How Max Verstappen has been caught by ‘surprise’ during F1 2023

Jamie Woodhouse
Red Bull's Max Verstappen celebrates victory in the pitlane at Suzuka at the Japanese Grand Prix.

Red Bull's Max Verstappen celebrates victory in the pitlane at Suzuka at the Japanese Grand Prix.

Max Verstappen had expected rivals to close in on Red Bull for F1 2023, so was surprised when that proved not to be the case.

After Ferrari brought the fight in the early stages of 2022, Red Bull have since gone on to establish dominance in Formula 1’s ground effect era.

Verstappen and Red Bull secured the title double in 2022, while their respective dominance has only hit new heights in F1 2023. Red Bull have won 15 of the 16 grands prix, already confirming their retention of the Constructors’ title and Verstappen accounting for 13 of those wins.

Max Verstappen expected to face greater competition

It has been a record-breaking season of success for Verstappen, who toppled Sebastian Vettel’s benchmark with a run of 10 victories in succession, though he had not expected the competition to be so distant.

Mercedes, Ferrari, McLaren and Aston Martin have largely been left to battle against themselves for ‘best of the rest’ status, with Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz the only non-Red Bull winner in F1 2023, when Red Bull’s qualifying woes in Singapore opened the door for Sainz to go from pole to victory.

In regards to Red Bull’s level of dominance in F1 2023, Verstappen, as per RacingNews365.com, said: “I was more surprised at the start [of the season].

“We all at the team expected it to be very close. And it wasn’t in the beginning.

“So then, of course throughout the year, I think it’s quite a normal thing that you’ll start looking around developing on ideas and start to get closer.

“For me, it was more surprising at the start.”

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McLaren may have been the major gainers of F1 2023 with their extremely effective development programme for the MCL60, the team claiming their first double podium of the season last time out in Japan, but there Verstappen only re-emphasised his dominance with a statement win after the Singapore setback.

Six-tenths faster than the competition come the end of qualifying, Verstappen turned that into a winning margin of 19 seconds over Lando Norris at Suzuka come race day as he closes in on his third World Championship title in as many seasons.

Looking ahead to F1 2024 though, Red Bull team boss Christian Horner has tipped the chasing pack to close in.

“With stability in the rules, there will always be convergence,” Horner told ESPN. “If you want close racing, just leave the rules alone and you will always find the teams will converge, the cars will converge.

“And so I totally expect next year to be a whole different kettle of fish to this year.”

Verstappen could become the first driver to clinch the World Championship outside of grand prix action, with a top-six finish in the Qatar Grand Prix sprint race enough to confirm himself as a three-time World Champion.

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