Is the F1 title now Verstappen's to lose?
- Verstappen dominates at Austria’s Red Bull Ring
- Dutchman takes third win in four races to extend championship lead
- Hamilton downbeat on chances of claiming eighth world title
It was shaping up to be a classic title battle, but with three wins from four races, and a dominant win in Austria last weekend, is the F1 title finally heading to Max Verstappen?
The Dutchman has long been touted as the next world champion, but has never had the car with which to mount a prolonged title challenge.
That very much seems to have changed this year, with the Red Bull Honda combination looking more and more invincible, especially after Sunday’s commanding victory, taking the flag a crushing 35 seconds clear of Lewis Hamilton.
Reigning champion Hamilton won three of the first four races and looked to be in a position to claim a sixth title in seven years, and his eighth overall.
But since Hamilton’s win at Spain, Verstappen has won in Monaco, France and last weekend’s Styrian Grand Prix in Austria, and was on course to win in Azerbaijan before his tyre blew out.
Hamilton probably should have won in France, where Mercedes looked their most competitive in a while, but even then, Red Bull’s strategy was better and Verstappen blasted past on the penultimate lap.
Verstappen claimed pole position in Austria, then led pretty much all the way and virtually unchallenged despite a minor brake pedal problem.
With another race coming up at the same circuit this weekend, it’s fair to assume that Verstappen should dominate again, though it’s worth noting that F1’s repeat races at the same circuits last year did produce different results
But another factor in Verstappen's favour is the fact Mercedes are openly admitting that it’s unlikely they’ll be adding any further upgrades to their car for the remainder of the season. With Red Bull seemingly now holding a decent car advantage at all types of circuit, and still upgrading their car (it’s believed they took several van loads of new parts to the latest race), this is surely their strongest chance of winning a title since their last success in 2013, and a fitting way for engine supplier Honda to leave the sport.
After the race, Verstappen was optimistic but cautious about his chances of finally claiming the title.
“We do have a very good package but I want to see it again every single weekend because every track is different and it’s still about finding the perfect set-up on the car because it can be quite sensitive in some areas to make it work and it’s never good enough. So I always want to try and improve every single weekend because even a weekend like this, of course it looks amazing, we won with a big margin, but it’s never good enough.
“We just try and look into details of what we can do better and when we go to other tracks again, I don’t expect it to be like it was today, so we have to just keep being very focused in what we have to do. So far, of course, I’m very happy with how it’s been going but, like I said, it’s never good enough.”
Speaking in the post-race press conference, Hamilton was downbeat about his chances for the rest of the year.
“I think we’ve still got many races ahead of us and we’ve got to keep pushing. We’re World Champions and that’s what we can, definitely, improve if we have put our minds to it. If we’re not going to develop and improve our car for the rest of the year, this is the result you’re going to see.
“They’ve [Red Bull] really eked out performance in these last few races, wherever it’s been, whether it’s been in France with the engine or the new wing, whichever it is.
“We would love an upgrade, but I don’t think it’s in the pipeline at the moment. We’re down on a few areas. It’s been close at the beginning of the season and if we both – Red Bull and us – had the same performance as we did in those first four races, then perhaps it would be a little more exciting, but they’ve taken a decent step forwards.”
F1 returns to the Red Bull Ring next weekend, with Verstappen poised to increase his lead further.
Richard Randle is a motorsport PR professional working with the UK’s top racing circuits and the UK’s premier single-seater category, the BRDC British F3 Championship.