Max Verstappen: Mercedes ‘party mode’ gave ‘distorted picture’ of competitiveness

Jamie Woodhouse
Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes and Max Verstappen, Red Bull, driving side-by-side in Hungary.

Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes and Max Verstappen, Red Bull, driving side-by-side.

Max Verstappen said it was “very frustrating” during the Mercedes era when the Brackley squad’s qualifying “party mode” “distorted” the true picture of competitiveness. 

Mercedes rewrote the Formula 1 record books by stringing together eight consecutive Constructors’ Championship victories between 2014-21, with Verstappen and his Red Bull team the ones responsible for finally ending Mercedes’ stranglehold on the V6 turbo-hybrid era.

Verstappen clinched his first World title in 2021 and has gone on to become a three-time World Champion, establishing himself as the new dominant force of F1, while Red Bull has now picked up back-to-back Constructors’ crowns. Of course, things were not always so rosy for Verstappen in Red Bull colours though.

Max Verstappen claims Mercedes ‘party mode’ meddled with true picture

Verstappen’s career with Red Bull and push to end the Mercedes era began with victory on debut at the 2016 Spanish Grand Prix, but from there the enormity of the challenge was clear, as frustration built for Verstappen who felt he had the ability, but could not prove it as the Mercedes wins continued to pile up.

“I found it very frustrating back then when I couldn’t win,” Verstappen told Motorsport-Magazin.com. “Because you have the feeling that you can do it – but you can’t show it.

“That’s why I’m very happy in the position I’m in now. This is what I dreamed of. I hoped it would turn out like this. Now that the situation has arrived, I’m obviously trying to make the most of it.”

And making the most of it he is, Verstappen now boasting 54 grands prix wins, a remarkable 19 of them arriving in F1 2023 alone.

Though with that tally coming from 32 pole positions, it was put to Verstappen that he has established himself as more of a race expert than a qualifying master, especially considering Red Bull’s 2023 creation, the RB19, truly thrived with Verstappen at the wheel on race days.

However, he argued that Mercedes’ one-lap weapon pre-Verstappen era also played a part in this pole-to-victory ratio.

Later addressed by a 2020 rule to ban qualifying engine mode changes, it was known that Mercedes had what was coined the ‘party mode’ for their power unit to give it a further performance boost if needed over one lap, the perfect set-up for race days where it was suggested to Verstappen that, traditionally, Red Bull grew stronger back then too.

Verstappen responded that in those days, that Mercedes ‘party mode’ was instead “distorting” the true picture of competitiveness, rather than highlighting Red Bull machinery as more suited for racing.

Asked if his superior wins-to-poles record can be traced back to his Red Bull machinery, or him being a stronger racer than qualifier, Verstappen replied: “That’s true, but I don’t think our car was that much faster in the race back then.

“Sometimes it looked like we were close in qualifying. But I think it’s always difficult to say because you never know how good the other guys’ laps were, and then it was also the case that one particular engine manufacturer had a party mode from 2014 to 2017 or 2018.

“If they wanted, they had more in their hands. So there was a bit of a distorted picture at that time. They did it very smartly, because why show everything when you’re winning anyway? Of course, there is a pole-to-win ratio… But I always see it like this: points are scored on Sunday. Saturdays are not so important.”

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To that point, while Verstappen said he would never snub the opportunity to put his car on pole, race Sundays are where his “love” is.

“I love Sunday more,” he confirmed. “I enjoy Sunday more – but if I have a good car on Saturday, I obviously also try to put it on pole.

“Sometimes it’s just the characteristics of the car or something like that. With less petrol, the cars are also closer together. This sometimes masks small weaknesses in the cars. There are many things behind it.”

Verstappen heads into F1 2024 looking to make it four World titles on the trot, which would see him match Sebastian Vettel’s streak with Red Bull between 2010-13.

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