Max Verstappen seemed taken. Almost two weeks after the celebrations in Suzuka over the second World Championship triumph in the Red Bull, the news of the death of company founder Dietrich Mateschitz also hit the 25-year-old Dutchman hard – and that was just before qualifying for the US Grand Prix. “That was bad news for everyone,” said Verstappen: “Without him I wouldn’t be sitting here now.”
It wasn’t enough for Verstappen for pole on the Circuit of the Americas in Austin, but it was for the front row from which all winners on the Circuit of the Americas have started so far. “You’re not really interested in the result,” said Verstappen. Rather, he considered himself lucky to have spent time with Mateschitz a few weeks ago, who died on Saturday at the age of 78.
Verstappen benefits from a penalty against Charles Leclerc in Texas. The Monegasque finished second behind teammate Carlos Sainz in qualifying. But because a new combustion engine and a new turbocharger had to be installed in his Ferrari, he was moved ten places down. “I’m not going to take any crazy risks, but if there’s an opportunity I’ll be there,” Leclerc announced.
The fact that Sergio Perez finished fourth in the second Red Bull, but was penalized by five positions, makes the fight for the possible title decision in the constructors’ championship particularly exciting. Among other things, a victory for Verstappen would have ended the Mercedes era after eight World Cup triumphs and Red Bull would have been team champions for the first time since 2013. Ferrari would then have no chance of intercepting the Austrian team in the remaining three races.
“We want to make him proud tomorrow,” said Verstappen on a Saturday in Texas, which until the news of his death was mainly characterized by the dispute between Red Bull and their rivals about exceeding the cost limit last year. “A few hours ago we were still arguing about some sporting issues, and then a message like this,” said Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff, who in turn reacted with ridicule after a settlement by Red Bulls team boss Christian Horner.
All of that, as well as the rankings, faded into the background for the time being. After his twelfth place in the Aston Martin, Sebastian Vettel rushed to Red Bull’s motorsport consultant Helmut Marko. They know each other well from Vettel’s Red Bull days. “I’m still a bit shocked,” said Vettel, who once made Red Bull a serial winner when he became world champion with the team in 2010, 2011, 2012 and 2013.
Compatriot Mick Schumacher, meanwhile, had to struggle with himself and the car. The 23-year-old retired after a spin right at the beginning on his fast lap in the first period, and was only 19th out of 20 drivers. “That’s a pity. You want to get through the first curve safely,” he said on the Sky broadcaster. “Very frustrating.” Especially since he’s under a lot of pressure. The team bosses have made it clear that he has to score points in the end of the season for a new contract after this season.