Ex-Formula 1 driver Mark Webber says the sport should work to embrace Max Verstappen, describing the newly-crowned world champion as “phenomenal”.
Verstappen took his maiden F1 title earlier this month in Abu Dhabi, besting Lewis Hamilton in dramatic fashion on the final lap of the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.
The Dutchman 24-year-old has tallied 20 race wins so far in his career, half of which came during the 2021 season.
Verstappen has impressed many since his debut season in 2015, when he entered F1 at just 17 years of age.
Speaking to Channel 4, Webber said: “The maturity he’s showed for his age when he came into the sport, he has biblical levels of confidence and feel, at the highest level. These cars are not easy to get on top of early.
“Through karting and F3, Red Bull took the risk, and he is right up there in terms of what Red Bull stands for to compete and race hard.
“Verstappen has captivated a nation. Look at the Dutch Grand Prix this year. That was phenomenal for the sport, a new benchmark for that.
“These [drivers] come along once every 10 years. Verstappen is absolutely phenomenal, and the sport should be embracing him.”
Verstappen endured a highly intense 2021 season as he clashed with title rival Hamilton on several occasions.
However, Webber says that Verstappen can take pride in knowing he came out on top against a “hungry” and “fit” Hamilton.
“He was watching Formula 1 for a long time, he saw Lewis dominating the sport and was like ‘I want a piece of that’,” Webber said.
“He’s not overwhelmed by individuals, he doesn’t play people on their reputations, he doesn’t drive on their reputations.
“He just sees it as ‘this is my turf, I’m a racing driver and I’m going to make my presence felt’, which he does extraordinarily well.
“So I think for him to know he went against Lewis, there was no real attrition – yes he had the puncture in Baku, the shunt in Silverstone which was Lewis’ fault, Max was a bit out of order in Saudi I felt.
“So they’ve had their trials and tribulations but ultimately he knows he’s beaten a hungry Hamilton, a fit Hamilton.”