Max Verstappen became a two-time drivers champion in 2022 and more titles surely await the Red Bull racer if he can stay on his current upward trajectory.
The 25-year-old was untouchable last year, setting a new record for wins in a single season as he took the chequered flag 15 times in 22 races.
The Dutchman also won two out of three sprint races and notched seven pole positions, all of which contributed to him winning the title by a massive 146-point margin from Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc.
The manner of Verstappen’s title success last year compared to his nip-and-tuck battle with Lewis Hamilton the year before confirmed he has completed his climb to the top of the F1 mountain, a remarkable achievement for a driver who entered the sport in the shadow of his father.
Jos Verstappen, Max’s father, spent nine years in Formula 1, either piloting cars towards the back of the grid or as a test driver, never getting anywhere near the heights his son would reach.
It was clear from early on in his racing career that Max had the potential to eclipse his father, becoming the youngest karting world champion of all-time before skipping GP2 - the final proving ground for many F1 drivers - to join Toro Rosso in 2014 at the age of 17.
The decision to put a teenager behind the wheel of an F1 car caused some controversy but it quickly became clear that Verstappen was no ordinary teenager.
The youngest-ever driver in Formula 1 history would regularly feature in the points in his maiden campaign in 2015, finishing the year 12th in the standings, before scoring points in three of his four starts the following year.
Red Bull had clearly seen enough, promoting him from the feeder team to replace Daniil Kvyat ahead of the Spanish Grand Prix in May 2016. The switch was immediately justified as Verstappen won in Barcelona, producing a superb drive to become the youngest driver to ever win a race in F1 at 18 years and 228 days.
After his victory, three-time world champion Niki Lauda would dub Verstappen “the talent of the century”, but his victory in Spain would prove something of a false dawn.
Verstappen would have to wait for over a year for his next win in Malaysia during Mercedes’ long reign of dominance but he would continue to produce some eye-catching drivers, such as coming from 16th to take third in the space of 16 laps at a soaking-wet Brazilian Grand Prix in 2016.
Verstappen would become synonymous for his aggressive style of racing, taking no prisoners when on the track. It was a high-risk, high-reward approach which has, on multiple occasions, seen the Red Bull ace attract the ire of his fellow drivers.
Verstappen has always been able to brush off any criticism that comes his way and not let it compromise his approach to racing, much to his benefit.
The Dutchman would eventually become the best of the rest in Formula 1 behind the all-conquering Mercedes, taking third in the drivers’ championship in 2019 and 2020, sprinkling in wins across the two seasons.
Having had to watch on as Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes scooped up all the honours, Verstappen finally got behind the wheel of a more competitive Red Bull in 2021.
He would grasp the opportunity with both hands and finally deliver the title team principal Christian Horner has promised six years earlier when calling him the finest driver he’d ever seen at Red Bull.
Verstappen’s duel with Hamilton for the title that year saw him come of age. The Mercedes driver got off to the quicker start but Verstappen showed his resolve to slowly reel him in, a run of six wins in nine races in the mid-part of the season edging him ahead.
Hamilton and Verstappen would engage in some classic battles over the course of the year with their heated rivalry getting out of hand on occasions. Verstappen would eventually come out on top in controversial circumstances, passing Hamilton on the final lap of the last race of the year to snatch the title.
Since becoming the first Dutch driver to win the world title, Verstappen has appeared to shift into another gear. Although Red Bull have been the big beneficiary of the massive overhaul of technical regulations that came into force last year, there can be no questioning Verstappen’s status as the best driver in F1 right now.
Verstappen collected more race wins (15) and points (454) in a season than ever before in 2022, but perhaps more telling was his ability to dominate a Grand Prix. No driver has ever won as many races when not starting from pole than Verstappen’s tally of nine last year, while he also came from 10th and 14th to take the chequered flag.
Trying to close the gap to Red Bull and overhaul Verstappen, based on last season, looks a huge challenge for the likes of Ferrari and Mercedes and it’s no surprise the reigning drivers’ champion is 8/11 to retain his crown in 2023.
The Verstappen/Red Bull title double is 11/8 and that may prove the best value bet of the year in F1 if Mad Max can pick up from where he left off.