Max Verstappen enters the pantheon of Formula 1 greats

Max Verstappen clinched his third F1 world championship at the 2023 Qatar GP.

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Ayrton Senna, Nelson Piquet, Niki Lauda, Jackie Stewart, Jack Brabham, Max Verstappen – Like it or not, Verstappen‘s third F1 title makes him one of the greats of Formula 1, aged only 26.

The bottom of the thesaurus has been scraped time and time again in 2023 attempting to find new descriptions for his supremacy, his brilliance, his superiority, his mastery.

But perhaps the best indicator is that even in such a legendary list of three-time champions, Verstappen‘s legacy at least on-track should outstrip all of them by the time he’s done with F1.

In a season where he’d failed to top just 12 competitive sessions heading to the 2023 Qatar Grand Prix, it was with a certain irony that Oscar Piastri made that 13 in the sprint shootout just hours ahead of Verstappen‘s coronation.

F1 2023 World Drivers Champion Max Verstappen of Red Bull celebrates after the 2023 Qatar GP Sprint | Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool

However, Verstappen‘s reaction to that and claiming his championship without winning the session just forms a microcosm of what has driven this success.

“Today I know that I only needed to score three points to win the championship of course, but I still want to win,” Verstappen told the media. “I’m still out there to try and do the best I can, that’s going to be the same tomorrow and when I go to the next race. I will try to win again.”

Still, topping all but 10 sessions across 17 races isn’t to be sniffed at. It’s just one of dozens of stats that attempt shed some light on Verstappen‘s domination of 2023, and his record of consecutive wins is a more timeless comparison of superiority in a season.

The double-figure streak is something Mercedes never challenged, Schumacher couldn’t match with Ferrari, Prost and Senna aren’t anywhere close. In a sport often characterised by dominance, Verstappen‘s 2023 stands alone.

He will surely break his own wins in a season record too, while the 19 other drivers try to work out any significant weaknesses in his racing. What’s possibly even scarier is how far he’ll have got before he starts slowing down too.

A pit board celebrating the 2023 F1 World Drivers Championship victory of Max Verstappen of after Qatar GP Sprint | Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool

With at least 15 years of racing left, Verstappen could be the top entry in most F1 records by the time he retires, unless something drastic changes.

It’s not just that Red Bull are looking good and Verstappen is the beneficiary of that. He’s been moulded from childhood into the perfect champion, and everything he does in the F1 paddock demonstrates the fierce competitive spirit to take advantage of that.

Off the track, Verstappen entrenches himself more and more on the A-list with every race win even as he still largely shuns the limelight outside F1 and his coupling to one of the sport’s most famous names will only accelerate that.

Even with a more insular mentality than Lewis Hamilton, the benchmark for drivers reaching outside the F1 sphere, Verstappen‘s domination has come at just the moment the sport is really starting to dig into America, and that will send his status even higher.

But he’ll remain synonymous with that pure dedication to his craft on the track, and making his rivals’ task of stopping Verstappen even harder.

Verstappen deletes the asterisks

Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton after finishing second and world championship winner Red Bull’s Max Verstappen | REUTERS/Hamad I Mohammed

Even by F1 standards, Verstappen has already likely faced more controversy than any other three-time champions as he joins the pantheon of Brabham, Stewart, Lauda, Piquet, and Senna.

Verstappen‘s career will be forever linked with the hugely controversial circumstances in which he claimed his first title at the 2021 Abu Dhabi GP, and the Red Bull cost cap scandal which erupted literally the day after he clinched the 2022 championship in Japan.

Doubters have always been able to find an asterisk to his success within easy reach, but that has come to a screeching halt in 2023.

The Red Bull has been so utterly crushing, and Verstappen‘s demolition of Perez so complete, that even the most ardent haters have been hard-pressed to find an excuse to downplay his victories.

Perez is a very good driver who did it all in the midfield, scoring podiums, winning a race, even keeping his team afloat, and it looked desperately unlucky that one of the best in F1 throughout the 2010s would never get his shot at a top team.

Sergio Perez celebrates with Esteban Ocon and Lance Stroll on the podium winning the 2020 Sakhir Grand Prix for Racing Point | Aston Martin F1 Team

Even at Red Bull, Perez went toe-to-toe with Mercedes in 2021 and was undeniably a crucial factor in Verstappen‘s triumph, again underlining his quality in an F1 car.

But in 2022 and particularly 2023, Verstappen‘s displayed the difference between an excellent driver and a truly great one in 4K definition for the world to see.

If the record-breaking run of race victories wasn’t enough, you need only look at the 2023 Singapore GP for a more down-to-earth comparison.

After the pair were actually pretty close in qualifying, Verstappen left Perez in the dust on Sunday and battled up to the top five, finishing just behind the race winner’s teammate.

Meanwhile the Mexican was a full minute off Carlos Sainz after an ugly prang with Alex Albon, unable to extract anything near the same performance level from the RB19.

Early on in qualifying for the Qatar GP, Sky Sports’ David Croft noted how Lando Norris‘ time would have been within three-tenths of Verstappen‘s first run had it not been deleted.

That’s what this season is reduced to – employ a few ifs, buts and maybes, and one of the most talented drivers in the sport could still be a quarter of a second behind the leader.

What next?

Max Verstappen of Red Bull and Lando Norris of McLaren after 2023 Hungarian Grand Prix | Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool

Non-Red Bull fans have been looking ahead to 2024, 2025 or the next big regulations change in 2026 for quite some time already, when they hope they can pretend the Verstappen years were all just a bad dream, but is it that simple?

Red Bull show no signs of slowing down, and any closing of the gap since Hungary is just as likely down to their development for 2024 as a real change in the competitive order.

Though there is a generationally talented crop of young F1 drivers right now, the best-case scenario is that it remains to be seen Norris, George Russell, Oscar Piastri or anyone else reach the astronomically high level needed to compete with Verstappen on an equal footing.

But Verstappen‘s legacy will reach far outside F1. He’s the figurehead of eRacing, a movement that still has an incomprehensible future in motorsport right now, and the GT3 team he’ll put on track in real life in 2025 will surely just be the start of Verstappen success outside of Max or Jos.

His seemingly insatiable appetite for racing opens up more than the possibility of a triple crown too, as almost any team in any form of motorsport would be lucky to have Verstappen in their ranks even just for one event.

That’s all to come though, for now there’s nothing else to do than sit back and marvel at the Dutchman’s superlative supremacy, brilliance, superiority, mastery.

As Verstappen himself would say, it’s been a simply lovely ride so far.

Adam Dickinson
An international multi-award-winning journalist, Adam Dickinson has written for Total-Motorsport.com since June 2022 and also contributes to TNT Sports, Eurosport and the Rugby Paper. He's also had articles published in the Daily Telegraph and several local newspapers, previously worked for Last-Lap.co.uk and FeederSeries.net in motorsport, and graduated with a First-Class Journalism Degree from the University of Sheffield having also studied in Oklahoma. Adam started watching F1 by accident in 2007, catching the last race in Indianapolis, and attended his first race as a journalist at the 2023 British Grand Prix.
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