Verstappen becomes a truly dominant champion

7 months ago 10
Max verstappenVerstappen now has 34 career F1 victories

Max Verstappen says he is not interested in statistics - but he knows enough about them to understand the magnitude of what he achieved in the Mexico City Grand Prix on Sunday.

Verstappen's 14th victory of a year that has simply rolled over and surrendered to him and his Red Bull team set a new landmark in Formula 1 history, breaking the record for wins in a season first set by Michael Schumacher with Ferrari in 2004.

Nine years on from that, Verstappen's predecessor at Red Bull Sebastian Vettel equalled his hero's achievement in 2013. And now, another nine years on, Verstappen himself has smashed the record - and is almost certain to take it even higher in the final two races of the season.

"It is just an incredible season for the team," Verstappen said. "I never thought I'd be able to win 14 races in a year.

"I was never really interested in stats. I just live in the moment. I just try to do the best I can every weekend, win the races. That for me is the most important - that I go home and can say I maximised everything.

"But a lot of F1 depends on your package and I am just enjoying the moment. It is an amazing season and I am very happy with winning so many races."

For good measure, he has also broken the record for most points in a single season - set by Lewis Hamilton in 2019.

"It's all about trying to win the championship," Verstappen said, "and it doesn't matter how many points but it does show we are having an incredible year."

Michael Schumacher at the 2004 Japanese Grand PrixMichael Schumacher won his 13th race in a season at the 2004 Japanese Grand Prix

To put Verstappen's achievement in context, Red Bull have this year ended the most dominant run in F1 history, Mercedes' record eight constructors' titles in a row. But even when Mercedes were sweeping all before them, the best Lewis Hamilton achieved was 11 wins in a year.

Verstappen has been downplaying his achievement, saying the seasons in F1 are longer now than they were. And it's true that in percentage terms, Schumacher was more successful when he set the record.

Red Bull team principal Christian Horner said: "Max, what we're seeing today and this year, we are witnessing something very special. And I sometimes think his achievements perhaps don't receive the plaudits they should.

"He has won the most grands prix in a year, within 20 races, and he's won two sprint races and he's not won all from pole.

"He has had to fight and race for a lot of those victories. When we look back at the end of the year, it is an absolutely outstanding year, from a driver who is absolutely at the top of his game. The level of consistency he has been able to achieve is incredible."

To achieve this, Verstappen has needed an outstanding car. The new regulations introduced this year were aimed at bringing the field closer together. But Red Bull have made a mockery of that ambition.

The fact they broke the budget cap last year by £1.86m while developing this car will always hang over this season, even if a large portion of that breach can be explained by what appears to have been a clerical error revolving around tax credits for research and development expenditure.

But the season - and the race with which Verstappen broke this record - has summed up the team, in the year in which they lost the man in whose image they were created, founder Dietrich Mateschitz.

As Horner himself put it after the race: "We are a team of racers. We push the boundaries. We are aggressive in the way we go racing and we follow our passion to go out there and do our best. There is risk with the strategy, soft and medium. Maybe we could have run out of tyres, but we are following Dietrich's mantra of no-risk, no-fun."

There, Horner is referencing how Verstappen won the race, by taking a risky tyre strategy and making it work.

2013 Brazil grand prix winner Sebastian VettelSebastian Vettel sealed his 13th win in a season at the 2013 Brazilian Grand Prix

Could Mercedes have won?

Mercedes, who started the season so poorly, have been diligently working away at their car, and after an upgrade in Austin the weekend before Mexico, they were closer to Red Bull than at any point so far this season. While Ferrari, hampered at altitude by their turbo design, which forced them to run their engines at lower than maximum power, were nowhere.

Mercedes drivers George Russell and Lewis Hamilton qualified second and third, disappointed to miss out on pole, and went into the race with hopes of being able to challenge for victory.

But Mercedes never thought a one-stop strategy using the soft and medium tyres was possible. Red Bull did. They didn't know it would work, but they thought it probably would, and they went for it.

It looked close for a while, as Hamilton on medium tyres harried Verstappen on softs in the first stint. But after Verstappen fitted mediums at his stop and Hamilton went for hards, the Mercedes drifted backwards, and the race became a cruise for Verstappen.

"I was saying in (the) strategy (meeting) about taking a risk," Hamilton said. "I had a gut feeling they would be on the soft and when everyone took their blankets off (before the start), I thought we may be in trouble.

"I thought maybe they would have to two stop but the medium had no drop-off. But to keep up with the Red Bull in the first stint is huge.

"I could tell they had the upper hand in that first stint. As soon as we migrated onto the hard it was over."


The Mexico City Grand Prix always falls near the day of the dead celebrations

It looked close in the first 20-odd laps, with Hamilton staying within two seconds of the leader. But Verstappen said he "never really felt like I was under pressure, I was just managing my tyres to get the end of the stint.

"On the medium, the question was how long they would last but they felt really good and within a few laps we realised we could go to the end."

Mercedes admitted freely afterwards that they got the strategy wrong - but that's not the same as saying they felt they could have won the race.

When they did their initial post-race analysis, they could see that, comparing pace on the medium tyre, Verstappen was around 0.15secs per lap faster. In other words, choosing the same strategy as Red Bull might have made the race a little closer, but it was unlikely to have changed the result.

The same went for the decision not to leave Russell out longer on his mediums and switch to softs for a final stint - as Daniel Ricciardo did to great effect to take seventh for McLaren in his best performance for a long time.

Russell was losing too much pace as his tyres fell away and Mercedes felt they had to bring him in. They could have left him out - but he would have lost so much time he would never have been able to catch up to Sergio Perez's Red Bull for the final podium place the Mexican achieved in his home race.

"Ultimately," Hamilton said, "they still have the upper hand. Maybe today was the closest we have ever been. Perhaps it was a couple of tenths a lap. But they are quite quick on the straight and not losing on the corners - I was in the tow and still struggling to keep up.

"They have a bit more in the tank than us. But we are getting closer.

"If we had started on the softs, I think I would have been in the same place in the first stint.

"I don't know what different we would have done, maybe try the undercut (stopping first). That would have been more enjoyable. But hindsight is a great thing. I am just grateful for the progress we have made and for the fact we are now spitting the Red Bulls."

Team boss Toto Wolff said: "We are racers and at the moment we can kind of see it in front of us. We just want to grab it and therefore there is always a sense of frustration.

"I agree we have come from such a long way and here we are racing for a win. We are racing for both cars on the podium the Ferraris are behind us and you need to stay humble about what we have achieved while still reaching for the stars."

Hamilton added: "There are so many positives to take from this weekend. This is the most competitive and the best the car has felt all year.

"I am so happy to be almost back in the fight. I don't know what the car will be like but I am hoping (at the next race) in Brazil something special will come of it."

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