Verstappen hoping it'll be third-time lucky in Singapore
Red Bull star looking for success in third Singapore GP but insists he's no 'Mad Max'
"I think at the end of the day, Lewis will win. I think Mercedes have been stronger than Ferrari in general, and I expect him to win." - Max Verstappen on the championship race between Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel
There was no show-stopping crash, nor a podium finish the first time Max Verstappen raced at the Formula One Singapore Grand Prix in 2015.
But only 17 years old then, Verstappen certainly made Singapore sit up and take notice, long before he made it to the top of the podium at the Spanish Grand Prix in May last year to become the youngest-ever winner on the Formula One world championship.
And the Red Bull driver is hoping his third attempt at the Marina Bay Circuit this Sunday will be just as memorable as his first Singapore Sling, but perhaps topped with a dash of podium success.
"I think we can be very competitive, but now it's up to us to get the car in the right window, in terms of set-up, and then during the race, a lot of things can happen anyway here (in Singapore)," the Dutch teenager told The New Paper on the sidelines of an event hosted by team sponsor Tag Heuer at Wisma Atria yesterday.
Verstappen should know.
When the rest of the field zoomed off at the green light in 2015, he sat stationary at the grid, in his stalled Toro Rosso car.
"I thought the race was finished, you know. I had to be pushed back into the pit lane, and restart more than a lap down (from the rest of the drivers). But then actually the race was good, the safety car came out at the right lap, and I managed to get myself into the same lap," recalled Verstappen, who put on a sensational show of catch-up racing to finish in eighth spot.
After leaving Toro Rosso for Red Bull four races into the 2016 season, Verstappen enjoyed a breakout year, winning once and finishing atop the podium six other times.
But 2017 has been "challenging" for the 19-year-old prodigy who has endured retirements in six of the 13 races so far.
While he is taking the difficult times in his stride, it has not been easy to rectify the problems.
"I think sometimes you need that in the sport, to get even stronger, and I guess it's that at the moment," said Verstappen, who remains perplexed as to why the car is responding this way.
"If we knew (what the problem with the car was), we wouldn't have had so many retirements, but I think we are in a good way now. Hopefully, nothing will happen here in Singapore, because we have a chance to really do well."
I think at the end of the day, Lewis will win. I think Mercedes have been stronger than Ferrari in general, and I expect him to win.Max Verstappen on the championship race between lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel
While the heat in the Republic will still be a factor despite the race taking place at night, Verstappen believes he could use the race to launch a bit of a personal revival in the six races that will follow.
"(The Marina Bay Circuit) is a good track, very challenging, a lot of corners, very physical. I'm looking forward to test how good I am in terms of fitness," he said.
"I've prepared really well, I've done a lot of sauna sessions and heat training, so that should help, but it will still be tough.
"I approach (the rest of the season) like a mini-championship because previous races haven't been going really well.
"I try to stay positive and try to make the best of it every single weekend."
In his drive for success in every race, Verstappen has been called an aggressive, even dangerous driver by others in the fraternity.
But he rubbished such talk ahead of a Singapore Grand Prix that has witnessed its fair share of crashes.
"If you're not in a situation to fight for the world championship, then you have to see every single race as an opportunity to win a race," he quipped, unflinching.
"Maybe you take a bit more risk compared to the guy who's fighting for the world championship but, for sure, if he's in the same situation, he'll change as well - I don't see myself as a too aggressive driver."
Singapore may well see a risk-taking Verstappen in a car that could propel him to the podium on Sunday.
"Of course, I'm not sure (if I will win the race), but we are getting updates on the car," said Verstappen, with just a hint of a smile.
"The fuel will be improved - and that will give us an extra few horsepower."