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F1: the fat lady is warming up as Verstappen matures into the driver he always should have been.

Bryan Edwards

Max Verstappen is a polarising character. He arrived in Formula One with more talent than his emotional state could handle. He is the poster-boy for why there should be a minimum age limit for putting a weapon like an F1 car into someone's hands. The driver that he has become is unrecognisable as that moody and sometimes dangerous brat. He deserved his 2021 title and now, far from the end of the season, bar a major incident, he's this year's champion, too. And no matter what his detractors say, it's entirely on merit.

True, his merit has been amplified by the failures in other teams. Mercedes still can't get to grips with their car and Ferrari are the Keystone Kops of F1: if there is a way to fail, they'll find it. True, his success is in part to the decision, several years ago, to switch Red Bull to Honda engines. True, the ability of Red Bull's car designers to put together design package that one might imagine can have arisen only by the use of black magic has left other teams scratching their heads.

Perez is driving the same car and he's doing pretty well compared to drivers in other teams so we know that the car is good. But Perez isn't snapping at Verstappen's heels in the way that Sainz is for LeClerc over at Ferrari, the other car that should be in close contention for the championship.

The difference is the "Max Factor."

We've seen it several times this year but his performance in the 2002 Belgian Grand Prix at Spa-Francorchamps was a demonstration of driving of the highest standard. To put it into perspective, it was a race of many overtaking manoeuvres, many of them spectacular. Spa is wide. It's corners are flowing. It was common to see three - and sometimes four - cars racing into a corner - and around it.

Yes, Verstaapen's car was fastest so he was always going to pass most cars easily but in a straight line, the Red Bull had competition from Williams. Yet, he was the only driver to pass a Williams with ease. His car positioning was inch-perfect. His throttle control was masterly. His car balance was the stuff of myth.

And yet he didn't bully anyone. The Max of old simply didn't turn up. There was no Schumacher Snr style intimidation. He just arrived, ready to make a move, and overtook.

It wasn't his most spectacular result: that was when he started last and won. In Spa he started 14th and won so slower cars were already behind him. The benefit of his P14 start was amply demonstrated by Norris' result : starting behind Verstappen, he was mired in the mid-field muddle.

So it's not even the fact that he won in Spa that makes that race such an impressive race. It's simply that he drove so well.

It's been a long time coming but it's welcome and it bodes well for the future of racing - as soon as other teams sort out their problems.

The Fat Lady is already warming up and it would be a brave man who bet against Verstappen winning a second, consecutive title, barring a catastrophe. F1 is back after a couple of years where action on the track was compromised by things off the track and Max Verstappen is pulling it up by its boot laces.

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