Formula One: Marina Bay won't tax Max

Max Verstappen at the F1 Pit Building yesterday. "We (the Red Bulls) are always pretty strong in low-speed corners but we still have to wait and see," he said.
Max Verstappen at the F1 Pit Building yesterday. "We (the Red Bulls) are always pretty strong in low-speed corners but we still have to wait and see," he said.ST PHOTO: MARK CHEONG

Red Bull's Verstappen pulls no punches in assessing his chances on the street circuit

Over 61 laps of Sunday's Formula 1 Singapore Airlines Singapore Grand Prix, the winding, 23-turn Marina Bay street circuit will no doubt claim the cars of inexperienced and foolhardy drivers - not to mention their egos.

Some of them have openly expressed their dread and disdain for the brutal driving conditions.

Not the youngest driver on the grid, though. Call it the exuberance of youth, but 18-year-old Max Verstappen absolutely loves this punishing circuit.

Speaking to the media outside the Pit Building, he expressed confidence that he can will his Red Bull race car to tame the track.

"I'm just very happy to have a competitive car," he said.

"We are definitely confident. But Mercedes and Ferrari will be strong again. We always try to do the best possible job. I'm just very happy that we have a chance to be more competitive here than in Monza (where Verstappen finished seventh)."

The Dutchman's faith in his ability stems from his first appearance in the Singapore Grand Prix last year. On a track that gives drivers precious few chances for overtaking, he executed more than enough outstripping manoeuvres to fill a video compilation.

Although he stalled on the grid at the start of the race and was lapped by the leaders, Verstappen - then driving for Toro Rosso - went for maximum attack and finished in eighth place.

He said: "On a street circuit, it's all about positioning yourself. The downforce is not that much of a problem. So you just have to position yourself well out in the corners before you make the overtake.

"We (the Red Bulls) are always pretty strong in low-speed corners but we still have to wait and see. Definitely we can do a good job here but Ferrari and Mercedes will be there as well. It will be an interesting weekend."

Still, he recognises that the Singapore Grand Prix, won only by three men in its eight-year history - Sebastian Vettel (four times), Fernando Alonso and Lewis Hamilton (twice each), is a formidable technical and physical challenge.

"It's quite a big step. The humidity is very high here. Then you have a lot of corners and you don't have a lot of resting phases through the lap so I think these three things combine to make things a lot harder," he said.

"(The sweat) doesn't really affect you, you just feel a little more sweaty while driving. It's (the Marina Bay Street Circuit) nice with the lights, it's great to drive and it's definitely one of my favourites.

"Last year I had a lot of fun. Definitely now, with a better car, maybe we can challenge for better results."

In fact, so relaxed was the driver that he was seen playing Pokemon Go in the Marina Bay area on Wednesday night.

Feeling sheepish, the teenager replied: "I gave it to my sister. She catch(es) a lot of good Pokemons."

While he is tipped to be a future world champion, Verstappen's relentless pursuit of opponents and daring moves have seen him being accused of reckless driving.

Addressing The Straits Times' question, Verstappen was calm and maintained eye contact.

He replied: "You know things have been said. I don't have to go into that.

"I'm just doing my thing. I don't think there should be any changes (to my driving style)."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 16, 2016, with the headline 'Marina Bay won't tax max'. Print Edition | Subscribe