Formula One is braced for the next episode of the Max Verstappen show as Red Bull’s teen sensation heads for Ferrari’s home circuit only days after making the Italian team’s drivers see red.
While triple world champion Lewis Hamilton is aiming for his 50th grand prix win on Sunday, to become the first since Argentine Juan Manuel Fangio in the 1950s to win three years in a row at Monza, Verstappen will be the talk of the town.
“I told him not to tell anyone where he is staying in Monza because there might be a few angry fans,” team boss Christian Horner joked after a controversial Belgian Grand Prix last weekend.
The 18-year-old tangled with Kimi Raikkonen and Sebastian Vettel at the start before aggressively defending against the former later in the race and then refusing to accept any criticism.
“I think they should be ashamed to cause a crash like that with their amount of experience and then complain about me,” the unrepentant Dutchman said.
“Vettel can come and talk to me (at Monza), but I think he first has to realise what he did in turn one.”
Raikkonen, the 2007 world champion for Ferrari, warned afterwards that Verstappen’s late block that forced the Finn to brake on the straight at Spa could have triggered a big accident.
Monza is even faster, with the turbo hybrid cars hitting 360 km per hour on the straight, and Sunday’s race promises another battle between Ferrari and Red Bull to be best of the rest behind leaders Mercedes.
While Verstappen has thrilled fans, with the youngster busy rewriting the record books after winning in Spain and starting on the front row in Belgium, there are those who feel limits need to be set.
“He comes in here, no fear and no respect,” said Mercedes motorsport head Toto Wolff in Spa. “He puts the elbow out and it reminds me of the great ones. It reminds me of Lewis and it reminds me of Ayrton Senna.
“And you can clearly see that some guys around are starting to think twice how to overtake him... I just fear that it might end up in the wall heavily one day. For me it is refreshing but dangerous.”
Wolff will be hoping his drivers are safely out in front, with Hamilton seeking to extend his nine-point lead over Nico Rosberg in the last European race of the season.
The Briton took a hit at Spa, starting at the back after taking engine penalties, but still finished third behind his team mate and now has a plentiful supply of fresh power units to last him the rest of the campaign.
“The speed, the history, the atmosphere... it’s just so iconic in every way,” he said of the ‘Pista Magica’ outside Milan.
“Standing on that amazing podium, looking out over a sea of fans on the straight, has to be up there as of the most incredible experiences a sportsman can have,” he said.,
“I had a perfect weekend on track there last year. If I can repeat that it would be amazing... It’s game on for me now with the penalties out of the way and fresh engines ready to use. I can’t wait to get back out there.”