Max Verstappen has been widely criticised for shoving Esteban Ocon following on-track clash. Picture: REUTERS
Max Verstappen has been widely criticised for shoving Esteban Ocon following on-track clash. Picture: REUTERS

Red Bull's Max Verstappen is a Formula One champion-in-waiting but he showed in Sunday's Brazilian Grand Prix that he still has much to learn, according to Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff.

The 21-year-old Dutch driver and Force India's Esteban Ocon, 22, provided the main talking point after the youngsters clashed on and off the track at Interlagos.

Verstappen pushed and shoved the Force India backmarker at the scales, the images broadcast around the world, after a collision that robbed him of a second successive victory.

"On Max, you can see there is a future champion coming together," Wolff told reporters. "Unbelievable talent and speed and I think once the raw edges are off he will be somebody that will be a world champion one day. In a few years he will look at the footage of today and will maybe have his own opinion whether that was the right behaviour or not. But you can’t accelerate these things, this is a learning process."

Already this season Verstappen has had to fend off questions about why he has had so many accidents, while Ocon's record is hardly blemish-free either after well-chronicled clashes with Force India team mate Sergio Perez.

Sunday's incident drew a range of opinion, with some feeling Verstappen went too far by laying hands on a rival while others saw the Dutchman as justifiably angry at paying the price for another driver's mistake.

Ocon, backed by champions Mercedes who see him as a talent for the future, was widely criticised for a risky move in trying to pass the leading car when already lapped. He was handed a 10-second stop/go penalty at the time.

Verstappen, subsequently ordered to do two days of public service as punishment for the pushing, could equally have given the Frenchman a wider berth and kept his eyes firmly on the bigger prize of victory.

Lewis Hamilton, delighted to be gifted the lead and ultimately the win for Mercedes while Verstappen finished second and was named driver of the day, reminded him of that as they were waiting to go on the podium.

"He is allowed to unlap himself ... you had more to lose than he did. He had nothing to lose," the five-times world champion, who had already wrapped up this year's title, pointed out.

Damon Hill, the 1996 world champion and Sky Sports pundit, felt neither was blameless.

"Clearly Ocon should not have got himself in a tangle situation with the race leader," he told motorsport.com.

"But Max diced with him, instead of going, ‘What is this guy playing at? He's going to be difficult,' and waiting for a slightly less risky opportunity. I don't want to be critical of Max. It won't make a difference anyway, because he will continue to take risks and drive the way he drives, but he will learn.”

On a scale of fisticuffs, Sunday's incident ranked among the milder ones.

There was rather more drama in 1993 when Brazil's late triple champion Ayrton Senna famously struck out at rookie Eddie Irvine at Suzuka after the Northern Irishman had the temerity to pass him after being lapped.

Another Brazilian, Nelson Piquet, also a triple champion, kicked out and punched Chilean Eliseo Salazar on the helmet after they stepped out of their cars following a 1982 German Grand Prix collision.

In 1998, Michael Schumacher, then still five titles short of his record seven, angrily confronted McLaren's David Coulthard after having a wheel ripped off his Ferrari in a smash between the two.


Fernando Alonso still chases triple crown

Alonso will have another crack at the Indy 500 next year. Picture: REUTERS
Alonso will have another crack at the Indy 500 next year. Picture: REUTERS

McLaren and two-times Formula One world champion Fernando Alonso will enter 2019's Indianapolis 500, the team announced on Saturday.

It will be the second time the Spaniard has taken part in the race, which he led in 2017 before retiring with an engine problem.

The 37-year-old, who is also competing for Toyota in the World Endurance Championship, is leaving Formula One at the end of this season. Alonso is a double Monaco Grand Prix winner and also won the Le Mans 24 Hours in 2018, leaving only Indianapolis between him and becoming only the second driver to achieve the “Triple Crown of Motorsport”.

Late Briton Graham Hill, also a two-times Formula One champion and who died in 1975, is the only one to have done it, completing the triple in 1972.

Alonso missed the Monaco Grand Prix in 2017 to compete at Indianapolis — no great loss for him given McLaren's then woes with an uncompetitive Formula One car and unreliable Honda engine.

Former F1 champions McLaren are three-times Indy 500 winners — in 1972 providing a car for Mark Donohue as a private entry and in 1974 and 1976 as a works entry with Johnny Rutherford.

Reuters