F1 World Champion delivers clear Max Verstappen generational talent verdict

Oliver Harden
Max Verstappen (Red Bull) celebrates after setting pole position for the Dutch Grand Prix at Zandvoort.

Max Verstappen (Red Bull) celebrates after setting pole position for the 2023 Dutch Grand Prix at Zandvoort.

Jody Scheckter, the 1979 World Champion, believes Max Verstappen is already one of the greatest drivers in F1 history after a dominant 2023 season.

Verstappen and his Red Bull team produced one of the most dominant campaigns ever seen in 2023, with the Dutchman winning 19 of a possible 22 races.

The 26-year-old eased to a third consecutive World Championship, clinching the crown with six grands prix to spare, and finished the season with more than double the amount of points scored by team-mate Sergio Perez.

Max Verstappen praised by 1979 F1 World Champion

Scheckter, who won the title with Ferrari in 1979, believes Verstappen’s crushing defeat of Perez in 2023 proves he has the edge over Lewis Hamilton, who was pipped to the title by Mercedes team-mate Nico Rosberg in 2016.

And he already regards Verstappen as one of the best to ever drive an F1 car, pointing to the Red Bull driver’s resilience, intelligence and consistency.

He told Italian publication La Gazzetta dello Sport: “I believe he is really very good, one of the best of all time.

“If you think about Hamilton, a great driver, [but] he was still beaten by one of his team-mates.

“It’s impressive to see that none of Max’s team-mates seem to come close. Red Bull made a fantastic car, but it is Verstappen who manages to get everything out of it, especially when you look at Perez’s performance with the same car.

“It is Verstappen in every situation – including the very complicated ones – who manages to [come out on top].

“He has a vision of the race where he sees everything, including what is happening behind him with the strategies.”

Like Verstappen, Scheckter had a reputation for recklessness in the early years of his career, causing a spectacular multi-car crash on the opening lap of the 1973 British Grand Prix at Silverstone.

Scheckter has been left impressed by how much Verstappen has matured since arriving on the grid as a teenager with Toro Rosso in 2015.

And the South African, who partnered the legendary Gilles Villeneuve at Ferrari, is convinced that Verstappen is more naturally gifted than the drivers he raced against in F1.

He explained: “Max is better than all of the drivers who drove in my time.

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“The difference that is sometimes pointed out is that people say that in those days they were ‘real men’ risking their lives. Back then, it was the bolides that often broke down. Not the Ferrari but the Tyrrell, for example.

“That’s why I understood afterwards that I was lucky. My biggest success is that I stayed alive, I was never even taken off to hospital by helicopter.

“At the beginning of my career I did take more risks, as did Max. At the time, I didn’t like how he drove at the beginning of his career, because he showed no respect to the other drivers.

“Then the penny dropped with him too, that you don’t win races and especially Championships if you cause incidents and contact with other cars.”

Read next: Uncovered: The genius behind Red Bull’s short-lived exhaust-blown diffuser

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