Even after a record-breaking 15-win season in 2022, Max Verstappen knew there was plenty of room for improvement in the 2023 Formula 1 season.
It seems like only yesterday when Max Verstappen’s RB18 was sitting by the ride of the road in Australia with yet another mechanical failure and all he and his Red Bull team could say to the media was that there was no reason to think about a potential back-to-back Formula 1 world championship effort in 2022.
Since then, suffice it to say that they have figured things out.
Verstappen went on to win 14 of the final 19 races of the 2022 season, putting him at a record-breaking 15-win tally for the entire year to surpass Michael Schumacher and former Red Bull driver Sebastian Vettel on the all-time list.
Of course, Vettel’s win percentage was slightly higher at 68.42%, given that his 13-win season came in a 19-race season, as was Schumacher’s at 72.22%, with 13 wins in 18 races. Verstappen won 15 races in a 22-race season, putting him at 68.18%, still good for fifth best all-time and third best in seasons with more than 10 races.
Yet Max Verstappen somehow knew that he could improve upon his dominance in the 2023 Formula 1 season.
Before the 2023 season, much was made over the idea that Lewis Hamilton was going to bounce back and Charles Leclerc was poised to lead Ferrari forward after a promising 2022 season. Everywhere you looked, a three-way title battle between the Red Bull driver, the Mercedes driver, and the Ferrari driver was being promoted.
Then after the first four races, it was supposedly Sergio Perez’s year, with some going as far as suggesting that he had an advantage over Verstappen in an RB19 that was “better suited” to his driving style than the RB18. In fact, at one point, he was actually the betting favorite to overtake his teammate in the point standings.
Since then, Verstappen has won 15 out of 16 races, including a record-breaking 10 in a row. To put that in perspective, Hamilton is Formula 1’s all-time winningest driver with 103 victories, and he never won more than 11 races in a single season. He also never won more than five races in a row, and Verstappen has a shot to go on two six-race winning streaks in the same year.
Speaking to Beyond the Flag before the start of the 2023 season, Verstappen somehow knew that an even more dominant effort than 2022 was possible.
“I know that sometimes it can be hard to replicate the season, but I think it’s the same as with the car, right? You always try to improve it, and I always look at the little details,” Verstappen, who now sits one win behind Vettel for third place on the all-time wins list with 52 victories, stated.
One of Verstappen’s mottos is “always keep pushing to improve”, and he knew that that could be a tall task after one of the greatest seasons the sport has ever seen. But knowing that there was room for improvement, the challenge didn’t faze him.
“Even when you have had a good race, there are always things that you could’ve done better,” he said. “And then of course you also learn from the bad races. By always trying to look for these little improvements and general experience you gain year after year, you try to do better. But of course it also depends a lot on the package you have around you.”
The package has certainly been there for him in 2023, with the RB19 being billed as one of the most dominant Formula 1 cars — and arguably Adrian Newey’s best — ever.
But even with the strength of the car aside, Verstappen has won 15 more races than Perez and scored more than twice as many points. He has more than twice as many wins as Perez has podium finishes.
Aside from matching Schumacher’s earliest ever title record with six races to go, he has even already clinched the constructor championship — on his own.
Perez has not won a single race during Verstappen’s 16-race stretch of 15 wins, and he has only managed three runner-up finishes during that stretch.
Maybe the GOAT debate is a bit overrated, but there is no denying that the 26-year-old Dutchman’s current form makes him the single most dominant driver the sport has ever seen.
With 17 wins in 20 races this year, he is guaranteed to break the all-time single season win percentage record (75%) held by Alberto Ascari, even if he finishes last in both of the season’s final two races.
And in his mind, there was really never any doubt.