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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

For Red Bull and Max Verstappen, 2023 was a dominant year

Max Verstappen, the championship driver, and Red Bull rewrote the record books in defending their drivers’ and constructors’ championships in 2023.

By Ian Parkes

Max Verstappen and Christian Horner, Red Bull’s team principal, agree that the team’s achievements this season will be very hard to repeat.

Verstappen, the championship driver, and Red Bull rewrote the record books in defending their drivers’ and constructors’ championships.

He set the record for most wins in a season, 19 from 22 Grands Prix; for consecutive number of victories, 10; and the highest percentage of wins in a season, 86.36%, beating the previous best of 75% by Alberto Ascari in 1952, an era when there were only eight races.

“It will be very hard to have another season like this, we know that,” Verstappen said. He also became the first driver to lead for more than 1,000 laps in a season, with 1,003.

As a constructor, Red Bull won 21 Grands Prix, overhauling Mercedes’ record of 2016 when it won 19 of 21 races. With a 95.5% success rate, it also beat the 93.8% of McLaren in 1988 when it won 15 of 16 Grands Prix.

Horner said the accomplishments “would take a while to sink in.”

“You have to bear in mind what we have achieved hasn’t been done in more than 70 years of Formula One,” Horner said in an interview.

“Will it be achieved again in my lifetime? When you look at the results, I don’t think we will be able to better what we’ve done this year.”

Verstappen dominated to such an extent that his record for most points in a season, 575, was enough to win the constructors’ title on his own. Second-place Mercedes scored 409.

Lewis Hamilton of Mercedes, a seven-time champion, praised Verstappen for his achievements.

“He’s done an amazing job with the package he has,” Hamilton said. “He and the team have been phenomenal this year, faultless. They’ve raised the bar.”

Verstappen collected his third-consecutive drivers’ championship with five races to spare, all of which he won to end the season on a run of seven straight victories.

Verstappen said his hunger to succeed was “just how I grew up.”

“My mindset didn’t change after winning the championship,” he said. “I can’t go into a weekend not giving it my all. I would just get annoyed with myself, and I know the people around me would get annoyed with me if I was like that.”

There is a rule of thumb in Formula One that to be one of the greats, a driver has to win three world titles. Verstappen is now one of the greats, standing alongside Ayrton Senna, Niki Lauda, Jackie Stewart, Jack Brabham, and Nelson Piquet.

Only Michael Schumacher, Hamilton, Juan Manuel Fangio, Alain Prost and Sebastian Vettel have won more.

With 54 Grands Prix victories, his last in the final race of the year in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, to take him past Vettel, a former Red Bull driver, Verstappen is third on the all-time list behind Hamilton, with 103, and Schumacher with 91.

At 26, and with a contract with Red Bull to the end of 2028, Verstappen could challenge Hamilton and Schumacher for their record seven titles, and Hamilton’s Grand Prix victory record.

“The hunger and the fire still burn brightly within him, and we don’t see that diminishing,” Horner said.

After the first four races of the year, Verstappen and his teammate, Sergio Pérez, had won two apiece. It appeared Verstappen had a challenger.

At the next race in Miami, Pérez, who started on pole position, was beaten by Verstappen, who had started ninth on the grid. The result, Pérez said, hurt his confidence. He was on the podium in just five of the next 17 races.

Pérez was still runner-up in the drivers’ championship. It was the first time in Red Bull’s 19-season history it had taken the top two positions.

Pérez’s contract with Red Bull expires at the end of next season. Another faltering year will leave his hope of a new deal vulnerable.

“We’re in a luxury position where there’s an awful lot of people who want to be sat in that car, so we just have to weigh up what is best for the team,” Horner said.

Red Bull’s main rivals, Mercedes and Ferrari, were never in the hunt. Mercedes finished second in the constructor’s championship, just 3 points ahead of Ferrari, but their combined total still didn’t match Red Bull’s with Mercedes 451 points behind the champions.

“Both losers,” Toto Wolff, the Mercedes team principal, said.

Acknowledging the performance of Red Bull and Verstappen, he said, “You’ve got to have a lot of respect for their achievements on the engineering side, and the driver.”

Wolff said that beating Red Bull under the current regulations, which run for another two years before new power unit rules arrive for 2026, was “against the odds.”

Mercedes finished the year without a victory for the first time since 2011. It is now two years since Hamilton last won a race. He said he was happy to see the back of his car. A new model will arrive for next season.

Instead, it was Ferrari, and Carlos Sainz, who won in Singapore, that denied Red Bull a perfect season.

Frédéric Vasseur, Ferrari team principal, said in an interview that he was not satisfied with his first year in charge.

“It was not the season we expected, mainly because we were too far away at the beginning,” he said.

“But we had a good reaction, the team turned itself around the right way, and step by step we came back. Overall, collectively, we did a good job.”

It was a similar story for McLaren, which started the season miserably, collecting 17 points in the first eight races before delivering an updated car at the Austrian Grand Prix that had them outscore Mercedes and Ferrari in the final 14 Grands Prix.

The season for Aston Martin was the reverse of McLaren as it started strongly before tapering away. Fernando Alonso was on the podium six times in the first eight races as the team pushed Red Bull. He managed only two more after that.

Alonso, a two-time champion, said it was still “a dream season” for Aston Martin, which scored 55 points last year compared with the 280 this year.

The Haas team finished last for the second time in three years.

“With hindsight, we should have changed the concept of the car earlier, but we just didn’t react quick enough, and it was just too late to save the season,” Günther Steiner, the team principal, said in an interview.

“We can be so much better, and we have to do so much better.”

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