I know, if you’re reading this and you’re not a Red Bull fan, you’re probably wondering why I’m about to shove more Max Verstappen dominance down your throats when you thought the season was over and you’d have a few months off from it.
But the truth is, it has been an absolutely remarkable season. There are plenty of factors that have come together to deliver that, and I’ll get into those a little bit later on, but some of the records that Verstappen has broken really do warrant a spotlight as the paddock disperses for the final time in 2023.
As the calendar continues to expand, some of the new records become almost inevitable. Not that such a level of success can be expected, but if you have a season with 22 races compared to 16 in 1988, then you have every chance of breaking records that the MP4/4 set 35 years ago.
That Verstappen on his own matched the McLaren’s tally from that year of 1003 laps led in a season – the earlier effort being shared between Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost – shows just how dominant the Dutchman has been, but also highlights the performance advantage that the McLaren had back then, when it led 1003 out of 1031 laps. That’s an astonishing 97.3%.
This year, Red Bull led 1149 out of a total of 1325 – or 86.7%. And Verstappen raced every single one of the total, leading 75.7% of them single-handedly.
He turned that into 19 victories from 22 in grands prix, but also a further four wins from six Sprint races, and finished second and third in the other two. In fact, with a pair of runner-up finishes to Sergio Perez in the opening four rounds, Singapore stands out as a relative disaster as Verstappen finished fifth and ‘only’ scored 10 points.
And the points are important. The way that Formula 1 has evolved, it’s the scoring record that really jumps out as truly remarkable. Given that there were six Sprint events that offer extra points, and the bonus point on offer for whoever sets the fastest lap within the top 10 finishers, there were a maximum of 620 points that can be scored across the 2023 season.
Verstappen scored 575, or a stunning 92.7% of the total possible.
Even allowing for modern race formats, points systems and the expanded calendar, Verstappen’s 2023 season was remarkable. Glenn Dunbar/Motorsport Images
Let’s put that into context. The previous record for points scored was Michael Schumacher in 2002 (main image), when he scored 144 out of a maximum of 170 – 84.7% of the absolute maximum. Schumacher finished on the podium in every single race, with one third place, five seconds and 11 victories.
Improving on such a benchmark usually comes with incremental gains. Don’t forget that Schumacher did that in a season when P2 was worth 60% of a victory (six points versus 10), while this year it is worth 72% (18 points compared to 25), but when Sebastian Vettel came close to beating Schumacher under the current points system he fell just short at 83.6% in 2013.
Give Schumacher’s 2002 season the same treatment as Verstappen had this year in terms of points – including fastest laps too – and he’d have scored 387 points from a maximum of 442, or 87.5% of the total.
So while the changes in points systems plays around with the final percentages, it doesn’t come close to diminishing the level of consistency Verstappen has shown.
And given the fact the average pole position margin this year was below 0.3s – compared to record years of over a second and average gaps of over 0.6s for Mercedes at the start of its run of dominance from 2014 onwards – the Red Bull didn’t appear to have the raw pace advantage that some other cars have enjoyed in the past.
So why so dominant in terms of results? For starters, the power unit freeze has played a major role. Manufacturers can only make changes to their power units for reliability reasons, and even those need to be approved by the FIA. That has led to far more reliable machinery than has ever been seen in the past, as Verstappen found with a solitary driveshaft issue in qualifying in Saudi Arabia that left him 15th on the grid.
But that also applies to the rest of the grid, and means the majority of races have featured cars that are not nursing problems of some sort making up the chasing pack. So the average winning margin of just over 10 seconds this season – compared to 23 seconds for the Mercedes W05 in 2014 (and still nearly 15 seconds come the 2016 car) – remains a valid comparison even if reliability was worse at the start of the V6 hybrid era.
Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost kept the McLarens out in front for most of the 1988 season, but in 2023, Verstappen led more laps single-handedly than the pair managed between them. Ercole Colombo/Studio Colombo/Motorsport Images
Those Mercedes cars were far more dominant in terms of outright speed compared to rivals, but the key differentiator was that neither driver at the time – when Nico Rosberg partnered Lewis Hamilton – had quite the same advantage over a teammate as Verstappen currently has over Perez.
On only two occasions was Verstappen beaten by the Mexican, and one of those – in Saudi Arabia – saw him finish second from 15th on the grid due to the aforementioned qualifying misfortune, while Perez started from pole and won by just over five seconds.
Perez has been unable to beat Verstappen at any stage, be it qualifying, Sprint Shootout, Sprint or race, in the past 17 races, and in the only race that Verstappen hasn’t won in that stint – in Singapore – the Dutchman was over half a minute ahead of his teammate even before Perez had a five-second time penalty applied.
“To go up against a generational talent like Max is incredibly tough, and it’s a complete head screw,” Christian Horner told RACER in Abu Dhabi.
“I think Max, where he is at the moment is the best driver currently in Formula 1. He’s the world champion, and he is – without a shadow of a doubt – the very best driver Formula 1 currently has.
“I think you can put anybody in the world alongside Max at the moment and he’d come out on top.”
As much as we’d all love to put so many different drivers in the Red Bull alongside Verstappen, the harmony between team, car and driver appears to be almost as good as it could ever be.
After coming within 7.3% of the perfect season, across 22 races, six Sprints and such a taxing calendar, both Horner and the statistics are tough to argue against.