Red Bull Racing boss Christian Horner has lavished praise on Max Verstappen for the way he has risen above criticism about his on-track conduct during a headline-grabbing 2016 season, saying he has successfully 'upset the establishment'.
Having become the youngest driver to start an F1 race at just 17 years-old in 2015, Verstappen's career surged on the back of his move from Toro Rosso to Red Bull Racing five rounds into the 2016 season, his stunning win in the Spanish Grand Prix followed by another six trips to the podium.
Despite this, Verstappen has at times faced criticism from rivals for his driving tactics, in particular a tendency to change line under braking, prompting the FIA to introduce new measures outlawing such a move.
QUIZ: The 2016 season is over… but how much about it can you remember?
With Mercedes also rallying against him when he almost made contact with title contender Nico Rosberg at the start of the Mexican Grand Prix, Horner has put his full backing behind the Dutchman and praised the way he has maintained his focused on matters behind the wheel rather than off the track.
“I don't really understand what they are moaning about,” he said. “He is doing a great job and driving the wheels off the car and he is racing hard. When sometimes a new guy comes along and upsets the establishment a bit then they do get a bit of criticism. He is not rising to that. He is keeping his head down and enjoying his racing.
“Anything that de-stabilises an established pecking order is always not well received. I don't think he has done anything wrong. He has raced hard, he is exciting and giving it everything every time he is in the car, and he loves what he is doing. He is passionate about it.”
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Asked where he thinks Verstappen can continue improving his skills, Horner says he is confident there is still more to come from the youngster but that his standout performances in 2016 show a level of extraordinary maturity already.
“He has done an enormously impressive job. To have jumped in the car and won his first grand prix and then go on to finish on the numerous podiums that he has achieved.
“He has had stand out drives, not only Barcelona, he was very strong in Montreal, he drove brilliantly in the wet in Silverstone, he was very strong in Austria, he drove a great grand prix in Japan, very strong in Mexico, Brazil was an absolutely outstanding drive. And he produced another great drive in Abu Dhabi. He has marked himself out as a man of the future.
“Any sportsman can always improve in all areas. He is gaining experience all the time. As he gains that experience it just holds in better stead for the coming years. Of course there are always areas that you can improve. It is working on those marginal returns.”
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