His masterful triumph in Sunday’s Spanish Grand Prix was the team’s seventh out of seven this year and lifted him 53 points clear of team-mate and nearest rival Sergio Perez in the drivers’ championship.
Lewis Hamilton came home a distant second in his heavily upgraded Mercedes to boost their recovery hopes, but admitted it was unrealistic for them to catch the ‘Bulls before 2024.
AFP Sport looks at three things we learned from Sunday’s race at the Circuit de Catalunya:
Verstappen supremacy signals Red Bull can win every race
Team chief Christian Horner was at pains to distance himself and Red Bull from any talk of winning every race after this victory, but in praising Mercedes’ upgrade he highlighted the feeble form of their rivals.
None of Aston Martin, Ferrari or Mercedes have produced consistent pace and performance to be a concern to Red Bull whose greatest anxiety is in keeping Sergio Perez focused on his role in the team and not the drivers’ title race.
“It’s far too soon to talk about anything like that,” said Horner about speculation regarding an unbeaten season. “Mercedes showed they have made a good step – a big upgrade, but we’ve got some more bits coming later in the season too. They are a quality team and will put us under pressure, but today it was still 24 seconds….”
After his third consecutive win, third in Spain and fifth of the season, taking him to a career total of 40, Verstappen was his customary unflustered self – a man in command of his destiny, heading towards a third title.
Asked about Mercedes’ revival and threat, he said: “These are questions I can’t really answer. It can be track-dependent so I can’t answer that question because I don’t know…. But, for sure, it would be great for the sport in general to have more teams at the front and fighting.”
On his team winning every race, he suggested it was ‘unlikely to happen’ after initially conceding that ‘how it looks at the moment, I think we can.’
The length of the season – 22 races following the cancellation of the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix — makes it a daunting challenge, but with high levels of reliability, a clear performance superiority and two top-level race-winning drivers, it is possible.
The nearest any team has been to a perfect season was in 1988 when Ron Dennis’s Ayrton Senna-Alain Prost led McLaren-Hondas won 15 of 16 contests, only missing out at Monza where Senna collided with an errant back-marker as he lapped him with two laps remaining.
Hamilton rejuvenated by Mercedes improvement
Lewis Hamilton drove with precision and purpose, rejuvenated by a car that was responsive and fast, as he raced to second place, a result that boosted Mercedes’ revival hopes for 2024, if not this year.
“With the current car, I don’t think we’ll be matching their performance, but we are working on big improvements,” said the seven-time world champion. “There’s a huge amount of work and study and improvements for the future.
“Obviously, they (Red Bull) will also progress through the year, so we need to take big chunks out of them with every step.”
With George Russell battling to third, Mercedes recorded their first double podium of the season.
“I’m hoping at least by the end of the year to challenge them – but I’m more focussed on next year… to challenge them from day one.”
Hamilton, whose current deal with Mercedes ends this year, added that he hoped to agree a new contract, expected to be for two years, within days.
Perez needs to refocus on his role with Red Bull
After two poor qualifying sessions, in Monaco and Spain, Sergio Perez has admitted he must refocus and recover his best form for Red Bull after finishing fourth at the Spanish Grand Prix.
His two wins in seven races this year lifted him into drivers’ title contention and, to many observers, distracted him.
“I’m not tired,” he said. “But I think after this one we’ve got to analyse things, make sure we understand what has happened and come back strong.”
Team boss Christian Horner defended Perez from criticism for missing out on a podium. “He qualified out of position and can take positives from his recovery,” he said.
Perez remains second, 53 points adrift of Verstappen in the title race while Red Bull sit 135 points clear of Mercedes in the constructors’ standings.
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