Verstappen rockets to China Grand Prix podium

1 / 1
Formula One: Verstappen rockets to China podium

Shanghai (AFP) - As Lewis Hamilton celebrated victory at the Chinese Grand Prix on Sunday, much of the paddock talk was about Max Verstappen's astonishing third place for Red Bull.

The 19-year-old, whose aggressive driving has made him a Formula One fan favourite, blitzed through the field after starting in 16th on the grid, overtaking no fewer than nine cars on a dizzying first lap alone.

The young Dutchman unsurprisingly was named Driver of the Day after finishing behind only Hamilton's Mercedes and Sebastian Vettel's Ferrari.

"Nine cars is quite a lot for one lap, but of course I'm very happy that it worked. That's of course very positive especially after starting at 16. It was a great, entertaining race," he said.

When it was suggested to him that his first lap resembled something out of a video game, he replied: "More or less! It felt a bit like that."

Verstappen, the son of former F1 driver Jos, called it one of the best races of his fledgling career and promised Red Bull would continue to push Mercedes and Ferrari.

"It was definitely one of the best," said Verstappen, who became the youngest driver to win a Formula One race at last year's Spanish Grand Prix aged 18 years and 228 days.

"This is definitely in my top five.

"We still need to work very hard to catch up," he added. "We are at the moment in a very lonely competition because in front of us they are too quick and behind us they are too slow.

"We are working very hard to try and close the gap but it's not that easy. But we will keep pushing hard."

Verstappen in 2015 became the youngest driver to compete in a Formula One race at 17 -- an age when many teenagers have yet to receive their driver's licence.

He was up against it in Shanghai after qualifying in 19th place on Saturday due to engine problems, later bumped up to 16th after penalties assessed on other drivers.

"I didn't have a lot of track time for car balance because I barely did qualifying," said Verstappen, who finished fifth in the drivers' standings last year.

"I was not expecting a podium finish at all."

His third place duplicated his result in Brazil last year when he recovered from 16th to reach the podium in heavy rain, prompting team Red Bull chief Christian Horner to call it "one of the best drives I've seen in Formula One".

Although several drivers, including Vettel, have turned team radios blue complaining about Verstappen's aggressive style, Hamilton called the Dutchman "a real breath of fresh air".

The Briton added: "I honestly hope that Red Bull can improve through the season because a third element in the fight for the championship would make it even more exciting."