LONDON • Red Bull's Max Verstappen is a Formula One champion-in-waiting but he showed in Sunday's Brazilian Grand Prix that he still has much to learn, according to Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff.
The 21-year-old Dutch driver and Force India's Esteban Ocon, 22, provided the main talking point after the youngsters clashed on and off the track at Interlagos.
Verstappen pushed and shoved the Force India backmarker at the scales after a collision at Turn 1 in the 44th lap robbed him of a second successive victory. Video footage of the confrontation was broadcast around the world.
"On Max, you can see there is a future champion coming together," Wolff told reporters.
"Unbelievable talent and speed and I think once the raw edges are off, he is somebody that will be a world champion one day.
"In a few years, he will look at the footage of today and will maybe have his own opinion whether that was the right behaviour or not. But you can't accelerate these things, this is a learning process."
Similarly, some felt Verstappen, who finished second behind Mercedes' Lewis Hamilton, went too far while others saw the Dutchman as justifiably angry at paying the price for another driver's mistake.
Ocon, who is expected to be in a Mercedes from 2020, was chided for a risky move in trying to pass the leader when already lapped.
But many also conceded that Verstappen, subsequently ordered to do two days of public service as punishment for the pushing, could equally have given the Frenchman a wider berth at the turn.
Formula One's official race director Charlie Whiting later explained why Ocon was punished. He said the Frenchman was "absolutely" allowed to un-lap himself, but pointed out that it was the manner in which he attempted to do so that was wrong.
He pointed out that Ocon, on fresher tyres, could have waited until Turn 4, where Verstappen would have been more vulnerable to him.
"If he's got the pace then, normally, one would expect Red Bull to say, 'Ocon has got the pace, let him through' or that sort of thing... It seemed he just went for it. It was just a bit unfortunate that he decided to fight for it, which was wholly unacceptable," he said.
Damon Hill, the 1996 world champion and Sky Sports pundit, felt neither was blameless: "Ocon should not have got himself in a tangle situation with the race leader.
"But Max diced with him... I don't want to be critical of Max. It won't make a difference anyway because he will continue to take risks, but he will learn."
REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE