Max Verstappen eyes championship charge in 2020

Verstappen is fourth in the 2019 championship having won two races. (Credit: Getty Images)

Approaching the 100th race of what has been a remarkable Formula One career so far, Max Verstappen is philosophical about what has gone before and what is yet to come.

Approaching the end of his fifth season, the Dutchman has seven wins to his name. It’s a respectable figure but, such is his talent, there were many who would have expected the recently-turned 22-year-old to have won his first world title by now.

After all, he became the youngest driver in F1 history at the age of 17 before going on to win his first grand prix as a Red Bull driver in 2016, aged just 18.

And while it could be argued he’s the most talented driver on the grid, he is yet to find himself in the best car during his four seasons behind the wheel for Red Bull.

So after 98 races and counting, when asked about the prospect of his 100th, Verstappen quickly quipped: "I'm going to retire!"

Joking aside, does he feel he should have achieved more?

"When I was a little kid I always thought 100 races was a lot in Formula One," said Verstappen, speaking exclusively to Yahoo Sport.

Verstappen took the checkered flag in Austria back in June. (Credit: Getty Images)

"My career obviously started very early, and we still want to achieve more and maybe end up with something like 300 races, maybe 400. Who knows?

"Right now, I'm enjoying. At the end of the day, where we are is not the end of the world. We're still driving in the top six, and it's not like we are miles off.

"We're there but just not enough to really do something, and we're still scoring podiums, so it's not like I'm not enjoying it.

"Of course, we all want to do better but instead of being negative, it's about trying to push the team forward, to find things to do better."

Without doubt, up until the summer break in August, Verstappen had been the driver of the season, extracting more from a car and its new power unit partnership with Honda than was thought possible at the start of the year.

Victories in Austria and Germany, as well as a second-place finish in Hungary, suggested it would be Red Bull and Verstappen who would emerge as chief rivals during Mercedes and Lewis Hamilton’s quest for another world title. Instead, it has been Ferrari and Charles Leclerc.

"We've not improved as much as we would have liked but then when you compare us to Mercedes, as I say, it's not like we are massively off,” insists Verstappen. “But yeah, we definitely haven't improved compared to Ferrari.

Verstappen won his first grand prix as a Red Bull driver in Spain in 2016. (Credit: Getty Images)

"We just need to keep working hard to try and improve and try to learn for next year as well, and from the engine side, we can still do a better job. Everyone knows that. It's not a secret, and we all want that.

"It's not that now I have said it, everyone in the team is shocked. Everybody has that same desire to improve.

"Of course, I didn't expect to fight for the championship this year. It's not a realistic target when you work with a new partner unless it's a proven partner over a long period of time.

"We have been very much in a building phase together to try and maximise the potential. We have seen glimpses of it so now it's about trying to put it all together for next year."

Although Verstappen is yet to become a world champion, he enjoys cult status among F1 fans - especially those from his homeland.

The massed banks of fans decked in orange at every grand prix are a testimony to his popularity and it’s something Verstappen is appreciative of, even if it does come with complications.

"You have to accept it. It's there," said Verstappen. "Of course, I would like to be more undercover, especially when I'm in Holland, when I'm with my little brother and sister. But it's not possible any more.

"That's a shame. I'm not saying the fans are annoying. They mean well, and they just want a picture. But sometimes I don't want to have my picture taken. I just want to spend time with my family.

"I know that sometimes that's not possible."

The Dutch pop song released in his honour is proof of Verstappen’s popularity. ‘Super Max’ by the Pitstop Boys was released earlier this year. Before you listen, be warned, it contains expletives.

Verstappen has an adoring legion of Dutch fans. (Credit: Getty Images)

Verstappen was unaware of it until his good friend in McLaren's Lando Norris played it to him while they were competing together at a sim racing event.

Shaking his head, but with a smile on his face, too, Verstappen recalls: "I'm driving in an official race, trying to win it, and the only thing I could hear in my radio is this song...'Max, Max, Max, Super Max, Max, Max'. I was like 'Oh my God!' But it made it fun as well.

"I've also watched the video. One guy of the three doesn't know what he's doing. It's funny! It's not the highest quality but you have to appreciate it.

"People do it because they are passionate, they love Formula One in general, and they're supporting me as well, so, in a way, it's great."

And F1 can look forward to seeing ‘Super Max’ at the front of the grid for many years to come.

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