Stay informed on all the biggest stories in Formula One. Sign up here to receive the Prime Tire newsletter in your inbox every Tuesday and Friday morning.
Walking off the podium in Hungary after celebrating a dominant victory, his seventh in a row, Max Verstappen had his arms full.
In his left hand was an empty bottle of Ferrari Trento sparkling wine, the contents of which had been discarded over fellow podium finishers Lando Norris and Sergio Pérez, as well as the Red Bull team celebrating beneath the rostrum.
Tucked under his right arm, Verstappen carried his winner’s trophy — a porcelain jug, regarded as one of the most beautiful trophies in F1 — that was now in two pieces.
In his traditional celebration, Norris had opened his bottle by banging it down on the top step of the podium next to Verstappen’s trophy, causing it to fall forward and break.
Norris wryly said he wasn’t sure what happened when asked about it in the press conference. “Max just placed it too close to the edge!” he joked. Verstappen laughed it off, replying: “I’m going to take it off next time to protect it!”
The trophy breakage was the closest thing to a setback Verstappen suffered Sunday afternoon. On-track, he delivered a dominant, record-breaking victory for Red Bull. It was the team’s 12th consecutive win, surpassing the 11-in-a-row McLaren achieved in 1988.
“They’re very rare, days like this,” said Verstappen. “Normally it’s not that easy or straightforward.” Even by Verstappen’s extraordinarily high standards, a 33-second victory was something very special.
It wasn’t a perfect weekend for Verstappen. But it was a perfect race, serving as another reminder of the greatness F1 is currently watching unfold week after week.
What makes F1’s Max Verstappen so fast?
What made the level of Verstappen’s domination so surprising was that it followed a difficult qualifying on Saturday, when he was beaten to pole position by old rival Lewis Hamilton. Verstappen said the balance on his Red Bull RB19 car felt “terrible” through Saturday, which contributed to him losing pole by just 0.003 seconds and being left to settle for second on the grid.
Paul Monaghan, Red Bull’s chief engineer, said on Sunday morning the comments had been “entertaining” for the team to hear, and that it could be explained by setup compromises made to favor the car’s performance in the race over qualifying. But it harks back to Verstappen’s incredible feel for how the car connects to the road: If something’s off, he’ll know. “If the car’s not right, he’s not just going to sit there and not say anything,” said Monaghan. “That’s not his style.”
The Hungaroring requires a very different car balance between qualifying and the race, particularly in higher temperatures and over longer stints when the tires are pushed to the limit. This track is corner after corner with only a few short straights, offering little respite to either the car or the driver. As Red Bull had favored Sunday’s long runs over Saturday, it was always going to be a better day for Verstappen.
“In the race, everything heats up and it runs hotter for a long period of time,” said Verstappen. “You probably need a very different balance for that, and basically yesterday was understeering a lot. Today was a warmer track, so it came to me anyway. And that’s why I probably had such a nice balance.”
That car comfort meant Verstappen could easily extend his stints without taking too much out of the tires, and put in some seriously fast laps. After taking the lead from Hamilton at the start, he led every single lap of the race, pitting after the chasing cars at the end of each stint. His fastest lap time was over a second quicker than anyone else’s. The next-best belonged to Hamilton, whose fastest effort came one lap after Verstappen’s, on the same medium compound of tire — very similar conditions, but a car and driver duo performing on another level.
YES BOYS! 💪
Another amazing achievement for the team @redbullracing 🏆 Thank you to everyone for your continuous hard work 👊 Today was a perfect day 🙌
— Max Verstappen (@Max33Verstappen) July 23, 2023
One of Verstappen’s concerns going into the race was how difficult overtaking can be at the Hungaroring. The mix of slow and medium-speed corners offers few opportunities to make a move, particularly when stuck behind a car that has a similar level of performance.
Verstappen’s advantage was such that he’d have breezed past whoever was ahead of him within a few laps, but he didn’t even need to wait that long. A perfect start allowed him to get alongside pole-man Hamilton on the run to Turn 1 before diving ahead under braking, squeezing the Mercedes to the outside and grabbing the lead. McLaren’s Oscar Piastri briefly had a sniff of attacking Verstappen after sticking to the inside line, the door opening for him, but he couldn’t get close enough to try a move.
“I knew of course I had the inside, so I knew that was going to be my corner in Turn 1,” Verstappen said. “We braked quite late, but then just did my thing through Turn 2 as well. From there onwards, I could just build up the pace slowly.”
It was a slow build to begin with. Verstappen did not want to overheat the tires, knowing the higher temperatures and soft compound selection in Hungary required careful management. Through the opening 10 laps, he only pulled a few tenths each time on Piastri, before really upping his pace towards the end of the opening stint. By the time Norris — who jumped McLaren teammate Piastri for second in the first round of pit stops — came in for a second time on Lap 44, Verstappen was already 19 seconds clear.
The final stint saw swings of around two seconds per lap in Verstappen’s favor as he brought the car home. At one point his engineer, Gianpiero Lambiase, popped on the radio just to check in with Verstappen and ask if everything was OK. “Yeah, all good,” replied Verstappen. He was in total control.
“Every stint just found a bit more of a gap, and the car was really enjoyable to drive today,” said Verstappen, who called it a “pretty perfect day”. The only race that came to his mind as being comparable was his domination of last year’s Belgian Grand Prix, where he went from 14th on the grid after an engine penalty to first within 12 laps, and won by 17 seconds.
Norris and Russell on the up 📈
— Formula 1 (@F1) July 23, 2023
Recognizing Red Bull’s greatness
Verstappen’s championship lead is now up to 110 points over Red Bull teammate Sergio Pérez, who charged from ninth on the grid to finish third on Sunday but still lost ground at the top. Hungary only marked the halfway point in the season, race 11 of 22, yet both title fights are well settled. It is a matter of when, not if, both Verstappen and Red Bull are crowned.
It’s been a really remarkable season for Verstappen. With his seventh win in a row, he edged closer to the all-time record of nine consecutive victories, shared by Sebastian Vettel and Alberto Ascari. He could tie that on home soil at the Dutch Grand Prix next month, and potentially break it one week later at Monza.
But one landmark that has already fallen is the team record. Twelve wins in a row, stretching back to last year’s Brazilian Grand Prix, is a remarkable achievement. That McLaren team of 1988 with Alain Prost and Ayrton Senna is widely heralded as one of the greatest in F1 history. The enormity of the achievement was not lost on team boss Christian Horner.
“I remember watching Senna, Prost, the great McLaren team led by Ron Dennis,” said Horner. “To think it has taken 35 years but we are the team to break that, particularly to think about the quality of the opposition we are competing against is a phenomenal achievement.”
Yes, Red Bull has the fastest car. Yet it continually operates at such a high level. Even in Sunday’s race, the team recorded the only sub-two-second pit stop, at 1.98 seconds. It has not missed a beat this season.
“People probably forget how tough it is to win 12 in a row,” said Verstappen. “Even when you have the fastest car, it’s easy to make mistakes and have an off weekend.
“I hope that we can just keep that momentum going, keep trying to learn from the car, the upgrades we’re bringing to the car towards the end of the season, and also going into next year.”
Even when making history, Verstappen’s eyes are firmly set on what’s next. Victory at Spa next Sunday will be the next target, extending his streak into the summer break — and with the trophy intact this time around.
(Top photo of Max Verstappen: ATTILA KISBENEDEK / AFP via Getty Images)