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Ranking Max Verstappen's Championships

Jim K 11/07/2023
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Which of Max Verstappen's Championships is the most impressive?

Image: Red Bull Racing

Whether or not he had the best car on the grid this year, the 26-year-old driver can only drive what he has, and he's extracting every bit of performance from what's underneath him. Lewis Hamilton, Michael Schumacher, Alain Prost, Ayrton Senna, and all the other greats of the sport could also only win their championships by having a worthy car, so no one should begrudge the latest name to join the three-time champion club.

But rather than compare this remarkable sportsman against the record books, why not put Verstappen head-to-head with his one true equal: himself? For a driver who has finished on the podium in more grands prix than he hasn't, there's no better time to rank him now that he has three championships in his pocket. Let's face it — he's likely to secure more before he retires! So let's consider those 2021, 2022, and 2023 triumphs.

Which of Max Verstappen's Championships is the most impressive?

Image: Red Bull Racing

P3 - 2022

Although all of Verstappen's championships are worthy, there has to be one that finishes bottom of the pile when building a ranked list. That's not to diminish the achievements of a season, especially one where Verstappen took 15 wins on his way to the title, but even 'great' ranks lower than 'incredible' on the superlative list.

2022 felt like a great season for F1's newest world champion as he adjusted to life where he had nothing to prove, but it lacked a little something from the seasons before and after. Red Bull's RB18, too, wasn't quite at the level of the RB19, which will go down as one of the sport's most unparalleled creations.

Which of Max Verstappen's Championships is the most impressive?

Image: Red Bull Racing

Early season retirements for both Verstappen and teammate Sergio Perez, most spectacularly at the opening round in Bahrain, hindered multiple chances of success in the opening rounds. Verstappen had to fight back ahead of the championship-leading Charles Leclerc to snatch P1 in the standings, something he achieved by Round 6, and he hasn’t relinquished that top spot for a single second since.

Mechanical failures, Red Bull's Monaco strategy, in-race damage, Singapore's Saturday fuel shortage, and Ferrari's Austrian race pace all played parts in preventing Verstappen from taking to the top step over the year. The team were responsible for more of those 'losses' than the driver, but Verstappen wasn't faultless over the course of the season. His Sao Paulo contact with Hamilton and the assuredness that his Silverstone pace was from a puncture necessitating a pit stop rather than damage reality meant dropped points.

Nonetheless, anyone who can take the championship title with four races remaining must be head and shoulders above that year's competition, and there wasn't any other driver close to Verstappen by the middle portion of the season. Leclerc and Perez dueled it out to be vice-champion, but that's not an accolade anyone will remember in years to come. Neither driver had any realistic chance to challenge Verstappen for the top spot in the standings once the Dutchman got into his stride.

Which of Max Verstappen's Championships is the most impressive?

Image: Red Bull Racing

P2 - 2023

If the 2022 Max Verstappen was operating slightly below perfection, the 2023 version is perhaps as close to F1 excellence as we might see for some years. I'd argue that the Azerbaijan GP is the only race Verstappen had someone else on the same level as him in 2023, and that was Perez in the sister Red Bull.

Something about the Baku City Street Circuit suits the Mexican, and even then, he only outperformed Verstappen by 2 seconds in a 300 km race. I tend to think that Verstappen might've been the one to win that day in April had the car in front not contained his teammate. There's no question that he had to pull his punches

Which of Max Verstappen's Championships is the most impressive?

Image: Red Bull Racing

At every other 2023 round, Verstappen has been the class of the field and only beaten when qualifying went against him. He still reached P2 from a P15 start in Saudi Arabia and might've closed down Perez with another dozen laps. He also eventually got on top of the car in Singapore to recover from the only tricky weekend for the RB19 to reach P5 from P11 at a tough-to-pass circuit. Unless the future holds something unpredictable, as I write this in mid-November, Verstappen will win every other 2023 race; what a spectacular achievement.

P1 - 2021

The lowest number of in-season wins, the fewest points, the most races without reaching the finish line... and the best Max Verstappen championship. 2021 was, quite frankly, an unbelievable demonstration of sport's power between two of the current best drivers in Formula One. Verstappen or Hamilton could've won the championship, and it would be the best title win for either driver. That's solely thanks to each one pushing the other further than they'd ever otherwise go.

Which of Max Verstappen's Championships is the most impressive?

Image: Red Bull Racing

Hamilton had seven titles under his belt by the time he reached 2021, yet he had to drive harder and better than he did in any of those championship-winning seasons to finish P2. Both drivers pushed beyond the limit at multiple points over the 2021 season, often with dangerous and race-ending consequences. Yet they also forced each other above whatever performance line anyone thought possible just to beat one another.

Verstappen overcame a giant of the sport to write his own history, and what better way to join his champion peers than besting the one who sits atop the record books in championships, pole positions, and race wins?

Yet I'm also sure Verstappen is a better driver today than he would've been if 2021 didn't go down as it did — a season where pushing past barriers became the norm on any race weekend. For that reason, and the unforgettable entertainment of those crazy 22 grands prix, 2021 will forever be the season performance to beat for Verstappen in my eyes.


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