TAKING IT TO THE MAX R ed Bull’s Max Verstappen was down on power due to an engine problem during qualifying at the Chinese Grand Prix and finished next to last – an uncharacteristically lowly starting place for one of Formula 1’s most exciting young drivers. No matter. Verstappen made up most of the ground in the opening lap of Sunday’s race – passing a remarkable nine cars – and earned an unlikely spot on the podium with a gutsy third-place finish. “That was a very special race,” the 19-year-old Dutch driver said afterward, a huge grin plastered on his face. “When I woke up this morning I never expected to be on the podium.” Of course, it was entirely possible given how well the talented Verstappen has been driving since making a huge splash at last year’s Spanish Grand Prix, which he won in his first start for Red Bull after being promoted from feeder team Toro Rosso. Since then, Verstappen has had seven podium finishes and established himself as a future star of the sport, eclipsing at times his more experienced teammate, Daniel Ricciardo. His maneuvers on Sunday impressed even three-time world champion Lewis Hamilton, who led from start to finish to claim his fifth victory in Shanghai. “I quite like him up here next to us – makes me look younger,” Hamilton said. “Max has obviously done a fantastic job since he’s been in the sport and I think he’s been a real breath of fresh air for everyone.” Verstappen got a little lucky Sunday when three drivers who finished ahead of him in qualifying were penalized, lifting the Dutchman to 16th on the starting grid. Then, during a wild opening lap on a slick track, he found enough holes to vault all the way up to seventh.