The Red Bull driver had to wait in the bowels of the paddock for much of the weekend, and had to watch Lewis Hamilton move from top of the table to the brink of winning pole position. When the Red Bull driver came out of his first qualifying stint, ahead of Sebastian Vettel, they had just 20 minutes remaining in their final attempt to complete an all-Red Bull front row. A cursory glance at the standings showed Red Bull sitting fifth on the points table and four points behind Ferrari. This was, surely, a dead rubber.
As soon as Verstappen and Vettel had climbed out of their cars on top of the grid, there was a touch of deja vu. Hamilton had defeated Verstappen in the Brazilian grand prix a month ago. Unlike in the Valtteri Bottas v Lewis Hamilton showdown that followed, Hamilton never truly faced an obstacle as he cruised to victory at the Nürburgring, a feat that gave him top spot in the championship for the first time in more than two years.
The Red Bull driver took Vettel for a ride, completely caught him in the first turn, moved the German backwards by 20 metres with his own car to create an opening in the braking zone. Vettel under-steered into the turn, dumped a wall on the tarmac, spun backwards into the barrier and ended up crashing through the second line of barriers. He was unable to out-run Verstappen in the race and has since gone six races without a win. But Vettel has not been at his best. Having fought back to the front at last month’s Spanish grand prix, Vettel has hit a few trouble spots in the last fortnight.
Lewis Hamilton steals pole from Max Verstappen in German GP qualifying Read more
Verstappen has not been any worse, only his share of them. Starting from 11th on the grid, the driver seemed generally confident in his race on Saturday. Then on the short run around the 1.5-mile Nürburgring, he put down a quick lap that showed a gap to his Red Bull team-mate, taking 0.765sec off his best at the time. He called it his best lap of the weekend.
When he came out for his final run at the end of the second interval, it appeared Verstappen may not have another chance. Vettel had just one more lap to negotiate his way around the circuit. The score remained 0.21sec down after the race. He must have felt he would need to do the work himself. Verstappen, on the other hand, was rather different. He looked confident and relaxed as he took his penultimate lap, with Vettel ahead of him. Hamilton had departed with plenty of time to spare.
He then pulled up to do an interview in the 0.95-mile pitlane, where journalists were able to interview him, amongst other teams, while he waited for Vettel. The German responded to the open mic that Verstappen had thrown to him with a slight wave of the hand.
The tension was clear, until Verstappen first arrived at the pitstop and, as it turned out, he had enough time to put his car on to the front row. At least this time the car was finished.