WHY VERSTAPPEN WILL BE BIGGER F1 STAR THAN HAMILTON
It’s a topic that always generates much debate among fans, who is the biggest star in Formula One?
The obvious answer would be Lewis Hamilton, he is the reigning world champion, he is seen as the sport’s biggest celebrity and he has a very loyal fanbase.
Twitter backs that up too, he has the most followers at 5.5 million and #TeamLH or #LH44 tend to dominate the timelines throughout a Grand Prix weekend.
But for as popular as Hamilton is, there are just as many people who despise him.
That was highlighted by the F1 fan survey conducted by the GPDA. Kimi Raikkonen was named the most popular driver with Fernando Alonso second and Jenson Button in third. Hamilton came in fourth.
However, that poll was conducted just over a years ago and in that time there have been several changes in the sport’s landscape.
Rio Haryanto’s emergence at Manor created a huge fanbase back in Indonesia, a country of almost a billion, and across Asia. Daniel Ricciardo continues to become a fan favourite but most importantly, Max Verstappen’s profile has dramatically risen.
The Dutchman, not only has reinvigorated love for the sport back in his homeland but across the world sections of grandstands are been taken up by orange flags and dark blue memorabilia.
Red Bull’s motorsport advisor Dr Helmut Marko, has already suggested that Verstappen is the most popular man in F1.
“With Max, here is someone who is really young with a strong idea of what he wants, and he is not shy of trying to get it, of trying to be successful,” he told the official F1 website.
“And the reaction of the fans plays to his advantage: I would say he is probably now the most popular driver on the grid – worldwide.”
While that claim may not be accurate right now, it is true that his aggressive approach to racing, while controversial, is winning over more support.
It is a bit of an exaggeration to put him on the level of Hamilton right now but there is no doubt that over time, providing Verstappen remains successful, his potential value to F1 is enormous.
The two men are very similar as drivers. Hamilton made his name through great overtakes and risky actions and that part of his attraction remains today. The celebrity status he has built during his time at Mercedes has simply gone on top of that.
The Briton was even one of a few people to back Verstappen after the recent criticisms towards his defensive driving.
While Max probably won’t get quite as embroiled in the celebrity world that Lewis is in. His own attraction will come through his driving as mentioned, but also his success.
I hate to compare him to the likes of Michael Schumacher and Ayrton Senna because that simply isn’t fair to him yet. But as soon as the raw talent he is now, starts to become a regular race winner, starts to have memorable battles with fellow top drivers and eventually goes on to become world champion, that is when his star power with start to have a real impact.
Zandvoort or Assen had better get redeveloping because as soon as Verstappen fever does grip F1, Hockenheim and Spa won’t have enough capacity to accommodate #TeamMV.
And Verstappen by himself will have enough pulling power to warrant a Dutch Grand Prix return.
Even his association with Red Bull is perfect, as good as Ferrari and Mercedes are, no brand does more to attract new interest as the Austrian energy drinks giant.
Just imagine if Hamilton’s success had come with Red Bull, someone with his profile alongside the marketing juggernaut and that’s exactly what F1 will have through Verstappen.
Just as a final slightly off tangent point, it has been an issue few would admit to but would ultimately accept that the past few years of Hamilton vs. Rosberg haven’t exactly been legendary. Sure it has had its moments but most would accept in a straight fight with no interference Lewis is the better driver.
As a Ricciardo fan, however, it pains me to admit that next year a Hamilton vs Verstappen rivalry for the championship would be dynamite for the sport.