The Red Bull horror show of Singapore swiftly became a distant memory in Japan as Max Verstappen performed a complete factory reset on Formula 1 to dominantly claim his 13th victory of the season, ensuring that the Constructors’ Championship trophy shall remain with the Milton Keynes squad.
It’s a second successive title for Red Bull and the sixth in the team’s short history – who’d have thought an energy drinks company with the youngest team principal on the grid would have risen to such dizzying heights 18 years ago?
“It’s unbelievable,” team boss Christian Horner said following confirmation Red Bull had once again been crowned champions of the world.
“Last year was a very strong year for us but to have kept that momentum rolling with the challenges we have had is testimony to all the men and women of the team that have worked tirelessly to have produced a car as competitive as we have had, and that Max has made such good use of.”
Note Horner’s mere mention of only a solitary driver and the omission of Perez’s name from the conversation. What makes Red Bull’s achievement – becoming the earliest winners of the Constructors’ crown – all the more staggering is that it has largely been a one-man effort on the driver front.
Save for two victories in Saudi Arabia and Azerbaijan towards the start of the season (remember the days of prospective talk about a Sergio Perez maiden title tilt), Verstappen’s team-mate has been predominantly running around in the Dutchman’s ever-growing shadow.
A barren run of Q3 absences in qualifying during the European leg of the season for Perez has now made way for a number of questionable incidents on track in recent weeks – punting Alex Albon’s Williams in Singapore and Kevin Magnussen’s Haas in Japan.
It’s quite fitting then that Red Bull wound up securing this year’s Constructors’ Championship despite having two retirements, albeit both for Perez, as Verstappen streaked away to yet another unchallenged win.
Perez’s bizarre double retirement, which saw him quickly re-emerge to serve a penalty part-way through the Japanese Grand Prix before shuffling back into the pits, was a painful example of just how different the seasons are panning out either side of the Red Bull garage.
But the fact that Red Bull has secured the Constructors’ title so early does actually do Perez credit. Thus far, the Mexican is fitting the brief set to him by Red Bull, to help secure both titles without disrupting harmony.
Yes, there’s been some shaky moments along the way (Monaco and Sao Paulo last year for instance), but for the most part, Perez has played the perfect understudy to Verstappen.
“It’s been an incredible year, really happy to contribute to the Constructors. It’s a very special day for the whole team to finally clinch that title and yeah, it’s been a tremendous year so far. The team has done an amazing job. It would have been really nice to clinch the Constructors with a 1-2 finish [at Suzuka], but anyway. It is what it is,” the Mexican, who arrived at Red Bull in 2021, reflected.
Red Bull’s Constructors’ success shouldn’t be about Perez’s pitfalls, but instead about the might displayed by its prolific team leader. Like him or not, Verstappen is without question the standout driver of his generation and one of the greatest in the modern era – perhaps maybe all time if you can look beyond the obvious differences between generations of Formula 1 engineering.
The RB19 has evoked notions of dominance on the engineering side of things in 2023, but often the fight for second behind Verstappen plays out not with Perez in the mix, but the likes of Ferrari, Mercedes and McLaren – which goes to show the margin Verstappen has carved out for himself compared to the driver sitting on the opposite side of the garage.
In Monza, the Dutchman broke Sebastian Vettel’s 10-year-old record for consecutive grands prix wins by securing his 10th in a row and he is well on his way to eclipsing his record of most wins in a single season (15), which he set en route to the Drivers’ title last year.
Singapore aside, where his machinery clearly wasn’t helping the situation, Verstappen has remained faultless, almost machine-like in his precision and approach this season. Rivals must be left figuring how or when a chink in his armour will appear.
Fans of Lewis Hamilton will know that perhaps a stronger title fight will cause this, but Verstappen has moved on from the scars of 2021 that still linger in the hearts and minds of a select contingent of F1 fans to become the complete package.
“The car has been more dominant this year, apart from Singapore, but all the other races, we’ve had a really, really good car,” Verstappen commented on Sunday in Japan.
“It’s just an incredible season for everyone involved within the team, and yeah, just very proud to be a part of it, and also very proud to be working with all these amazing people here at the track, but also especially back at the factory as well, these people you might not see at the track, they’re doing a lot of hard work to make sure that our car is always in the best shape.”
Pressed to describe the team’s greatest strength this year, the champion elect added: “I think just everyone knowing their role very well and being of course good at what they do. Just communication and people working together to achieve a result like this.”
It is worth reiterating that Red Bull and Verstappen is evocative of Michael Schumacher’s relationship with Ferrari in the early 2000s. Perhaps this is a worn-out comparison, but it’s true.
Swap Jean Todt for Christian Horner, Rory Bryne for Adrian Newey and Schumacher for Verstappen and the end result is Red Bull circa 2023 – a team with twice as many points as its nearest rival, 15 wins out of 16 races (matching McLaren in 1988), the most consecutive wins in a row (15 from Abu Dhabi 2022 to Italy 2023) and within reach of eclipsing Mercedes’ record tally for most team wins in a season (19 in 2016).
Verstappen and Red Bulls rivals need to catch up because all they can do right now is stand and applaud.