Max Verstappen is dominating F1, and we should appreciate it while it lasts
There is beauty in dominance.
For example, consider the years where Tiger Woods was inevitable. Every time he hit a tee shot, you expected the ensuing “Tiger Twirl” of the club. Each time he entered a tournament, you expected a win. The dominance was there week-in, and week-out, and we celebrated it. We cherished it. We appreciated the dominance of the moment, a master of his craft who made every week exhilarating, even if it was inevitable.
Now let’s talk about Red Bull and Max Verstappen.
Through six races of the 2023 F1 season, Verstappen, Sergio Pérez, and Red Bull have been the clear class of the field. The RB19 is unbeatable on the track, and Red Bull has seen one of its drivers secure victory in each of the five races this season. Thanks to a win in Miami from Verstappen, with Perez posting a second-place finish, Red Bull has locked out the front row in four of the five six this season. Only Lewis Hamilton and Fernando Alonso broke that streak, with Hamilton’s second-place finish in the Australian Grand Prix, and Alonso’s second-place finish in Monaco.
And the most inevitable finish of them all was perhaps three weeks ago in Miami.
Despite starting in ninth, Verstappen roared through the field, pushing his way into second place by Lap 15. Starting on hard tyres, it was just a matter of time before Pérez, who was on the mediums, would need to put, and in the process give Verstappen the lead. When he did, the defending Drivers’ champion pulled away, posting scorching lap after scorching lap on tyres that should have been slipping away from him. Instead, on Lap 35 – and on 35-lap-old tyres, Verstappen posted the fastest lap of the race.
And while Verstappen still had a pit stop of his own coming up, he came out of the box just 1.6 seconds down to his teammate Pérez, sitting in P2 Everyone at Hard Rock Stadium, or watching at home, knew what was coming.
Pérez could not even hold him off for a full lap.
The only thing that was missing was the Sunday red, like Tiger wears.
But as masterful as Verstappen was in Miami, perhaps his weekend in Monaco was even more impressive.
First there was what we saw Saturday in qualifying. Qualifying is basically the ballgame in the Monte Carlo streets. With overtaking almost impossible in the Grand Prix, if you want to win in Monaco you better be starting near the front.
As time wound out in the third and final qualifying session Fernando Alonso was sitting on provisional pole, and it was looking like Alonso was going to be starting up front on Sunday. Verstappen was on the track for the final qualifying run of the day, but was behind Alonso’s time through the first two sectors. Only the final sector — with seven of the track’s 19 turns — remained.
Somehow, some way, Verstappen pulled it off.
This split-screen view shows how both drivers worked through the final sector:
And here you can see how Verstappen closed the gap to Alonso:
Then there was the Grand Prix itself, when Verstappen managed to hold off the rain, and the entire field, for his second win in Monaco. On a week when Red Bull — and Verstappen himself — admitted it might be their toughest test to date, he came away with both the pole, and the win.
As fans, we cherish competition. We live for the home run in the bottom of the ninth. The game-winning drive in the final minutes. The game-winning three at the buzzer. But there is true beauty in what we have seen from Red Bull — and both Pérez and Verstappen — this year.
The RB19 has been the standard this entire season, dating back to pre-season testing. And despite those lofty expectations, and the host of praise thrown their way leading into the season-opening Bahrain Grand Prix, Red Bull has not faltered. They have not wavered. Six wins in six races. Double podiums in four of the six, and a commanding lead in the Constructors’, putting them on course for a second-straight title.
Of course, there should be a massive amount of praise for Pérez, who through six races has turned this into a potential heavyweight bout for the Drivers’ championship. With wins in both Saudi Arabia and Azerbaijan, Perez has put himself right behind his teammate in the standings. While Pérez had a weekend to forget in Monaco, there is still time for him to remain in the fight.
Which would be a tremendous accomplishment, given the form of his teammate. Because as good as Perez has been, Verstappen has been that but better. And when you are talking about two of the best drivers in the world, every slim margin counts.
Verstappen is Thanos, snapping his fingers to hump from P9 to P1 like he did in Miami, or from P15 to P2 in Melbourne. Yes, it seems inevitable, and it might not make for great television. But there is beauty in the inevitably. In the dominance. In the execution. Every time Verstappen gets to engage DRS, or drives hard into a corner, we expect magic. Like every time Alex Ovechkin or Connor McDavid touches the puck, or Patrick Mahomes drops back, or Tiger tees it up.
Because as much as we love competition, we equally appreciate greatness. Or so we should. And that is what we are seeing right now. There are battles to be seen all over the grid each week. Those hoping to see overtakes, strategic decisions backfire, the ensuing consequences, and everything else motorsport has to offer can work their eyes through the field. Miami, for example, saw fantastic battles between Lewis Hamilton and Charles Leclerc, or even Leclerc and Kevin Magnussen.
In Monaco while the fights during the Grand Prix were mostly at the back of the field, given the tight and tricky layout of the Monte Carlo streets, qualifying came down to the final moments and a true fight between Verstappen, Alonso, and Esteban Ocon.
There are fights all over the grid that we can enjoy.
But what is happening at the front is dominance right now, and yes, we can appreciate that too.
Because it does not last forever.
Just ask Toto Wolff, the Mercedes Team Principal.
After all, for a stretch of time Mercedes was the dominant team in the sport, and Hamilton was the best driver in the world, winning four-straight titles and six of seven from 2014 until 2020. That had the rest of the field trying to chase the Silver Arrows, and when Verstappen and Red Bull closed the gap, it set up one of the most memorable title fights in recent years, one which came down to the final lap of the season.
“F1 is a meritocracy,” said Wolff following the Monaco Grand Prix. “It’s sport, whether it is good for the show or not. Obviously a strong fight between 10 drivers or at least two, is much better for all of us but it is not happening, that is why you have to just accept that and work to get back there.”
Red Bull worked to get back there, and now they are the dominant force in the sport, with Verstappen leading the way.
“They have just done a good job,” Wolff added. “The car is fast in all conditions, the driver is at the top of his game, even on Sunday going off at times but to not DNF is a skill. You can see that he pushed, so all credit to them. We just need to do a better job, we need to catch up, find intelligent solutions. Hope that our learning slope, our development slope is steeper than theirs and eventually fight for this again.”
That is a cycle that Red Bull boss Christian Horner knows well. At one time, prior to the run of success from Mercedes, it was Red Bull at the front of the field. But Red Bull had to find a way to close the gap. Writing back in 2020, on the cusp of Red Bull’s 300th Grand Prix, Horner had this to say about those years:
“Winning becomes like a drug and you become addicted to it and when you are not winning, it hurts. However, our goals today remain unchanged.
“Mercedes have had an incredible run of success with their seventh world championship and you have to have a lot of respect for what they, and Lewis Hamilton, have achieved.
“They have set the bar very high but it is something for us to strive towards and match. Sport is always cyclical and you want to make sure you are on the upward trend and always in the fight.”
Teams — perhaps Mercedes themselves — will close the gap. They will put in the work, the hours, the development, to surpass the Bulls at the front of the field.
After all, returning to the Tiger analogy, that’s what happened on the golf course. He set the standard, and everyone chased him. Eventually, they caught up.
Success breeds innovation, competition breeds improvement, and competitors find a way to get back in the fight. But until then, Verstappen may remain up front, and may put on a dominant show each week.
A show that we should all appreciate while it lasts, a competitor at the absolute top of their game.
Because it will not always be this way. […]