His boss, Red Bull team principal Christian Horner, was even moved to claim the 19-year-old must now be considered as one of the greatest wet-weather drivers in Formula One history after he rose 13 places from 16th on the grid – including a sensational nine on the opening lap.
“He is right up there,” said Horner when asked where Verstappen now stands among the sport’s rain masters after his virtuoso display in China.
“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.”
Christian Horner claimed Max Verstappen is one of the best wet-weather drivers in history
Verstappen finished third behind Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel
Verstappen, who is 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 former champion Kimi Raikkonen as if he was not there, before diving underneath team-mate Daniel Ricciardo at turn six on lap 11.
With the damp track still drying, Verstappen went on to set the fastest laps of the race to catch 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.
Hamilton and Vettel are both level on points with one win each
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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 Vettel through.
“I had a really good race and I am very happy to be on the podium,” he said. “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.
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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 he’s been a real breath of fresh air for everyone,” said 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 a third element in the fight would be even more exciting.”
Vettel’s race was scuppered by a portion of bad luck. His Ferrari team pulled him into the pits to change to slick tyres on just the second lap following the deployment of the virtual safety car as Lance Stroll was punted out of the race by Sergio Perez.
But when the safety car was deployed for real only moments later after Antonio Giovinazzi, the Italian filling in for the unfit Pascal Wehrlein, crashed his Sauber for the second time in as many days, Hamilton could stop for dry rubber.
It allowed him to retain his lead before marching to his first win of the campaign, the 54th of his career, and his fifth from the last six grands prix stretching back to last season. The result leaves Hamilton and Vettel hand-in-hand on 43 points.
“Lewis did the best job,” said Vettel. “We were unfortunate with the safety car. We finished second and I am very happy with that.”