SPA-FRANCORCHAMPS, Belgium: Red Bull team chief Christian Horner on Monday said Max Verstappen has taken “another step” since winning last season’s world title following his remarkable triumph in Sunday’s Belgian Grand Prix.
The 24-year-old Dutchman’s outstanding drive from 14th on the grid, having taken a penalty for a new power unit, to a sumptuous victory ahead of teammate Sergio Perez, who started second, was hailed by all corners of the paddock.
Horner was effusive in his praise for Verstappen who has taken a runaway 93-point lead ahead of Perez in the drivers’ championship, with Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc third, a further five points adrift.
“You’re witnessing a driver that is completely at one with the car and is in an absolute purple patch of his career,” he said.
“Since winning that championship last year, Max has taken another step. It’s in many ways released him and he’s driving now at an incredible level.
“Max was quite simply in a league of his own and not just in the race, but all weekend.”
Horner said Verstappen’s win was one of Red Bull’s “best-ever” performances, while special adviser Helmut Marko said they needed only “two or three” more wins to secure the title.
“The goal for us now is clear because we want to finish first and second in the championship for the first time in our history,” said Marko.
“And we need to win two or three more to make sure we are safe.”
Both men also jokingly thanked Mercedes for pushing for the new technical directive introduced to control porpoising and bouncing which has seen Red Bull increase their dominance over their rivals.
“On the face of it, I’d have to thank Toto (Wolff, Mercedes team chief) for the TD (technical directive) ... But, in all seriousness, I think this circuit played to our strengths,” quipped Horner.
“Perhaps it’s hurt others more than it’s hurt ourselves so we haven’t changed the way our car operates.”
Horner pinpointed Verstappen’s maturity in tip-toeing through the chaos of the opening lap, when Lewis Hamilton retired after colliding with Fernando Alonso’s Alpine in one of two crashes, to lay the foundations for a stunning victory.
“Amazing performance by Max,” said Horner. “He wasn’t greedy at the start, he was very patient, particularly down at Eau Rouge, and he just picked his way through it.
“He threaded his way safely through the field.”
Verstappen explained that his opening lap ambition was merely to survive. Yet, he made up six places.
“The first lap? The thing is that I knew with the car we had, you don’t want to risk too much,” he said. “So, then, it’s even harder to stay out of trouble.
“And people were going off in the gravel, coming back on the track, and they are defending their spot. I was literally just trying to stay out of it, but you also don’t want to lose too much time...
“It was super-hectic and there was so much dirt as well. I pulled off my tear-off because I barely could see anything because everyone was just going on the grass, on the gravel, but we survived without damage.”
It was more than survival by Verstappen.
His cool drive, crushing victory and lead in the title race has reduced the next eight races to a likely demonstration of Red Bull’s proven superiority en route to ending Mercedes’ run of eight consecutive constructors’ titles.
As they arrive at Zandvoort this week, for Verstappen’s home event, Red Bull lead with 10 wins and 475 points to Ferrari’s four and 357, with Mercedes third on zero and 316. A festival is expected in the Dutch sand dunes on Sunday.