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Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 15 December 2018

Max Verstappen can bounce back in Belgium and continue to hold the edge on Red Bull teammate Daniel Ricciardo

Verstappen was at fault for their Hungary clash, but his teammate's post-race outburst highlighted how much the teenager's speed over the season has got to him.

Max Verstappen has a dedicated fanbase who will be at Spa-Francorchamps this weekend to cheer him on. Piroschka van de Wouw / Netherlands / AFP
Max Verstappen has a dedicated fanbase who will be at Spa-Francorchamps this weekend to cheer him on. Piroschka van de Wouw / Netherlands / AFP

Spa-Francorchamps has always been a popular stop on the Formula One calendar.

That has largely been due to the challenges and sweeping turns of the 7km circuit, and the unpredictable weather climate, which has often made the Belgian Grand Prix one of the highlights of the season.

The F1 fraternity has arrived at Spa now ahead of Sunday's return to action after the four-week summer break, but when practice begins on Friday you would be forgiven for thinking it is the Max Verstappen Grand Prix, with 19 other drivers making up the numbers.

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That will be, if it is anything like 2016, because the grandstands across the circuit will be a sea of orange as thousands of fans make the short journey from the Netherlands to roar on the 19 year old.

It will be another big occasion for Verstappen and the Dutchman is in need of a good result, and not just to please his sizeable fan base.

The teenager has had four weeks to stew on arguably the lowest point of his largely successful F1 career to date, namely colliding with Red Bull Racing teammate Daniel Ricciardo at the Hungarian Grand Prix last month.

Verstappen took the blame for the contact on Lap 1, which ruined Red Bull's chances of scoring big points at a race they had expected to be competitive at.

It eliminated Ricciardo on the spot, and though Verstappen went on to finish fifth, despite being given a 10-second pit penalty by race stewards, the fact he finished so close to the rear of the Mercedes-GP cars at the end hinted at what he could have done without having been penalised.

Verstappen owned the mistake afterwards, apologised to Ricciardo and the team, both personally and through the media, but how the dynamics of his relationship with the Australian will be affected by the incident will be fascinating going forward.

You could understand Ricciardo's frustration at being taken out, but some of his comments towards Verstappen hinted at some underlying issues between the pair.

Ricciardo called him a "sore loser" on the pit radio, and then described the mistake to reporters as being an "amateur" one.

He went on to add: "I don't think he likes it when a teammate gets in front."

All pretty heated and personal, considering that it was the first time the pair have had reason to fall out after 28 races as teammates.

Christian Horner, the Red Bull team principal, was right to say that it was pretty impressive, given how often they start so close to each other on the grid, that an incident between the duo had not happened sooner.

Given what Horner had to put up with between Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber when they were Red Bull teammates, at this stage it is small fry, but it was the dig Ricciardo made about Verstappen not liking it when he is behind him that was really telling of some tension between the pair.

It probably says more about Ricciardo then Verstappen, as while Ricciardo has 50 more points than the Dutchman and a race win in Azerbaijan to his credit, on raw pace he has often been put in the shade by the man he shares a garage with.

Verstappen has out-qualifed Ricciardo seven times to four this season, a noticeable change from last year when it was 11-6 to Ricciardo.

Since finishing third on the podium in China, Verstappen has not been on the podium in the past nine races, while Ricciardo has had five trips there.

But Verstappen has had awful luck with unreliability, and twice was eliminated on the first lap in incidents where he was not at fault.

He has improved his qualifying speed and consistency on track from his hugely impressive breakout season, the only thing missing has been the big finishes.

He was running ahead of Ricciardo in Azerbaijan before his car let him down, and a mechanical failure also cost him second place in Canada too.

On sheer results Ricciardo has had the better season, but he knows Verstappen has been very unlucky, and the fact his younger teammate has been so competitive was probably an element of why he was so tough on him for the Budapest clash.

Given everything we have seen from Verstappen so far in his fledgling career he will not be fazed by the incident, and he should be right up there in Spa this weekend fighting to end his podium drought.

It will not be for a lack of support if he does not achieve it, given the huge following of orange shirts that will dominate the grandstands.