The sound and the fury finally stops after a record breaking season dominated by the Flying Dutchman. PETER COSTER looks at the F1 phenomenon that is Super Max.
Max Verstappen and Red Bull finished the year as they started, while setting records that may never be broken.
Verstappen had already won a hat trick of world drivers’ championships before he took out Sunday’s Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, becoming the first driver in the history of the sport to lead 1000 laps in a season.
His 54th win saw him surpass Sebastian Vettel, placing him third on the all-time list behind Michael Schumacher on 91 and Lewis Hamilton on 103.
Whichever stat sheet you turn, there is Verstappen’s name. He has won 19 of this season’s 23 races, with 10 consecutive race wins, the most podium finishes, 212, the highest points total, 575 and the highest championship winning margin, 290.
There are records still being discovered by those who pore over such things. More interesting to the millions who follow what was dubbed “the greatest show on earth” as it left Las Vegas last week, is how Max does it.
Apart from his superlative skills as a driver, the Dutchman does it by dominating.
That is by psychologically subduing his rivals. He is relentless.
When other drivers are asked about their race, it is to admit Max is always in their heads.
They expect Max to win and he does. They almost make way for him if, like Charles Leclerc in the pole-sitting Ferrari at Abu Dhabi, they regard it as a foregone conclusion.
In the pit tunnel on Sunday, Verstappen simply elbowed his way past other drivers.
“You can’t do that,” were the complaints, but a search through the rules by the stewards inferred you could. Passing in the pit lane wasn’t mentioned.
Now the rules have been changed because Max did it.
It looked as if lesser drivers were tugging the forelock to motor racing royalty as an imperious Max swept past.
“I can say without doubt that he is easily one of the best drivers ever,” offered McLaren’s Lando Norris.
That was said after the Belgium Grand Prix at Spa before the summer break.
Now at season’s end he might say the master of controlled aggression is the greatest of all time, the GOAT.
That mastery, that dominance, that sheer force of will would also seem to include the car he drives.
The RB19, designed by Adrian Newey, is a masterpiece of F1 engineering, to be considered alongside the Ferrari of Michael Schumacher and the Mercedes driven by Lewis Hamilton that brought each of these drivers seven world titles.
The Red Bull was beaten only once this season, at Singapore, a street circuit under lights and is a loss that remains unexplained.
Whatever it was that disturbed the car seemed to reappear at Abu Dhabi as Verstappen struggled on the time sheets in the three free-practice sessions.
The Dutchman on team radio said repeatedly that the car was “jumping like a kangaroo.”
But while the car might have jumped, it was Verstappen who somehow jumped on the car, putting it on pole.
Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc was second and McLaren’s Oscar Piastri third, having been pushed off the front row by Leclerc on the last lap of the session.
Verstappen then cruised to victory, some 18 seconds ahead of Leclerc who tried to give Red bull’s Sergio Perez a tow on the last few laps to prevent George Russell from getting the points necessary take second place in the constructors’ championship.
Perez finished second behind Verstappen on the road but was relegated to fourth with a five-second penalty for a mid-race incident involving Lando Norris.
That bumped Russell to third with Norris fifth and Piastri sixth after another superlative performance from the Melbourne rookie in a season that promises so much more from the F2 and F3 world champion.
Just as confusing, if not confounding, as the turnaround in McLaren’s fortunes has been the slump, then the rejuvenation in what threatened to be the end of Daniel Ricciardo’s F1 career.
The Monaco-based Australian was sacked from McLaren after a run of outs and was then picked up as as reserve driver for Red Bull team before being given a seat with the Red Bull junior team.
His presence at AlphaTauri seemed to energise regular driver Yuki Tsunoda, who finished eighth at Abu Dhabi and ahead of Ricciardo in 11th.
Tsunoda became the first Japanese driver to lead a Grand Prix before falling back as the pit stops played out.
The Japanese driver outqualified Ricciardo this season but the AlphaTauri team has signed the Australian for 2024.
There was even talk of Ricciardo replacing Perez at Red Bull next season but that appears unlikely with AlphaTauri changing its name and taking on new American sponsors.
Lewis Hamilton was even said to be considering a move to Red Bull alongside Max Verstappen before he signed a two-year extension with Mercedes and its frustrated and clearly disappointed owner Toto Wolff.
Hamilton’s father was named by Red Bull principal Christian Horner as suggesting Hamilton might be available.
It was apparently with the proviso that Hamilton would have equal machinery to Verstappen and while that might have been possible, not even Red Bull would have been able to stump up the money.
So, we wait for next season and testing before the Bahrain Grand Prix on March 2 to see the cars that will be rolled out under new regulations.
The Australian Grand Prix is the third race on March 24 after Saudi Arabia on March 9.
China returns to the F1 calendar on April 21, making it a record-breaking season of 24 races.
For now the drivers, even the youngest of them are exhausted. George Russell broke out in a coughing fit in the cool-down room on Sunday after saying he was coughing in the car during the race and was getting only three hours sleep a night.
Alpine driver Esteban Ocon was sick and trying to sleep in the Alpine motor home at the circuit before the race.
But either of them taking a sickie? Not at what these drivers are paid.