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Former Pirelli boss reveals when Verstappen first caught his eye

Paul Hembery has revealed the race that convinced him Max Verstappen would go on to become a Formula 1 World Champion.

Former Pirelli boss Paul Hembery was convinced of Max Verstappen's World Champion credentials following one particular race early on in his Red Bull career. Hembery, who left day-to-day running of Pirelli's F1 operations five years ago, was at the helm of the tyre manufacturer as Verstappen got his first opportunities with Toro Rosso and Red Bull. Reflecting on the moments of those early days in Verstappen's F1 career, Hembery highlighted a race that was akin to the great wet weather drives from legends such as Jackie Stewart and Ayrton Senna. "What a driver!" Hembery told RacingNews365.com in an exclusive interview. "He came onto the scene with a bang. Probably my favourite race, since Max has been in Formula 1, was actually Brazil in the rain (2016), when he was taking a completely different racing line to everybody – he was carving through the field! "That's sort of reminiscent of the great drives by Senna, if you think about Monaco and the rain (1984). "I think a lot of fans enjoy when the cars can be out and competing in the rain because you really start to see some exceptional talents. For me, that was when I thought, 'Yeah, this guy is going to be a future World Champion'. "[Last year], he took the battle to Mercedes for the first time in six or seven years. He's a worthy champion and aggressive driver. Some would say too aggressive, but that's for others to manage. "But, in terms of making F1 exciting, he had a massive impact last year and made for one of the best championship battles for many years."

Hembery praises Red Bull's long-term vision

Hembery added that it was always likely Verstappen would prove to be talented, given his Red Bull backing, as he felt the company would only give their support to worthwhile talents. "Red Bull have a long history of finding young talent, developing and investing in young talents," he said. "So, if they are investing in someone, you know they're going to be pretty good. You don't know if they're going to be World Champion, but they're going to be pretty damn competent – enough to be a competitive F1 driver." But the former Pirelli boss said the big question mark is always whether or not a driver is able to step up to the plate and deliver when the machinery at their disposal allows them to. While Verstappen managed it, Hembery pointed to the examples of McLaren's Lando Norris and new Mercedes signing George Russell who still have to answer that question. "You have that question, 'Can they go to the next level?', which is what happens with all drivers," Hembery added. "You can say the same with George Russell at the moment. [He's] clearly got massive talent and he's got a massive year as well. He's going in a car with, on paper, the greatest driver of all time. "It's a massive opportunity, I don't say challenge, because he's probably been dreaming of that since he was a child. He's now got a chance to go in the car and prove himself and create his name."

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