Sprint title win won’t dissuade Max Verstappen from Saturday night celebrations

Thomas Maher
Red Bull's Max Verstappen talks to the press ahead of the Qatar Grand Prix.

Red Bull's Max Verstappen talks to the press.

Max Verstappen has vowed to find a way to celebrate on Saturday night, should he win the title in the Qatar Grand Prix Sprint race.

The Dutch driver is in the unusual position of being able to wrap up his third consecutive Drivers’ Championship this weekend in Qatar, provided he finishes in a position that the 2023 formbook suggests he could manage in his sleep.

With the race in Lusail being held with the Sprint format, Verstappen only needs to finish in the top six in the Saturday race in order to be crowned Champion for 2023.

Max Verstappen: I wouldn’t admit to a party if I ever have one!

It’s a very unusual circumstance in that the Dutch driver can wrap up the title in the middle of a Grand Prix weekend, giving him a Saturday night to let the achievement sink in before taking the wheel for the Grand Prix on Sunday.

Speaking to media on Thursday at Lusail, Verstappen was asked whether he and Red Bull have any celebrations planned for the Saturday night should he clinch the title.

“Saturday night? It’s hard, but we’ll find a way!” he said.

“Then we’ll see what happens on Sunday. Nothing crazy. There’s still a race that we want to win on Sunday, of course, but we’ll see!”

Asked whether he’d ever had a party before a race day before, as opportunity suggests might be on the cards this weekend, Verstappen wryly smiled.

“Even if I had one, of course, I wouldn’t say so!” he said.

With Verstappen coming to Qatar with the potential to match the three titles achieved by legends like Ayrton Senna, Niki Lauda, Jack Brabham, Sir Jackie Stewart, and his girlfriend’s father Nelson Piquet, is the Red Bull driver feeling any nerves?

“[I’m] shaking!” he joked.

“No, I mean, it’s fine. We are having, of course, an amazing year and we just come into this weekend and we want to win again.

“I know that if I win or whatever I [need to] achieve on Saturday, then I win the championship, but I think we’re very focused on the main job anyway, just to have a good weekend.”

As for whether he foresees any issues in wrapping up the title or Red Bull having any unusual pace issues as happened in Singapore, Verstappen doubts there will be any stumbling blocks.

“I think we normally should be quick here,” he said.

“But, again, it’s only one practice session. So it’s about making sure that, once we hit the ground running, that the car is in a good place, a good window.

“But normally, yeah, it should be a nice track for us. We just want to have a good weekend.”

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Max Verstappen: The normal race format is more exciting

Verstappen has previously indicated his disdain for the Sprint format, and explained more of his logic when he was asked whether he’d rather win the title in a more normal Grand Prix weekend.

“Well, it’s not like it came out of the blue that I was going to win the championship here or next week. So I don’t think it really changes a lot,” he said.

“It’s more, I think for the drivers as well, I prefer just the normal racing format. I think it’s just a bit more exciting. Especially in qualifying, you can go more to the limit because you know more of what you’ve done in practice.

“Like, for example, in Suzuka, if you do FP1 there and then go straight into qualifying, you risk also to have big shunts. It’s just not as fulfilling and I always keep saying that, once we do a sprint race, you will get the big picture anyway for the main race. So you’ll know more or less already ‘Oh, this guy is going to be really good in the race, the other one is going to drop back’.

“So it takes the excitement a little bit away. I remember from when I was a fan and outside of the F1 world, you don’t know which cars could be amazing in the long run or have they nailed the race setup.

“You watch qualifying like, ‘Oh, wow, OK, but it might be that one car is in front and he will drop back in the race’, but it’s all unclear.

“Then you wake up for it for the Sunday race, and then you all see it unfold. Because of the Sprint race, it takes that already a bit away. If nothing happens, and he doesn’t crash, they’re gonna win the race, that team or whatever.”

Having made it clear what his position is, Verstappen admitted he can also see the logic behind why the Sprint format has been introduced to Formula 1 under Liberty Media.

“I’ve voiced my opinion, and I will always do so,” he said.

“I think it’s freedom of speech. It’s probably also not in their interest to listen to what the drivers say, they want to spice it up a bit and maybe sell more tickets.

“I am looking at it from the pure racing side but, of course, I also understand the commercial side and the reasons behind it. So you have to take it both ways. Of course, I understand why they tried to spice it up a little bit.”

As for whether Verstappen has any issue with wrapping up the title in a race that he’s not particularly a fan of, he shrugged.

“Not for me,” he said.

“I mean, we can celebrate throughout the weekend. So it’s OK!”

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