END OF YEAR REPORT: Dominance from start to finish as Red Bull and Verstappen hit new heights
While Max Verstappen thought the benchmark set in 2022 would be difficult to beat, he and Red Bull did just that during the 2023 season as they romped to the drivers’ and constructors’ titles in style – leaving the rest of the F1 field in their wake. After a remarkable, record-breaking year for the now three-time champion and the all-conquering RB19, we take stock of the Milton Keynes operation’s efforts.
Max Verstappen – 1st in Bahrain, Australia, Miami, Monaco, Spain, Canada, Austria, Britain, Hungary, Belgium, Netherlands, Italy, Japan, Qatar, Austin, Mexico, Brazil, Las Vegas, Abu Dhabi; Sergio Perez – 1st in Saudi Arabia and Azerbaijan
It’s a scarcely believable list but Verstappen did indeed win 19 of the 22 races that took place in 2023, giving him the all-time best return of 86.3% and topping up his overall tally to 54, enough to displace Sebastian Vettel for third in the F1 history books.
The only races Verstappen failed to win were Saudi Arabia and Azerbaijan, where team mate Sergio Perez held a rare upper hand, and Singapore, where he salvaged fifth position on the one track all season where Red Bull struggled to make their car work.
Verstappen 20-2 Perez
While Perez started the campaign with two pole positions out of five, those proved to be the only events where he would qualify ahead of his team mate, with the Mexican going on to endure a disastrous run of Q1 and Q2 exits and Verstappen simultaneously hitting his full potential.
Verstappen ended the year with 12 pole positions and four more front-row starts, and only twice started outside the top 10 positions – 15th in Saudi Arabia due to a driveshaft issue and 11th in Singapore amid Red Bull’s aforementioned one-off woes.
Verstappen 20-2 Perez
Verstappen held exactly the same advantage in the race-day head-to-heads, claiming he “learned a lot of things” during the early-season loss to Perez in Baku that helped pave the way for his subsequent and commanding run to the title.
At the end of it all, and after setting a new record of 10 successive victories, Verstappen boasted the largest title-winning margin in the history of the sport, sitting 290 points clear of Perez and with more than double his team mate’s tally.
Red Bull’s season is full of highlights but, aside from the obvious title double, one of the moments that stood out came when they surpassed McLaren’s record of successive wins from 1988, taking their 12th in a row in Hungary and eventually stopping with 15 on the bounce.
Reflecting on the accomplishment at the time, Red Bull team boss Christian Horner said: “As a young kid I remember watching the McLarens of Alain Prost and Ayrton Senna achieving that incredible feat. They were an incredible team and Ron Dennis was an incredible Team Principal.
“To think that we’ve now bettered that, it’s something the whole team, everybody behind the scenes has worked so hard for, and will mean so, so much.”
While there were plenty of lows on Perez’s side of the garage, such as the Q1 crash in Monaco that sparked his sequence of one-lap dramas and gave rivals a closer look at the RB19’s intricate floor when it was craned away, as a team the clear blot on the copybook was Singapore.
Red Bull simply could not find a set-up that worked around the streets of Marina Bay and both drivers went for early qualifying baths as a result, with AlphaTauri stand-in Liam Lawson raising eyebrows when he denied Verstappen a Q3 spot in only his third event.
On paper, there is not much Red Bull can improve on for 2024, aside from going unbeaten across all 24 Grands Prix and six Sprint races, but that won’t stop the team searching for gains as they bid to keep a handle on the competition.
“Of course there are [weaknesses],” Verstappen asserted at the season-ending Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, when asked how big of a jump he thinks Red Bull need to take over the winter to maintain their advantage.
“Look at our race weekend in Singapore. In general, on street circuits, I think we are struggling a bit more, like in Vegas also. Low-speed is definitely not our strongest point in the car, [going over] bumps, kerbs as well, so that’s definitely a big area where we can improve.”
While the likes of Mercedes, Ferrari, McLaren and Aston Martin will all have ambitions to topple Red Bull and fight for overall honours next season, the task ahead of them amid stable regulations appears to be rather daunting, or in Toto Wolff’s words, like climbing Mount Everest…