Max Verstappen must now be considered as one of the greatest wet-weather drivers in Formula One history, Red Bull team principal Christian Horner has claimed, following the teenager’s virtuoso display on Sunday.
The Dutchman, 19, started the Chinese Grand Prix from a lowly 16th after he suffered an engine problem in qualifying.
But just as he did in Brazil last year, Verstappen revelled in the inclement conditions with another fantastic performance in which he climbed 13 places – including an astonishing nine on the opening lap – to finish on the podium.
“I think he is right up there,” said Horner when asked where Verstappen now stands among the sport’s masters in the rain. “It is not a coincidence now, and you can see Brazil wasn’t a one-off.
“He appears to have an almost sixth sense in the wet. He doesn’t seem intimidated by it in any way, and is prepared to explore all the boundaries of the circuit available to find where the grip is.
“It was remarkable. His first lap in particular was mighty. I saw one of his passing moves where he went down the outside and passed about three cars and it was obvious that he meant business.”
Verstappen, who is now in only his first full season with Red Bull, was seventh at the end of lap one following a host of daredevil moves in the opening moments of the race.
Pit stops ahead of the Dutchman, and a spin by Valtteri Bottas, promoted him to fourth when the safety car pitted six laps later.
Verstappen then wasted no time moving up the field. He immediately sailed past Kimi Raikkonen, a former champion no less, as if he was not there, before diving underneath team-mate Daniel Ricciardo in the same Red Bull machinery, at turn six on lap 11.
With the damp track still drying out, Verstappen went on to set the fastest laps of the race to catch Lewis Hamilton. At one stage it looked as though he may do the unthinkable and pass the triple world champion – another who excels in the wet conditions – after moving to within one second of the eventual winner.
But his tyres soon began to wear and his only mistake of the race came when he went in too deep at the penultimate corner to allow Sebastian Vettel through.
“I had a really good race and I am very happy to be on the podium,” said a typically understated Verstappen. “I didn’t expect that at all, especially after starting 16th.”
Verstappen made his debut aged just 17 two years ago. A number of eye-catching performances for Toro Rosso earned him a promotion to Red Bull after just four races of last season, and he spectacularly won on his first outing in Spain.
He then stole the show at the rain-hit penultimate race of the season at Interlagos when he passed 11 cars in just 16 laps to finish third.
Unsurprisingly, his performance here, as was the case in Brazil, saw him win the Driver of the Day award, voted for by the sport’s fans.
“Max has obviously done a fantastic job since he’s been in the sport and I think he’s been a real breath of fresh air for everyone,” added Hamilton.
“Obviously he’s got a great following and he’s definitely been in some great situations in some races and really maximised above and beyond, which is why he gets the Driver of the Day award.
“I hope that Red Bull can improve through the season because I think a third element in the fight would be even more exciting.”