OPINION: Has Max Verstappen got under Sebastian Vettel’s skin?

by Rachel Hack

Scuderia Ferrari driver Sebastian Vettel is a four-time world champion, and one of the most experienced men on the current Formula 1 grid, so would he really feel threatened by 19-year-old Red Bull Racing driver Max Verstappen?

Former F1 journalist Kevin Eason certainly thinks so, and if the German’s actions at the start of the Singapore Grand Prix are anything to go by, he has a point.

Speaking on the Sky Sports F1 Report recently, Eason pointed out that the Singapore Grand Prix was the first race in which the pair had lined up next to each other on the grid, and Vettel was clearly not comfortable with the situation.

“In Formula 1 there is one driver that Seb respects and that’s Lewis. But there’s one that he actually fears and that’s Max.

“And I don’t quite know why. Max has got right under his skin.

“As soon as Sebastian knew Max was next to him on the grid the collywobbles were going.

“I’m sure he looked across at that Red Bull car and thought ‘whatever happens today, he’s not going past me’. I think that helped trigger the whole incident.”

Such was his fear of what Verstappen might do, the Red Bull driver having looked so strong throughout the weekend; Vettel was seemingly willing to keep the Dutchman behind him whatever the cost, causing him to cast all thoughts of winning this year’s drivers world championship aside.

Sunday’s race was the perfect chance for the German to take back the lead in the driver’s standings, with the Marina Bay Street Circuit clearly a far more favourable track for Ferrari than the Mercedes AMG Petronas Formula One Team, as the results of all three practice sessions and qualifying showed.

However, instead of concentrating on the fact that all he needed to do on Sunday was beat title rival Lewis Hamilton to head up the championship, Vettel, having not got the best start off the line, chose to forcefully defend his lead from Verstappen.

The German panicked and squeezed the Dutchman left, forcing him to veer into Vettel’s team-mate Kimi Raikkonen, who also had a blinding start and found himself with nowhere to go, as both the RB13 and SF70-H closed in on him. As the cars touched, the Finn’s machine snapped back across the track and into the side of Vettel, taking all three drivers out of the race before the first lap was over.

A golden opportunity for the Maranello based squad had gone begging, and it was primarily of their own doing.

There really was no need for Vettel to be so aggressive on the very first lap of what was to be a long race, in which his main rival was on the back foot. So did the pressure of knowing this was the best chance Ferrari had of taking a strong victory ahead of Mercedes, perhaps add to the German’s fervour?

Only the German can confirm what was going through his mind at the time, but he must surely be kicking himself for making such a rookie error, when the scene looked firmly set in his favour.

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