On Sunday, Max Verstappen completed a rapid rise to eminence with a flourish in Japanese rain at Suzuka, in stark contrast to his acrimonious maiden success in Abu Dhabi last December.
Mercedes won the team championship for the eighth time in a row, but their dominance in Formula One came to an end.
Red Bull had teased what was to come, and in 2022 they delivered a supreme car capable of winning anywhere and in any conditions, as well as a more polished and mature version of Formula One’s first Dutch champion.
He turned 25 just over a week ago, making him the second-youngest two-time champion behind Vettel, and he is now on the verge of a record-breaking career.
It is an incredible accomplishment for a driver who was only 17 when he started his Formula One career with Toro Rosso in 2015.
A year later, he won his first race with Red Bull, driving with reckless abandon. “Mighty Max” has matured from the adolescent “Mad Max.”
Max, the son of Jos, a former journeyman Formula One driver, and Sophie, a Belgian world-class kart racer, won multiple titles as a child and nearly won the F3 title on his first attempt at the age of 15.
Despite the fact that his parents divorced when he was a child, their influence lasted and resulted in an aggressive racer who grew up with his father surrounded by cars and mechanics.
Daniel Ricciardo, a former Red Bull teammate, recalled his raw pace and determination.
“He’d already demonstrated his speed,” he explained. “However, in 2018, I recall him having crashes and making a lot of mistakes in the first four or five races.”
“But he figured out how to fix it, and he matured a lot.” I believe he made the most significant transition from a young boy to a man with some off-track maturity in 2018. It made his track results more consistent, and now you can just look at what he’s done.”
Red Bull team principal Christian Horner remained optimistic, and when this year’s new “ground effect” cars were introduced, the team had the ideal man in chief technical officer Adrian Newey to take advantage of the new regulations.
Newey was not only F1’s top car designer, but he also graduated from Southampton University in 1980 with a first-class honours degree in Aeronautics thanks to his thesis on ground effect technology.
It was a crucial advantage over his competitors, and Verstappen was vindicated for remaining loyal to Red Bull despite Ferrari’s attempts to entice him away.
“I trusted the process,” Verstappen said.
“That’s why I didn’t leave.” ‘Ah, it’s time to leave and go somewhere else to chase immediate success,’ you could have said at times. But I trusted the team and the people, and it paid off. So I’m overjoyed.”
Verstappen’s perseverance was rewarded with a winning car for 2022, a new contract until 2028, and none of the animosity that characterised last year’s title race.
“It’s a pleasure for me to be a part of this team.” “The most important thing is that there is a good atmosphere,” Verstappen said.
“You also have to be patient at times.” You can’t make things happen… That’s what I’ve discovered.”
With the exception of Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc’s early-season form, Verstappen has had a relatively trouble-free journey to join Alberto Ascari, Graham Hill, Jim Clark, Emerson Fittipaldi, Mika Hakkinen, and Fernando Alonso as double world champions.
Another ten drivers have three or more, including the top two, Hamilton and Michael Schumacher. They are long-term goals.
Verstappen’s victories are built on his supreme ability and confidence, but also on Mercedes’ failure to build a competitive machine and Ferrari’s self-inflicted issues ranging from driver errors to strategic blunders and mechanical flaws.
“He couldn’t have done this last year, no,” Horner said of Verstappen’s dominance in 2022, which has seen him win 12 of 18 races so far.
“I think the cars were difficult to follow back then.”
“However, the racing in 2021, particularly between Max and Lewis, was simply on another level.”
“I mean, those two guys were going at it hammer and tongs, and it was two titans at their peak.” It was an honour to be a part of it.”