It’s Max Verstappen’s Era, And We’re Just Living In It
1:23 PM EDT on August 27, 2023
One lap into the Dutch Grand Prix, it began to rain. Hard. Red Bull pit Sergio Pérez—who started seventh after another disappointing qualifying and, at least by Red Bull rocket car standards, had nothing to lose—for intermediate tires immediately. The gamble paid off: Pérez passed through a field of cars still stuck on slicks, took the race lead, and immediately put something like 10 seconds between him and P2. Looking at the newly made gap between him and Max Verstappen, who had objectively pitted too late, you might've thought, Well, maybe.
No, you fool! Verstappen started putting in laps full seconds faster than Pérez, once they were on the same tire. Whatever change took place over the summer break, it didn't do anything to disrupt the order at Red Bull. A month ago, Verstappen spent his pseudo–home race of the Belgian Grand Prix proving just how much better he is than his teammate by putting a full 20 seconds between him despite the subdued suggestion by his race engineer that he preserve the life on his tires; a month later, he did the same at his home Dutch GP on Sunday. And, if that wasn't enough, when the rain started to abate and he was something like three seconds behind Pérez, Verstappen pitted early for slick tires and chose to overtake through tire strategy.
"Did Max undercut us?" Pérez asked his race engineer after he came out the pit lane behind Verstappen. The answer: "Yes."
It speaks to how great of a driver you have to be in order to win nine races in a row, even with the luck, the car, and the worse teammate falling in your favor. It says even more that the only driver to do it before is Sebastian Vettel, in his fourth World Championship win with Red Bull, just prior to today's hybrid era of engines. Well, that depends on how you choose to count Alberto Ascari's race wins from 1952 to 1953, and that pesky Indy 500 between two of them—F1 TV put Ascari's name right next to Vettel's on the broadcast, though Wikipedia places him at seven-straight with a footnote—though it's a matter of quantity of company and not quality. It's not like Vettel and Ascari make for a worse comparison than Vettel alone.
Verstappen's dominance is so undisputed this season that the only things that would've kept Verstappen from winning nine in the row—safety cars paired with the occasional sporadic, torrential downpour that destroy any carefully planned tire strategy—occurred multiple times this race, and he still won. He pitted five times, six if you count him coming in for the red flag. The fifth time occurred because there was so much distance between him and then Pérez and Fernando Alonso that he could safely pit for full wets without having to worry about track position. He survived a safety-car restart after Logan Sargeant lost his car to the barriers. He sat through a 45-minute rain delay, and then survived Alonso breathing down his neck after a rolling start to finish out the last seven laps of the race. And all of this could've been sacrificed at any point if he lost the car in pouring wet conditions, as Pérez, Yuki Tsunoda, and Zhou Guanyu had.
Of course, Verstappen isn't Pérez, Tsunoda, or Zhou, even though all three of them had decent races—Tsunoda and Zhou arguably more than decent before their oopsie moments, considering their decidedly unequal machinery. Max Verstappen is Max Verstappen, and this time he's in the fastest car on track. Rain and safety cars and a red flag couldn't stop him. Even a well-timed dive bomb from an opponent is nearly impossible to pull off if it doesn't take place in the first lap, because he's always that far ahead of the rest of the field. The only factor left is himself, and good luck going against that this season—you'll need it in spades.
After winning the race, Verstappen was mellow on the radio. Even after Christian Horner and his race engineer Gianpiero Lambiase congratulated him on the nine straight wins, he barely acknowledged the record. He was forced to speak about it in the post-race interview, answering a question framed less as congratulations and more as a playful challenge: Are you going for 10 in Monza next week?
"I'll think about it next week, I'm first going to enjoy this weekend," Verstappen said, deferring again. "It's always tough, the pressure is on to perform, and I'm very happy to win here."
It's one of the odd times that Verstappen has admitted to feeling pressure, though it must be difficult to ignore the noise. At this point in the season, it's a question of how many more races Verstappen will win out of the nine remaining—surely it can't be all of them. History suggests F1 isn't made for such consistency, and you'd imagine that randomness will eventually run its course. But hoping for the streak to be broken also forces the imagination to answer a much more daunting question: If not Max Verstappen, then who else?