Red Bull design chief Adrian Newey has lauded Max Verstappen for his efforts on and off the track, seeking to play down his "wild" reputation.
Verstappen made his F1 debut with Toro Rosso back in 2015, at the age of 17, after just one year in single-seater racing.
While he displayed impressive pace from the outset, several rivals raised questions over his approach to racing, with a so-called 'Verstappen rule' being introduced at one stage to prevent moving under braking.
Several more seasons into his career, however, Verstappen made use of the Newey-designed RB16B to claim his first F1 world title in 2021, following a tense, season-long battle with Lewis Hamilton.
What about the wheel-to-wheel action?
The campaign was not without incident, as the pair clashed at Silverstone, Monza and Jeddah, along with several other near misses.
But Newey thinks Verstappen has been "unfairly" labelled as a "wild" driver, despite admitting that he overstepped the mark on a couple of occasions in 2021.
"Probably what he did in Brazil last year was a bit naughty," Newey told The Race, referring to Verstappen forcing Hamilton off the track.
"Saudi was silly, but I think he got frustrated with Lewis not overtaking him, but he still shouldn't have brake-tested him."
Verstappen was not the only guilty party during the tense 2021 battle, according to Newey.
"Silverstone to me was a clear professional foul [by Hamilton] and people seem to have a short memory," he said.
"They brand an individual and it takes time for that to go."
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Newey a big fan of Verstappen's style
As for Verstappen's overall approach, Newey was full of praise for how the now-24-year-old handles himself behind the wheel and with the rest of the Red Bull team.
"What's great about Max is you always know what the car's capable of, because he always gets in it and wrings its neck," he commented.
"His feedback is good, he's very aware of what the tyres are doing and how to manage them."
Newey added: "He's very easy to work with, very open. You ask him to do things and he'll always try."
Verstappen sits second in the 2022 standings after the first four races, 27 points down on Ferrari's Charles Leclerc.
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