We need to talk about Max Verstappen
How long until the CEO of Zandvoort (and just about every other circuit) is dethroned?
Believe it or not, there was once a car on the F1 grid with the #33.
The 2022 season saw this change. The first #1, since Sebastian Vettel in 2014, was chosen by Mr Max Verstappen of Red Bull fame.
It’s a bit wild to think there have only been four different drivers’ champions in the last decade. 2003–2013 saw six and 1993–2003 saw five different drivers lift the ultimate trophy.
At the rate Max is driving, who’s to say if we’re seeing history in the making?
No driver dominance lasts forever. Eventually, teams adapt and catch up or the new kid on the block takes the sport to a level unseen prior.
2015 saw Verstappen’s debut with Red Bull’s sister team, Toro Rosso. Four retirements and a best finishing position of 4th was a steady, but positive start to a career in F1. And hey, at least he made it to the end of the season without getting the boot from Helmut Marko (sorry, Nyck).
Despite retiring from the 2016 Russian Grand Prix due to a power unit failure, Red Bull announced Max would be stepping up to the factory team and replacing Daniil Kvyat, who would be demoted back down to Toro Rosso (yep, he’d been there before — Red Bull loves to shuffle the pack).
Spanish Grand Prix, 2016. Max’s debut for Red Bull. Qualifying P4 behind the two Mercedes and his teammate, Daniel Ricciardo, he had his sights set on a maiden podium in F1. And then… that incident happened.
Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg wipe each other out on the entry to turn 4 (I’ll let you argue over who was at fault here (it was Rosberg though)) and the Red Bulls inherit 1st and 2nd, led by Ricciardo.
The safety car enters the pits and we’re racing again. Big brain strategy and undercuts from Red Bull leave Max fighting with Kimi Räikkönen for the lead, as Ricciardo inherits a puncture after fighting with Kimi’s Ferrari teammate, Sebastian Vettel, for the last podium position.
The stars align for Max, and after a flawless race, brings his car home to be the youngest ever and first-ever Dutch winner of a Formula 1 Grand Prix.
The rest of the season is spent in the shadows of the two Silver Arrows, thecar to be in, but this didn’t stop Verstappen from claiming another six podiums and a P5 finish in the overall championship. Not bad going for his second full season.
2017 saw four podiums, but seven DNFs. He was outperformed on most race weekends by his more experienced teammate, Ricciardo, but consistently in the top 5 cars (when he finished).
2018 was the year people started to take notice. Outperforming Ricciardo for the first time, 10 podiums and two race wins made sure of that.
In 2019, Max became the best of the rest. Mercedes were unstoppable, with Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas trading the top step of the podium for most of the year, so P3 was Red Bull’s realistic target each weekend. But still, Max bagged three race wins, including the famous victory in Germany on Mercedes’ 125th anniversary of being in motorsport. That podium champagne will have tasted particularly delicious on that day.
11 podiums in 2020. Oh boy, he’s comin’. That was an almost 65% podium conversion rate. Two of ’em wins too, not too shabby. P3 overall. The W11from Mercedes was DAFT, this year. Arguably the most complete and fast F1 package we’ve seen in history. So to stick it to the Mercedes boys a couple of times is no easy feat.
And then we get to 2021. Yeah, that season.
Max Verstappen is one of the finest examples of ageing like a fine wine there has been in F1.
He’s improved season-on-season and what we’re witnessing in the 2023 season could well be his final form.
Or is this just the beginning?
2021 will go down as one of the greatest seasons in F1 history. Two athletes at the peak of their performance battling it out all season long, only to be equal on points heading into the final round in Abu Dhabi. And we all know what happened there.
Before we get there, though, let’s summarise key Hamilton vs. Verstappen duels in 2021:
Round 1 — Bahrain
Max on pole. Lewis P2.
Lap 40 — Lewis overtakes Max for the lead.
Lap 53 — Max re-takes the lead but is made to give the position back for exceeding track limits.
Round 4 — Spain
Lewis on pole. Max P2.
Lap 1 — Max takes the lead at turn 1.
Lap 28 — slow pit stop from Max and an alternate strategy hands Lewis the lead.
Round 5 — Monaco
Max inherits P1 due to Leclerc’s driveshaft failure. Lewis P7.
Max wins and takes the championship lead from Lewis.
Round 6 — Azerbaijan
Lewis P2. Max P3.
A slow pit stop for Lewis hands Max the lead.
Six laps to go and Max suffers tyre failure and brings out the safety car.
Lewis locks up on the race restart and runs off track.
Neither driver scores points. A missed opportunity for Lewis.
Round 10 — Britain
This is where it gets juicy.
Max wins the first-ever sprint race and Lewis finishes P2.
Lap 1 (main race) — Lewis and Max collide at 180mph at Copse corner.
Max out. Lewis gets a 10-second penalty.
Lewis wins and decreases the championship deficit to Max to 33 points.
Round 11 — Hungary
Lewis pole. Max P3.
Bottas causes a pile-up at turn 1, damaging Max’s car.
Race restarts and Lewis finishes P2 behind Esteban Ocon in his first race win.
Lewis retakes the championship lead by 8 points.
Round 14 — Monza
Max inherits P1 from Bottas due to a new power unit. Lewis P2.
Lap 23 — after a slow stop from both Max and Lewis, they arrive at turn 1 side-by-side.
Max was squeezed onto the sausage kerb of turn 2 and bounced on top of Lewis’ car, beaching them both in the gravel trap.
Neither driver scores points. Daniel Ricciardo wins his first (and only) race with McLaren.
Max handed a 3-place grid penalty for the next round in Russia.
Round 19 — Brazil
Lewis fastest in the sprint race but takes a penalty for a technical infringement.
For the main race: Lewis P10, Max P1.
Lap 48 — Lewis catches Max and they both run off track when fighting on track.
Lap 49 — Lewis takes the lead and wins in what is one of the most impressive drives of the season.
Lewis is now only 14 points behind Max.
Round 21 — Saudi Arabia
Lewis on pole. Max P3.
Lewis wins with Max in P2
They enter the final round in Abu Dhabi equal on points
The Final Showdown — Abu Dhabi
I’ve stood by my opinion ever since the race unfolded — Lewis deserved to win the race, but Max deserved to win the title. Naturally, I was happy with the result, but I can understand both sides of the argument. Race control was sloppy, indecisive and confused. Michael Masi was public enemy number one for his decisions as Race Director (he later resigned). But people forget one critical element of the story of the 2021 title…
Many are begging for his return. Others believe Logan Sargeant is the American re-imagining of him (and I agree). Regardless, the title would belong to Lewis if it wasn't for GOATifi.
Quite poetic that a Mercedes power unit customer was the catalyst for the rapid swing in the championship in the final few laps of the season.
Whether you’re #TeamLH or a Verstappen fan, there’s no denying the entertainment factor of 2021.
Then 2022 happened. New regulations dawned a new era for F1, similar to the conception of the hybrid engines in 2014 when Mercedes first began on their rampage.
Max sealed the title with four rounds to go, a whopping 146 points ahead of Charles Leclerc in 2nd. 15 wins in 22 races.
As of writing this, the 2023 Japanese GP has just concluded, and this season is looking to be a foregone conclusion.
Only Carlos Sainz in Singapore has been able to break the Red Bull dominance this year.
Apart from his two victories, Sergio Perez is having a bit of a shit show of a season and can’t seem to stop crashing into everyone. Less of the ‘Minister of Defence’ we’re used to and more ‘Minister of Da-fence’…
…Get it? Because he crashes a lot… Hits the fence… Anyway.
Max has won 10 consecutive races this year, a new record in the history of the sport. There is absolutely no doubt he will win most of the remaining races of the season. Mathematically, Verstappen could be on for an 82% win rate, which would break another record and be the highest win rate in F1 history.
And Max is doing all of this while seemingly not being arsed about competing for many more years. As if winning and all the glory is boring him.
There’s no denying Max had a tricky upbringing with his father’s parenting style. He’s mentioned it himself and laughed it off, though you can almost tell he knows how damaging it was as a child.
But wow, is he one of the most raw talents we’ve seen in the history of the sport? I reckon so.
Take your bets, then.
How many years will we be living in Verstappenland?
2022 and 2023 pre-season testing teased the return of Ferrari and the rise of Aston Martin but they were no genuine challenge in reality. Mercedes have slowly figured out their issues and folded to the peer pressure of fitting sidepods. And McLaren is looking better than ever recently.
Could 2024 be the closest season in memory, or are we mentally preparing for a few more seasons of the Dutch national anthem each weekend?
Either way. Super Max will continue to break records and start nipping at the heels of the greats. It’s inevitable.
And who knows, could an official Max Verstappen podcast be on the horizon? He’s on the podium often enough to host it, that’s for sure.
10/10 would listen.