.
“He really had to work for the win and it was a fine example of how the consistent challenge that is emerging from Red Bull and Max is pushing Lewis to another level.
“Lewis may have faced major opposition from his team mate over the last few years, but he’s not had to contend with a threat from outside – and so far, he is responding like a seven-time World Champion would.”