Verstappen joins F1’s triple champions, with more to come

Formula One F1 - Qatar Grand Prix - Lusail International Circuit, Lusail, Qatar - October 7, 2023 Red Bull's Max Verstappen celebrates after finishing second in the sprint race and winning the championship REUTERS/Rula Rouhana

DOHA,- Max Verstappen added his name to a roll call of Formula One triple champions on Saturday but the Red Bull driver may be only just getting up to speed.

The man who turned 26 a week ago is the second youngest triple champion of all time, after Germany’s now-retired four- times titleholder Sebastian Vettel, and has plenty more milestones in him.

He joins Brazilians Ayrton Senna and Nelson Piquet, Austrian Niki Lauda, Britain’s Jackie Stewart and Australian Jack Brabham as winners of three titles.

Only Vettel, Frenchman Alain Prost (four), Argentina’s Juan Manuel Fangio (five), Michael Schumacher and Lewis Hamilton (seven each) have won more since the championship started in 1950.

Even this season Verstappen can still break his own record for most wins in a year, overtake Prost’s career tally of 51 victories and score more points than anyone in one campaign.

Spain’s twice world champion Fernando Alonso is still racing at 42 years old and Britain’s seven-times champion Lewis Hamilton at 38.

“I think the next few years will be even better for Max, to be honest,” Alonso told reporters at Qatar’s Lusail circuit where Verstappen clinched the title in a sprint race.

“He will keep adding championships so we will compare him to Michael (Schumacher) even closer in the future.”

This year was one of absolute domination and consistency, different to last year and even further from the first won in controversial circumstances in 2021 after a last race showdown with Hamilton.

Verstappen has barely made a mistake in the last two campaigns but this time his car has not let him down like it did at the start of 2022.

As in the past with other shattered team mates, he has pounded Mexican Sergio Perez into submission with performances that have put him into a league of his own.

Red Bull clinched their sixth constructors’ title in Japan last month but Verstappen has helped lift them to a higher plane with 13 wins in 16 races including a record 10 in a row up to Singapore.

“I think he just gets sharper and sharper,” said Red Bull principal Christian Horner after Verstappen’s 13th win in Japan.

“The raw speed and ability has been there from day one and that hunger and passion that he drives with, but now he couples that with experience and the way he reads the race, the way he manages tyres, the way he reads the situation is phenomenal.

“And I think he pushes the team, we push him and we both go to new levels.”

When Verstappen entered the sport as a 17-year-old, and the youngest ever driver, he acquired something of a reputation as a hothead prone to crashes. In 2018, he threatened to headbutt anyone asking more about his accidents.

That same year he was ordered to carry out two days of public service for a fiery argument with French rival Esteban Ocon that ended in pushing and shoving.

Those days are long gone and Verstappen now exudes calm and confidence.

“The most impressive (thing) for me is that Max, it’s not just about the last 10 races but it’s about the last two years,” said Ferrari boss Fred Vasseur after Verstappen’s 10th win in a row.

“To not do a single mistake over two seasons, it’s just mega.”

Perez said Verstappen had done “a tremendous job”.

“He’s driven on another level compared to anyone else,” added the Mexican.

“It doesn’t matter what conditions he has, the level of confidence he has with the car at this stage is extremely high. And we see it with the results. He’s just able to deliver. He’s been able to deliver in any conditions.” – Reuters