The ‘Off Season is upon us, and for columnists like me, it often means an editorial drought of newsworthy events. However, it does allow us to reflect on what has transpired over the previous ten months and consider them in the calmer atmosphere of the winter break.
We can thank Aristotle for this piece of inciteful wisdom. Simply put, if you placed Max Verstappen in an Alphatauri, he would not have won the World Championship. If you put him in a Ferrari and Charles Leclerc in a Red Bull, Charles may have won the World Championship but probably not so definitively. Max would have registered more poles and wins in the Ferrari than Leclerc.
However, I can’t imagine how Max could ever have coped with driving for Ferrari as they were this year. There would have been a meltdown somewhere, probably involving Jos and a hammer!
My point is, it is a combination of factors that aligned to deliver Red Bull and Max’s all-conquering season. None of the individual components could have delivered it on their own.
Return of the “Mac Daddy.”
The timely re-arrival of Adrian Newey was a coup for Red Bull racing. Hanging up his best blazer and deck shoes, the “Chassis Whisperer’s” penned design, together with the bulletproof engine of Honda, allowed Max to run more ‘wing’ than anyone else and still be faster on the straight. A driver with this type of advantage over his competitors tends to operate at an even higher level than he would without it.
It’s a confidence thing, and why race engineers sometimes set the car up sub-optimally so the driver can feel more “comfortable”, allowing them to produce faster times than if it were on the edge. Fortunately for Red Bull, Max is one of those rare breeds who doesn’t need that kind of mothering. His Pit box neighbour though, hmmm?
The Organ Grinder and The Dancer
Then we have the team itself, led by Helmut Marko and Christian Horner. Most people see the “Good Doctor” as the main man for managing the drivers, which he is. However, a better approach would be to think of him as the power behind the throne, the throne of Christian Horner, that is. Horner may be the Team Principal and CEO at Red Bull racing, but the “Good Doctor’ is the boss!
He kept Max on the straight and narrow and, more importantly, as we saw earlier in the season, his dad. After Monaco, Jos publicly aired his opinion about preferential treatment, i.e. Max wasn’t getting any. Marko stepped in quickly, reminding “The Klommeister’s” father that in Edward G Robinson’s parlance “I’m the boss here, see”; and that Verstappen Snr would now be closing the pit box door from the outside. After that, Jos was not really seen and definitely not heard for the rest of the season.
In summary, Horner does the admin and fluffy stuff, but the “Good Doctor’s” hand is on the rudder.
First loser, also at Red Bull…
Then, of course, there’s the bridesmaid – Sergio Perez, Red Bull Racing’s number two, now with a small “T”. Whatever Checo’s ambitions may have been at the beginning of the season, he was always going to be catching Max’s flowers after the ceremony. It’s been clear for most of the year that the “Klompmeister” can extract more from Newey’s design than Perez can. Consider the earlier point I made about set-up and driver ‘comfort’ with the handling. While Max can accommodate the car in “full Tonto” trim, I suspect Checo can’t.
Nevertheless, the Mexican played his part in assisting Verstappen to his second driver’s title and the team to the Constructors, which would have been highly challenging without Checo and the rest of the unsung heroes at Red Bull Racing. From Pitwall strategists to wheel cleaners, the team have been confidence and competence personified. Something that the Max fans that seem to think he wears his pants over the top of his trousers should remember.