For Max Verstappen, a Formula 1 Season Like No Other
Max Verstappen said his season was not perfect, but it will be regarded as one of the best in Formula 1 history.
Verstappen set a record for the number of Grand Prix victories in a season with 15, surpassing the previous best of 13 by Sebastian Vettel and Michael Schumacher to become the second-youngest driver to attain two championships.
“This season was just great,” Verstappen of Red Bull said in an interview. “We had a rough start, but after that we did very little wrong, and even though you cannot be perfect, we will always strive to achieve that.”
Verstappen did not finish in two of the first three Grands Prix because of reliability issues with his car. After that, he was nearly unstoppable as he overcame a 46-point deficit to Charles Leclerc of Ferrari to win the championship by 146 points. His total of 454 set a record for a season.
“Me, personally, I try to be a perfectionist, and I know that’s very hard, but I demand that from myself and I demand that from the team, and the team demands that from me,” he said.
“We always have a very honest conversation about it. Sometimes, you disagree on things, and that’s fine. That’s how it works in life, but it’s always very important to be honest with each other, and really say when something is not correct.”
Red Bull adapted better than their rivals to the changes to the aerodynamic regulations, devised to allow the cars to follow more closely and aid overtaking, that were introduced for 2022.
“At the end of the day, it’s all about who designs the best car, who comes up with the more clever ideas,” Verstappen said.
“At the start of the season, it was all a big question mark for everyone, where you were going to be. OK, you have your own numbers, but you don’t know what others might have found. From the start, our car was just a better car compared to the competition.”
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Verstappen became a two-time champion with victory at the Japanese Grand Prix in October, with four races to spare.
Two weeks later, when he won the United States Grand Prix, he helped Red Bull take its first constructors’ championship since 2014.
“You always need two cars to perform well, and this year we did,” said Verstappen, referring to his teammate Sergio Pérez. “It’s really satisfying for everyone at the factory. They work flat out trying to achieve it.
“Winning the drivers’ title is amazing, but it gives you even more satisfaction if you can win as a team as well.”
The successes were in contrast with 2021, when he passed Lewis Hamilton of Mercedes on the final lap of the last race in Abu Dhabi to become champion for the first time. Red Bull finished 28 points behind Mercedes, which won an eighth consecutive constructors’ title.
Verstappen said that his first title “was honestly the more emotional one” but that the second was “definitely the most satisfying.”
“That’s just because of what we have done this year in terms of the amount of race wins, but also just working with the team the whole season,” he said.
“Last year, we lost a lot of points battling. This year, we had a bit more luck, and in general, we were more competitive.”
Christian Horner, the team principal, said Verstappen had “made another step this year.”
“Winning last year’s championship really took the pressure off his shoulders,” he said in an interview. “He just matured and moved up a gear.
“He adapted to the new regulations brilliantly, got his head down and just drove some incredible races. When you look at those Grand Prix victories, wow, there are some incredible races there. He was absolutely the outstanding driver of the season.”
Hamilton, who finished sixth in the drivers’ championship, said Verstappen did a great job.
“He’s done everything that he had to do,” Hamilton said. “The team provided him with an amazing car, and he’s delivered pretty much every weekend.”
Horner said he did not believe that Verstappen had been given the credit he deserved over the past two years.
Comparing Vettel, who won four titles with Red Bull from 2010 to 2013, and Verstappen, he said: “Two very different drivers, two phenomenally successful drivers. What Sebastian has achieved puts him among the great and most successful drivers in the sport. But what we saw this year from Max, we witnessed something very special.
“I sometimes think his achievements don’t receive the plaudits they should because it was an absolutely outstanding performance from a driver who is very much at the top of his game.”
With Red Bull finishing 205 points ahead of Ferrari in the constructors’ championship, it has raised a question of whether Formula 1 is headed into an era of Red Bull dominance, like Mercedes did from 2014 to 2021.
“With new regulations, it’s always very important to hit it off well, and I think we did that,” Verstappen said. “Now, it’s all about trying to continue that and trying to find even more performance in the cars.
“Normally, over the years, it all comes together, the teams get a bit closer. Yes, we’ve had a good head start, but as a team, we’re never satisfied. We always want more. We want to do better, but we also depend on what the other teams find or improve on.”
Horner said it would be very difficult for Verstappen and Red Bull to dominate in 2023.
“Ferrari will make progress from this year, and, Mercedes developed their car hard,” he said.
“They brought a lot of development through the year, so they are going to make a step, and I think you will have a three-way battle next year.”
Red Bull heads into 2023 handicapped by a penalty from the F.I.A., the sport’s governing body, for breaching the cost cap for 2021.
Teams were allowed a budget of $145 million that season; Red Bull exceeded it by nearly $2 million. It was fined $7 million and hit with a 10 percent reduction in the amount of time it can spend testing the aerodynamics of its car in the wind tunnel for 12 months, which may affect next year’s car.
“Of course, it will have an effect,” Horner said. “It is constricting your development tools. It just means we will have to think smarter and be more selective in what we test and run. We just need to adapt.
“And what we have lost in wind-tunnel time, we have gained in motivation, so we have just got to get on with it, get our heads down, and do the very best job that we can.”
A further shadow was cast over the team, and the relationship between Verstappen and Pérez, at the penultimate race in São Paulo, Brazil, in November.
In the final laps, Verstappen refused to give up a position to Pérez, who was chasing second place in the drivers’ championship, despite a team instruction to do so.
Verstappen later cited an incident between them earlier in the season as his reason. He did not elaborate on that or say why he did not move aside in Brazil. Pérez said of Verstappen over the team radio, “It shows who he really is.” Pérez finished the season in third place for the championship, three points behind Leclerc.
The drivers discussed the problem with team management after the race.
Pérez, who won Grands Prix in Monaco and Singapore, said that it had been “a hell of a year for Red Bull” and that he did not want what happened “to take any enjoyment away from any of the guys in my team.”
“Max and myself now have a very strong responsibility to keep this united team going forward,” he said.
Horner said the incident was “a blip” and “lessons were learned.”
“They are working as team members and will continue to do so,” he said. “We need to work as a team to beat our opponents again next year. They have been the most successful pairing we have ever had, and I think they will do a great job for us next year.”
Verstappen said that he had “a great relationship” with Pérez and that there would be no hangover into 2023.
“We put everything on the table and everything was solved,” he said. “I have never been a bad teammate to anyone, I’ve always been very helpful, and the team knows that. I always put the team upfront because, at the end of the day, it is a team effort.”