Formula 1: Max Verstappen faces a clear double standard

Max Verstappen, Red Bull, Formula 1 (Photo by Michael Potts/BSR Agency/Getty Images)
Max Verstappen, Red Bull, Formula 1 (Photo by Michael Potts/BSR Agency/Getty Images) /

As the two-time reigning Formula 1 world champion, Max Verstappen is faced with a double standard. But it’s not necessarily a bad thing.

Max Verstappen went from winning every so often for a Red Bull team not quite on the level of Mercedes, which won eight straight Formula 1 world constructor championships from 2014 to 2021, to being expected to finish at the top of every session.

Verstappen became the fourth driver in Formula 1 history to win at least 10 races in a season en route to his 2021 world title, and he secured a record 18 podium finishes along the way. But even that championship came down to the wire; he wasn’t yet the dominant force that the sport had seen multiple times in the past.

Then in 2022, he won an all-time record 15 races, including five in a row and eight in a nine-race span, to shoot to sixth on the all-time wins list at the age of 25.

The Dutchman has evolved into the man to beat in Formula 1, having sat atop the driver standings since last May.

But as we saw last weekend in Baku, that doesn’t mean he doesn’t have his bad weekends. And given how far he has come over the last few years, a bad weekend for Verstappen is magnified and exploited far more than it is for any other driver.

The very fact that a second place finish, which may or may not happened as a result of an untimely safety car, is considered a “bad result” is evidence of that.

All the talk this past week has been about Verstappen no longer having an edge over teammate Sergio Perez. While Verstappen remains the betting favorite to win the 2023 title at all the sportsbooks, certain individuals have even gone as far as claiming that Perez now has the edge.

The current gap between the two at the top of the standings is six points, with Verstappen holding a slight edge. A win for either one in Miami guarantees them the points lead through five of 23 races.

Piggybacking off of that talk, you have your typical made-up storylines and headlines about Verstappen being enraged over Perez winning and wanting him replaced, even though there is absolutely nothing of substance from anybody in the paddock to suggest such a scenario. Such rumors are not new to Formula 1.

Perez and his father have even spoken out against similar suggestions in the past, with Perez blasting fans and media for “making up stories”. Even they are fed up with this idea that Perez is somehow getting the short end of the stick at the Milton Keynes-based team.

These types of stories rile up the fanbase and everyone who wants to see Verstappen lose, but they serve no real purpose, for the simple fact that they are not realistic.

But that’s what you get anymore when Verstappen doesn’t win, even if he finishes just two seconds behind in second place.

When winning becomes expected, anything less than dominance is treated as an utter failure. The fact that the sky is supposedly falling after a runner-up finish for Verstappen in Baku is a perfect illustration.

Is it fair? Probably not. But it’s not a bad problem to have for the 37-time Grand Prix winner and winner of 17 of the last 25 Formula 1 races.

Verstappen has evolved into the Patrick Mahomes of Formula 1. His rivals get more praise for almost beating him than he does for consistently beating them, and when he loses, the media treats it like Armageddon. Justin Herbert almost beat the Chiefs twice? MVP candidate. Perez moved to just six points behind? Man to beat.

Perez did get the win in Baku, and it was not just a “lucky” win like some have suggested, but we’re talking about one weekend. Verstappen has more instances of back-to-back wins throughout his career than Perez has total wins, and Perez still hasn’t won on a road course as a Red Bull driver; Verstappen has won 10 of the 11 road course races contested since last July.

And we all know that had the roles been reversed, Perez would have been praised for only finishing two seconds behind his teammate. Any other driver on the grid would have been praised for a second place finish, for that matter, even with a wider gap to the leader.

But a second place finish for Verstappen? Total disaster.

Including the sprint races, Verstappen scored an all-time record 454 points last year in 22 races. Excluding sprint races this year, he has averaged 21.75 points per weekend. Over 22 races, that average comes out to 478.5 points.

It’s not like his performance has fallen off a cliff. And if Verstappen and Perez keep swapping wins from race to race, the second place finishes — making the most of the lackluster weekends — are what will win Verstappen the championship.

Of course, this whole double standard concept is nothing new. Verstappen isn’t the first driver to face it because of his overwhelming recent success.

It is almost expected in motorsports, specifically in Formula 1 where so much is dependent on the team’s development of the race car and the importance placed on teammate battles. And it’s not hard to see that the RB19 is the class of the field.

In fact, just a few short years ago, it was another all-time great in Lewis Hamilton who was faced with the same situation, amid Mercedes’ run of eight straight constructor titles.

When Valtteri Bottas won the 2019 season opener by more than 20 seconds over his Mercedes teammate, the sky was falling. When the pair split the season’s first four races, Bottas, who was actually leading the standings at that point, was finally seen as a legitimate contender for the world title.

Hamilton went on to win the championship going away, finishing the year with 11 wins. Bottas could only add two more.

Now here we are in 2023, and Verstappen vs. Perez is the new teammate duo at the top. Is Perez really capable of challenging for the title, or will Verstappen pull away?

Next. All-time Formula 1 wins list. dark

Round five of the 23-race 2023 Formula 1 season is the Miami Grand Prix, which Verstappen won last year ahead of Perez in fourth place. The race is scheduled for Sunday, May 7 at 3:30 p.m. ET, with ESPN set to broadcast it live from Miami International Autodrome. Begin a free trial of FuboTV before the weekend and don’t miss it!