"Max, you are a three time world champion, that's unbelievable" - were the words of Red Bull boss Christian Horner as Max Verstappen took the chequered flag in the Qatar Sprint Race.
In doing so he became the first driver in history to win a World Championship from a Sprint Race, and the only driver this century to clinch the title on a Saturday. A feat only four drivers have achieved in the past, the latter being Nelson Piquet in 1983 who claimed his second of three titles in South Africa during a Saturday race in Kyalami.
Everyone could see this title coming; it was almost a formality of when, not if. Verstappen has barely put a foot wrong all season, with Ferrari boss Fred Vasseur stating that “Verstappen has not made a mistake for two years”. Having seemingly been at one with his record breaking Red Bull week after week, Verstappen finally got over the required amount of points to be mathematically un-catchable by teammate Sergio Perez to claim his third World Championship title with five Grand Prix weekends to spare.
In one of the most dominant seasons of Formula 1 to exist, with Red Bull taking victories in every Grand Prix bar Singapore. Verstappen has been an immovable force at the top of the leader board; the synchronicity between Verstappen and his RB19 has been poetry in motion all season long.
From being the youngest driver to debut in Formula 1 at 17, to being the youngest Grand Prix winner (18), Verstappen has been no stranger to breaking records during his time in the sport. In his 2022 title triumph he took the record for most wins in a season at 15 GP victories, a record he looks well on his way to equally if not surpassing this time round.
In the constant drive for improvement, Verstappen and Red Bull became personified at the historic circuit of Monza, the home of Ferrari and the Tifosi. Where the opportunity arose to break Red Bulls very own record of consecutive Grand Prix victories, set by Sebastian Vettel in 2012 with nine in a row. Having equalled Vettel's record last time out on Verstappen's home turf of Zandvoort.
Verstappen lined up on the front row alongside former Toro Rosso team-mate Carlos Sainz who took pole by just over one hundredth of a second. They both avoided any troubles into the often troublesome T1, Verstappen's recently gained maturity since becoming a WDC showed prevalent once again as he patiently waited for Sainz to make a mistake to allow him to slide past the Spaniard on Lap 15.
From there on out Verstappen controlled the race and brought home a well deserved 10th race victory in a row, while Checo Perez brought home a Red Bull 1-2 to seal an almost perfect weekend for the Milton Keynes outfit.
Alongside claiming the record for most consecutive wins, Verstappen also broke the record for the longest streak of converting pole positions into wins. A record previously held by the great Michael Schumacher. With Max taking his thirteenth consecutive win when starting the race from pole position on the grid at this years Japanese Grand Prix.
This streak began in front of his home crowd at the Dutch Grand Prix in 2022, which epitomises how much the Red Bull team prioritise race pace over one-lap speed, with Ferrari and occasionally Mercedes stealing a pole position in qualifying but ultimately ending the race with a Red Bull on the top step come the chequered flag.
A look into the races that have defined Verstappen's record breaking season so far:
Bahrain, the start of the new Formula 1 season. The culmination of thousands of workers' efforts comes to a crescendo with lights out at the Bahrain International Circuit. It's the first chance for teams to show what they've worked on over the winter, in the hopes of bringing the fastest car to the world's biggest travelling act.
It's the first time the teams get to finally see their car in race specification, and much to Red Bull's delight, they were lighting up the leader boards in Free Practice with both Verstappen and Perez in the top three for all three sessions. However, being ousted from the top spot by an entirely redesigned Aston Martin being driven by the seemingly unwavering constant of F1 - Fernando Alonso, bringing immense shock to the rest of the paddock.
2022's normal service resumed in qualifying where Verstappen took pole by over one-and-a-half tenths to his teammate, followed by the Ferraris. The race itself may not have been a classic, nor overly troublesome for Verstappen as he managed to hold his lead into turn one. From here he then cruised away from second place Leclerc to the extent of 6.5 seconds by lap 10, holding onto his soft tyres longer than anyone in the pack. A calm and dominant performance from the Dutchman set the tone for the rest of his performances this year, with Verstappen crossing the finishing line just shy of 12 seconds ahead his teammate Perez.
With the ease of victory, many predicted that Verstappen would indeed repeat his 2022 feat of winning the WDC, but no one could've seen the dominance that eventually followed. His performance in the Gulf country set him and his standards for this season, and sent a message to the rest of the grid that once again, he's the man to beat.
At the revised Circuit de Catalunya, where the final chicane was removed in order to create more overtaking opportunities along the main straight into turn 1, Verstappen achieved one of the greatest feats in Grand Prix Racing - a Grand Slam - where a driver scores pole position during qualifying, fastest lap during the race and then winning the Grand Prix while leading every lap of the race.
Verstappen took it one step further as he topped the time sheets in all three Free Practice sessions en route to his dominant victory. Verstappen's form in practice was an indication of what was to come, with the Dutch driver taking pole by half a second from Ferrari's Carlos Sainz in Q3.
From here, Verstappen got a strong start and managed to fend off Sainz into turn 1; Verstappen's pace was then too much for the Ferrari to handle, lapping half a second quicker from the get go. Red Bull then matched Mercedes strategy tyre wise to ensure Verstappen kept track position. Verstappen then cruised to victory where he took the chequered flag a full 24 seconds ahead of second placed Lewis Hamilton in his Mercedes.
Throughout most of the season, it looked like the Red Bulls and Verstappen were untouchable, being touted to complete a completely unprecedented clean sweep of victories for the Milton Keynes team. That was until Singapore race weekend came around, with Verstappen uncharacteristically off the pace and having to wrestle his RB19 around under the streetlights, leaving the door wide open for another team to finally snatch a victory against one of the most dominant pieces of machinery seen in the sport, denying Red Bull a clean sweep and ending Max's historic win streak.
This made the following weekend at Suzuka crucial, with Verstappen looking to bounce back to normality at the first time of asking. With rumours floating around the paddock of a recent technical directive potentially leading to Red Bull's instability in Singapore, both team and driver were looking to set the record straight, with team boss Horner stating that "nothing has changed on the car".
While Verstappen did his talking on the track, topping the leader board in Free Practice before delivering one of the greatest Q3 laps in recent history. Having seemingly found his groove again, he sent his Red Bull around the famous Suzuka Circuit well over half a second quicker then Oscar Piastri who took a place on the front row, with McLaren looking strong in Japan thanks to the number of medium to high speed corners at Suzuka which complements the upgrades given to the MCL60 since the summer break.
The race itself unfolded in a typical Verstappen format; after fending off an attack from Lando Norris in the first few turns he delivered a composed performance from start to finish, including a well executed safety car restart early on in the race, eventually cruising to victory almost 20 seconds ahead of Norris. A statement performance considered the previous week's mishaps in Singapore, and a message to the rest of the grid that all is above board.