LONDON: Max Verstappen is rewriting the record books, ready to overtake some of Formula One’s all-time greats in what looks ominously like becoming the most one-sided of seasons.
Sunday’s Spanish Grand Prix ‘Grand Slam’ win was a career 40th for Red Bull’s dominant double world champion and left him one behind Ayrton Senna, with Alain Prost’s tally also in his sights.
The Dutch 25-year-old was quickest in every practice session, led every race lap from pole position at Barcelona’s Circuit de Catalunya and also took a bonus point for fastest lap.
Fleeting hopes that Verstappen’s Mexican team mate Sergio Perez could put up a fight seem to have evaporated, with Verstappen already a mighty 53 points clear after seven of 22 races.
A third title seems assured and if domination can be a turn-off for neutral fans, although a feature of the sport through the ages, there is still a fascination with the numbers as Red Bull and their driver press on.
Verstappen has led the championship for more than a year while Red Bull have won the last eight races in a row, including last year’s season-ender in Abu Dhabi and all seven this season.
No team has ever won every race in a season — McLaren won all but one in 1988 with Senna and Prost — but Verstappen recognised in Barcelona that Red Bull could do that, even if it looked unlikely.
Red Bull have won 17 of the last 18 races, compared to McLaren’s 15 out of 16 in 1988.
Verstappen set the record of 15 wins in a season last year and he already has five in 2023, including the last three, with 15 more races to be run and no immediate end in sight to the domination.
“They are so far ahead,” said Mercedes’ seven times world champion Lewis Hamilton, after finishing runner-up on Sunday, of his team’s chances of closing the gap. “And ultimately Max will continue to win this year.
“That means they can start on their development for next year sooner than everybody else, if they haven’t already, and that’s the danger.”
Verstappen can equal Senna’s career tally of 41 in Canada next week and could match Prost’s 51 before the end of the campaign.
Sebastian Vettel’s 53 might even be within range, and Verstappen has already overtaken the German as Red Bull’s ‘winningest’ driver, leaving only Michael Schumacher (91) and Hamilton (103) ahead.
“Max is continuing to evolve as a driver. He’s getting more and more polished and the capacity he has in the car is truly impressive,” said Red Bull boss Christian Horner.
Verstappen won by 27 seconds to Aston Martin’s Fernando Alonso in Monaco and 24 seconds to Hamilton in Spain.
The winning margin in the season-opener in Bahrain from Verstappen to Alonso, third and best of the rest, was 38 seconds.
“Let’s keep our expectations real,” said Mercedes boss Toto Wolff after his team’s encouraging improvement on Sunday with a re-designed car. “There is such a long way to go in order to catch Red Bull.”
Verstappen has finished lower than second only five times in his last 28 races, and not at all this season, and has not retired from a race since April last year.
One thing has been clear for a while — the 2023 season is not going down to the wire.