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P3 on grid in Malaysia a ‘good birthday present’ for Max Verstappen

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Max Verstappen has called third place on the grid for the Malaysian Grand Prix a “pretty good birthday present” after turning 20 on Saturday in Sepang.

Verstappen made his F1 debut at the tender age of 17 and became the sport’s youngest ever winner at 18, but can no longer be called a “teen sensation”.

Nevertheless, Verstappen once again displayed his undeniable talent by taking third on the grid in Malaysia despite Red Bull’s fears it would lag behind both Mercedes and Ferrari in the dry.

Verstappen finished just half a second back from pole-sitter Lewis Hamilton, giving him encouragement for the race on Sunday.

“Third in qualifying is a pretty good birthday present today. The whole weekend I was not fully happy with the car and in the last practice session I didn’t have the perfect balance, but in qualifying we managed to pull it together and the car was pretty good,” Verstappen said.

“To be four or five tenths off pole position on this track and knowing they can turn up their engines in qualifying means we are doing a good job. I think on the long runs we are a bit more competitive so I’m definitely looking forward to tomorrow.”

Having retired from six races so far this season, Verstappen’s main aim is getting to the finish line in Singapore and picking up some much-needed points, given he currently sits level with Force India’s Sergio Perez in the constructors’ championship.

“So far on Saturdays I’ve been a happy guy and on Sundays that has changed. Let’s hope it is different tomorrow and I’m sure we can have a good race,” Verstappen said.

“I’m also hoping for no sandwiches!”

Red Bull teammate Daniel Ricciardo will start fourth, having slipped half a tenth of a second back from Verstappen in Q3.

“I did all I could today and I think we both got the most out of the car,” Ricciardo said. “We’re half a second from Lewis around here so I think we can be pretty happy with that. It gives us a chance in the race tomorrow even if it’s dry.

“I would have loved to be on third today, but that half a tenth was actually Max’s birthday gift from me and I wanted to start on fourth really, because that’s where I started last year and I won.

“This is obviously all planned in my mind. I did a bit of a lift of the throttle just before the finish line, so yeah, it’s of course all calculated…”

F1 2017 driver review: Kevin Magnussen

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Kevin Magnussen

Team: Haas
Car No.: 20
Races: 20
Wins: 0
Podiums: 0
Best Finish: P7 (Azerbaijan)
Pole Positions: 0
Fastest Laps: 0
Points: 19
Championship Position: 14th

Kevin Magnussen’s move to Haas proved to be a win-win situation for both parties through 2017 as they banished the struggles of the previous Formula 1 season.

For Magnussen, the move came after a difficult one-season stint with Renault who despite offering him a way back into F1 after a year on the sidelines were unable to produce a car allowing the Dane to fight far up the order.

Haas had not expected to be able to be that much further ahead, but Magnussen nevertheless immediately offered an uplift in performance after replacing Esteban Gutierrez, who failed to score a single point through 2016.

Magnussen picked up Haas’ first points of the season with a solid drive in China, and was able to capitalize on the bonkers Baku race to take P7, which would ultimately be his best result of the season.

Consistency was a real issue for Haas throughout the year as it continued to have teething problems most new teams encounter, and while Magnussen was more able to drive around the problems than teammate Romain Grosjean, he lacked the ultimate pace of his teammate.

That said, Magnussen’s season highlight came in Mexico, a track Haas expected to be its worst of the season. The ex-McLaren driver qualified on the last row but produced a stunning display to finish eighth, soaking up pressure from Fernando Alonso and Lewis Hamilton late on.

The signs are positive moving forward. Next year should be Haas’ best yet thanks to the stability in the regulations, presenting a good opportunity for Magnussen to prove his star quality.

Season High: Taking P8 in Mexico when Haas expected to be slowest.

Season Low: Lagging home P15 at Spa as Grosjean hit the points.