ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates (AP) The way Max Verstappen has driven recently offers encouragement of a more open Formula One title race next year.
Verstappen has been in typically daredevil form, with some overtaking moves of the highest class, and the Red Bull driver is aiming to sign off the season in style at this weekend’s Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.
F1 needs him to carry over his form into 2019, too.
Because each year since 2014, the championship contest has been between Lewis Hamilton and one other driver: his former Mercedes teammate Nico Rosberg and more recently Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel. Although two of those championships went down to the last race – Hamilton won in `14 and Rosberg in `16 – it was always a two-way contest. This year and last, Hamilton beat Vettel into second place, with everyone else lagging behind.
Given that Vettel’s title wins with Red Bull from 2011-13 were overwhelming victories, there has not been a wider contest with multiple drivers since 2010, when several fought for the title heading into the season-ending desert race under floodlights at Abu Dhabi. Vettel won that dramatic race for his first F1 title.
But Verstappen has finished this season so strongly he has surpassed Vettel and even matched Hamilton, which bodes well for 2019.
Over the past four races, Verstappen has had four podium finishes including a win in Mexico for 76 points compared with 77 for Hamilton in the same span. But the tally would have been 83-70 in Verstappen’s favor if not for a reckless attacking move by French driver Esteban Ocon in the latter stages of the Brazilian GP two weeks ago.
Although he was already lapped and had no points to fight for, Ocon stubbornly refused to let race leader Verstappen past him and they tangled on the track , sending Verstappen spinning back to second and pushing Hamilton to first. It led to a heated incident after the race, where an irate Verstappen squared up to a grinning Ocon and shoved him three times in the chest before pointing an angry finger at him as he eventually walked away.
Verstappen’s actions drew criticism from some observers, but they also highlighted the 21-year-old Dutchman’s fiery will to win. Despite his young age he already has five GP wins to his name, including two this season.
Hamilton’s Mercedes teammate, Valtteri Bottas, has not won a race this season despite having a quicker and considerably more consistent car.
It fuels the view that Verstappen, in a Ferrari or a Mercedes, would already be a serious title contender now.
He is fifth in the standings, but could overtake Bottas and move up a spot at this weekend’s Abu Dhabi GP. Verstappen is also more than 60 points clear of his Red Bull teammate Daniel Ricciardo, the senior driver, although the margin is blurred by the fact both have been undone at times this season by engine problems.
Verstappen has failed to finish four races while Ricciardo’s wretched luck has seen him retire from eight races. Yet both have managed to win two races each despite the car’s inconsistent nature.
By contrast, Hamilton has finished every race except for Austria in July, and Bottas has finished all but two, underlining the more reliable Mercedes.
The complex engine problems ultimately forced Red Bull to split with Renault as its partner and choose Honda from 2019. Yet there is no little irony in that switch now, considering how strong Verstappen has been in recent races when his engine has held up.
It is a risky move for Red Bull to partner with Honda, considering the complications of the McLaren-Honda partnership in recent years.
But Red Bull is optimistic Honda has sorted its problems out and will provide a more powerful engine than Renault.
If so, Verstappen could well be pushing Hamilton and Vettel hard for the 2019 title.
This formula rewards riders who compete at the front of the pack at the end of the Mains, in their heats, or in last week’s case, the three motos that make up the Triple Crown. Roczen has improved his overall performance each week with a fifth in Anaheim 1, a fourth in San Diego and his first podium of 2023 in Anaheim 2. Can he keep the trend alive with a first- or second-place finish in Houston?
A fall is all it takes sometimes. Last week, Eli Tomac tumbled hard when he pushed wide on the exit of a turn and jumped on top of a Tuff Blox. He remounted after that incident in Race 3 of the Triple Crown, but could only manage a 13th-place result in the moto. It could have been much worse and resulted in an injury, but coupled with a sixth in the overall standings at Anaheim 2, it pushed him down a spot in the SuperMotocross Ranking.
Along with Roczen (and Chase Sexton), Cooper Webb swept the top five in Supercross’ first three rounds. He is knocking on the door of a win and it won’t take long for him to ascend to the top of the box. Webb has two victories in Houston and each of them came during a championship season.
If there is a more determined rider than Jason Anderson, get out of his way. His path to the front of the pack is not always lined with primroses since he often has to pass multiple riders with whom he has had a run-in during his path, but the SuperMotocross Power Rankings are concerned only with raw results – not intention – and Anaheim 2 was Anderson’s best race of the season. He earned his first top-five and first podium with a second-place finish that was aided by a moto win.
Dylan Ferrandis has also been a model of consistency. Last week his Triple Crown effort of 4-6-5 gave him an overall finish of fifth. That came on the heels of a fourth-place result in the season opener and a sixth in San Diego. With no result worse than sixth this season, the numbers add up quite well.
Sexton’s position just outside the top five this week is entirely attributable to his last-place result in the San Diego heat. The SuperMotocross Rankings looks at the past 45 days, so that will affect him for a while, but if he continues to ride like he did in Anaheim 2, he’s going to climb quickly despite that albatross around his neck.
The 250 West riders get a couple of weeks off before heading to Oakland for the rescheduled Round 2 and several of them need the rest. Tough weeks for Cameron McAdoo and RJ Hampshire forced them to lose ground in the SuperMotocross points to Jett Lawrence at a time that could prove to play mental games.
Lawrence also had his share of issues at Anaheim 2, but overcame early falls in the first two motos and finished no worse than sixth. Considering that he dropped to the tail of the field in Race 2, that was a remarkable accomplishment and he entered the final race with a shot at the overall win. He narrowly missed that mark, but still has not finished worse than second in three rounds. His lead in the SuperMotocross Power Rankings is safe.
McAdoo said it best in an Instagram post this week: “Woke up feeling grateful that I’m relatively healthy after my big mistake during qualifying yesterday. We made the decision that it would be safe for me to race so I did everything I possibly could to get through the night ending up [sixth overall]. We will work on getting healed up in these few weeks off to come back strong for Oakland!”
With results of 8-7-5 in the Triple Crown and his combined sixth-place result, McAdoo lost significant ground to Lawrence in both the points’ standings and our Power formula. The Oakland race is going to be critical if he wants to stay in the championship hunt because the series will have a long break before returning in Seattle for Round 11. No one wants to sit with negative feelings for that long.
Mitchell Oldenburg has quietly amassed some impressive numbers. His name has not been called a lot during broadcasts, but he has not finished worse than seventh in any of the first three rounds. Themes develop during a season and weekend – and for the moment, this one revolves around reliability. Oldenburg finished 5-4-6 in Anaheim 2 which means he has consistently amassed SuperMotocross Power Rankings points.
Stilez Robertson won his first race of the season in Moto 2 of the Triple Crown. Coupled with a third-place finish in the final race, he leapfrogged Hampshire and Enzo Lopes, both of whom had disappointing outings. He stands fifth in the points’ standing mostly due to a ninth-place finish in the season opener, but each race has been progressively better and that is a good sign.
Sometimes, all it takes is a taste of success. Prior to Anaheim 2, Levi Kitchen’s best Supercross finish was a seventh earned in this year’s season opener. He scored a ninth at Minneapolis last year, but that was not enough to put him on the radar. This early in the season, one strong run can sway the SuperMotocross Power Ranking significantly, but Robertson has earned his way into the top five. More importantly, he’s going to be the object of interest when the West series returns to Oakland.
Next week the 250 East riders mount up in Houston, Texas before they head to Tampa, Florida. The Power Rankings will combine the two divisions, so the riders below are likely to shift dramatically.
Jett Lawrence – W
[2 Main; 2 Heat wins]
Cameron McAdoo – W
[1 Heat Win]
Mitchell Oldenburg – W
Stilez Robertson – W
[1 Heat win]
Levi Kitchen – W
[1 Main win]
RJ Hampshire – W
[3 Heat wins]
Max Vohland – W
Derek Kelley – W
Enzo Lopes – W
Pierce Brown – W
Phil Nicoletti – W
Dylan Walsh – W
Cole Thompson – W
Robbie Wageman – W
Anthony Rodriguez – W
Ty Masterpool – W
Kaeden Amerine – W
Dominique Thury – W
Austin Forkner – W
Derek Drake – W
* The NBC Power Rankings assign 100 points to a Main event winner and 90 points for each Heat and Triple Crown win, (Triple Crown wins are included with heat wins below the rider’s name). The points decrement by a percentage equal to the number of riders in the field until the last place rider in each event receives five points. The Power Ranking is the average of these percentage points over the past 45 days.