At the Qatar Grand Prix two weekends from now, one thing is pretty sure: Max Verstappen will be crowned the 2023 Formula 1 World Champion, his name already forever engraved among the legendary drivers of our sport.
Stats show that next time out, Verstappen needs only finish sixth in the Sprint Race to make it mathematically impossible for his closest rival, Red Bull teammate Sergio Perez to overhaul his points in the five remaining races.
This also means Checo winning a Sprint or a Race, which has not happened since Baku and has looked highly unlikely ever since. Finishing the race in Qatar would be nice.
At the same time, Verstappen has simply raised and raised and raised his game, the only blips on his mighty season were the two defeats to Perez first in Jeddah and the abovementioned Baku race. But since then, Max has just got better and better, while Checo’s form nosedived Daniel-Ricciardo-At-McLaren-style. Japan last Sunday was arguably the Mexican veteran’s worst performance in a Red Bull if not F1.
In stark contrast, Verstappen is driving the Red Bull RB19 as if it was built for him. His motto could well be: “Build me a fast race car and I will drive it faster than anybody.” Of course, Adrian Newey and his team of design Gurus obliged. The driver of the #1 car did the rest, including 13 wins to date this season and counting…
Not enough plaudits to fling at Verstappen’s achievements and performances
Our take on the World Champ is well-known. My take is that Juan Manuel Fangio, Jim Clark, Jackie Stewart, Niki Lauda, Alain Prost, Ayrton Senna, Michael Schumacher, Fernando Alonso, Sebastian Vettel, Lewis Hamilton and now Verstappen are F1’s greatest drivers.
Very different eras meant very different cars, safety, tracks and all that has come with progress. Their cars might’ve been F1 cars, but a Red Bull RB19 is vastly different to a McLaren MP4/4 which has no resemblance to the Mercedes W196, ditto a Ferrari F1-2000. All very different beasts, but the pinnacle for their times.
What those F1 Legends have in common is that they drove what they had faster than their teammates and faster than anyone else could. In some cases way faster, in others not so much. During their time in F1 those drivers dominated, they were the benchmark and the ones their rivals admired (begrudgingly or not) and feared the most. The ones that defined an era.
Going back to the turn of this century, the first half of the 2000s Schumacher dominated in a manner that had never been seen before. His five F1 Titles in a row were unprecedented as was his Grand Prix winning spree.
Schumi was eventually deposed by Fernando Alonso who claimed two F1 Titles in 2005 and 2006, looking set to double or triple that by the time his career ran out. But misfortune and dubious decision-making prevented that. But the Spaniard remains undisputedly one of the Greatest.
After that came Vettel, Hamilton and now Verstappen
Vettel owned four F1 Titles in a row from 2010 to 2013, with Red Bull. It might have been more for the German but nothing thereafter, apart from some close calls. But there is no denying when Seb was at his very best, he was as good as Max is today.
Ditto Hamilton, whose risky but ultimately shrewd move to Mercedes paid off as they carried him to six F1 Titles in the eight years in which they totally dominated F1 (2014-2020). A time when many doubted it would ever end. But like all great sporting reigns have to end. The baton was dropped.
Verstappen scooped it up and is not galavanting with the unique but familiar ease in which his predecessors dominated F1, coupled to the mastery of a genius at the summit of his game. These traits we all once saw in Michael, Lewis, Seb and all of them for that matter. When it was their time to shine, they seized it memorably.
We are amidst such a spell. Verstappen the King of our sport is almost invincible as his predecessors once were. Why turn on the Telly on a Sunday when you know the F1 winner already? Sound familiar to F1 lifers? That’s where we are with Max.
Max has grown in such stature that there is hardly an F1 pundit (me included) who does not have him on his list of F1 Greatest Of All Time… And he is only 25-years-old! I venture he is still getting better. Every Grand Prix he arrives at he knows it’s his to win (his to lose does not come on to his radar) and the only question is: By how much?
Max wants not only to win but also by as much as possible
The impression I get, these days, is that with such a dominant car in his hands, when winning is expected and a foregone conclusion, Max relishes by how much he can beat his rivals in qualifying and in the race, teammate Checo included.
We saw it in Japan, a masterclass in qualifying that Senna would’ve been proud of, Verstappen sledgehammered home his advantage with two of the most beautiful pole-winning laps ever seen. Then the next day, in the race, cruising up ahead with a mammoth lead, well in control, he popped the fastest race lap one second quicker than next best.
Those being McLaren. Ferrari and Mercedes are even further back in the 1.5s to 2.0s time to find vis-a-vis Max. I will go out on a limb and say that if pushed the driver of the #1 car can find even more. But no one is making him even break a sweat, so why bother?
I am no body-language expert, but the vibe I get from the triple F1 World Champ is: “Catch me if you can while I have a great time with this incredible piece of kit that only I can drive this fast.”
A final word on what we are witnessing from a candid Hamilton, speaking in Japan to reporters on Red Bull’s form: “They’ve been phenomenal all year long. They’ve aced pretty much every circuit. And I mean, it’s going to be great to watch that car in general.
“It’s beautiful to watch the laps that they do because the team, as a whole and the drivers are doing an amazing job with the package they have,” added Hamilton.
Which allows me to fire up the old Magic Mirror anecdote: Max: Magic Mirror on the wall, who’s the best F1 driver of us all? Magic Mirror: Right now… You Max, By far.
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