Formula 1: Another Max Verstappen boycott looming?

Max Verstappen, Red Bull, Formula 1 (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
Max Verstappen, Red Bull, Formula 1 (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images) /

Continued disrespect from Sky Sports led Max Verstappen to boycott the network for a short time during the 2022 Formula 1 season. Don’t be surprised if the same thing happens in 2023.

Due to “constant disrespect” from one particular individual, Red Bull’s Max Verstappen opted to boycott Sky Sports for a short time during the 2022 Formula 1 season.

The boycott came largely due to the continued underhanded remarks about Verstappen’s title-winning last-lap pass in the 2021 season finale in Abu Dhabi.

While the ending of the 2021 season was unconventional to say the least, the decisions made by the FIA were what resulted in the last lap shootout which saw Verstappen win his maiden title. At no point did Verstappen nor Red Bull violate any rules.

So the nonstop obsession over trying to downplay and discredit Verstappen’s season-long achievement understandably got quite old for the Dutchman. Figuring he owed the network absolutely nothing, he decided to stop talking to them for a bit.

Could we see Max Verstappen take a similar approach later in the 2023 Formula 1 season?

While the talks over the 2021 season finale have largely cooled down within the Sky Sports team, with David Croft even putting another reporter in his place when he tried to stir something up in Melbourne, Verstappen’s record-tying nine-race winning streak has presented the network with a bit of a conundrum.

After teammate Sergio Perez won in Baku to match Verstappen’s win total through four races, he was viewed by some as a legitimate championship contender. Following his pole position in Miami, he was actually the betting favorite to become the world championship leader for the first time in his career.

Since that moment, Verstappen has reeled off nine straight top two finishes, none of which of the second place variety.

Tire conservation ultimately allowed Verstappen to be quick when he needed to be quick to overcome a ninth place grid position and beat his teammate in Miami.

As a result, there was nonstop talk about Red Bull putting Verstappen on a superior tire strategy to screw Perez. The reality of the situation is that Verstappen was the one who opted for an alternate strategy, given the fact that he was starting so deep in the field. He even managed to make up several seconds on Perez while on older tires, so the difference in pace was clear.

So after Verstappen’s race-winning pass, it was unsurprising to hear the remark that “we need less tire saving” from the Sky Sports booth.

When Lewis Hamilton does it, he’s the best driver on the planet. When Perez does it, he’s the “tire whisperer”. But when Verstappen does it, it’s obviously because Red Bull want him to finish ahead of his teammate and tire saving shouldn’t be a part of the sport.

They can talk all they want about Verstappen being a great driver and his historic streak being as impressive as it is. But underhanded remarks such as these and continued insinuations that Red Bull effectively won’t let Perez win make you wonder how much of that is said to placate a percentage of the audience — perhaps even Verstappen himself to prevent another boycott.

The same thing was true last weekend in Zandvoort. Verstappen started on pole, but he did not pit for alternate tires after the first lap like Perez and several others did.

With alternates being the way to go due to the wet conditions, staying out one extra lap dropped Verstappen to 11th place by the time he rejoined the track. Perez, meanwhile, found himself in the race lead, 14 seconds up the road from his teammate, despite starting in seventh.

Verstappen proceeded to close that 14-second deficit down to four seconds over just a handful of laps. When the conditions justified a switch to slick tires, he made his way into the pits a lap before Perez. By the time Perez had rejoined the track, he now found himself four seconds behind his teammate.

And Sky Sports found themselves having a field day with their favorite suggestion. Throughout the rest of the race, it was nonstop obsession over the fact that Verstappen got to pit for slick tires a lap early.

Given Verstappen’s pace at the time of the undercut, it would have made sense for any team to have their driver pit a lap early, rather than have him be unnecessarily held up in what was arguably the most unpredictable race of the year.

Plus, the changing conditions warranted the swap, and a double stack would have been a lot riskier than it seemed, given how rapidly he had closed the gap.

But conveniently ignoring the fact that the only reason Perez took the lead to begin with was because of the same exact situation, and the fact that Verstappen was clearly much quicker than his teammate regardless, it was all the broadcast team could do to avoid directly implying more Red Bull favoritism.

Also worth noting (and conveniently ignored) is the fact that Perez did the undercut on Verstappen later in the race, and it only helped him cut two seconds off Verstappen’s lead. Even that advantage was quickly nullified, as Verstappen built up his gap over the ensuing laps.

Perez later went off the track when it rained again, while Verstappen held on to win the race following a red flag. Sky Sports did not get their wish of a standing restart, though we all know why they wanted it.

The simple fact is that Verstappen is the superior driver, and it’s not even close. In modern-day social media colloquialism, he is him.

While Sky Sports are also quick to point out the strength of the RB19, the battle has really been for the second place driver, not the second place team. Zandvoort qualifying saw six different teams in the top six, and other recent sessions have produced similar results. Perez has just two runner-up finishes during Verstappen’s nine-race winning streak.

Decisions from the pit wall aren’t the driving force behind Verstappen’s success. Yet for some reason, Sky Sports struggle to wrap their head around that when it doesn’t fit the narrative.

They had no problem accepting it when Hamilton was dominating at Mercedes for all those years, and Verstappen has been even more dominant at Red Bull. He has 12 wins in the last 14 races, which is more than Hamilton, the sport’s all-time winningest driver, ever posted over an entire season.

It’s part of the sport, and it always has been.

All-time Formula 1 wins list. dark. Next

All things considered, Verstappen probably isn’t going to boycott Sky Sports again. He made his point last year, and that boycott was largely due to the comments of a single individual as opposed to the collective bias of the network which he has grown quite used to on a regular basis. That said, don’t be surprised if that too gets old and he decides to make another point.