Max Verstappen hails third Formula One championship title as ‘best’ yet

The 26-year-old Dutch star clinches his third title in a 19-lap sprint race in Qatar, with six Grands Prix to spare.

Red Bull's Max Verstappen celebrates after winning the championship
Red Bull's Max Verstappen celebrates after winning the championship in Qatar [Hamad I Mohammed/Reuters]

Max Verstappen has crowned a season of domination by securing his third Formula One world championship in Qatar and said it was the best yet.

The Red Bull driver won his first in highly controversial circumstances after a battle with Lewis Hamilton went down to the wire in 2021, the second with 15 wins in 22 races and the third on Saturday with six Grands Prix to spare.

“This one is the best one,” he told reporters after finishing second in a 19-lap sprint race in Qatar as his sole title rival and teammate Sergio Perez crashed out after 11 laps.

“The first one was the most emotional one because that’s when your dreams are fulfilled in F1.

“But this one has definitely been my best year for consecutive wins and stuff like that, the car itself has been probably in the best shape as well. So for me, this one is probably the one I’m the most proud of in a way, because of the consistency.”

Oscar Piastri won the sprint – a rare achievement for a rookie, even if Verstappen’s title overshadowed it – and his McLaren teammate Lando Norris was third.

Verstappen won a record 10 races in a row from Miami in May to Singapore last month and has taken 13 victories from 16 grands prix.

Until Singapore, when he was fifth, he had been second in the two races he had not won.

Asked how many more championships he could win, Verstappen said it depended on the package but he definitely had “quite a few years in me to be able to operate at my best”.

“We’ll see how long that is, to be honest,” he added. “I think it’s more about how long I want to be here. That’s different.”

The 26-year-old Dutch said it was a very proud moment for him, his family and the entire team.

“I don’t know how long this is going to last,” he said. “I’m enjoying the moment and I think that’s also very important. I achieved more than I could have ever even dreamed of.”

Verstappen is one of only five drivers to have won three consecutive drivers’ world titles – alongside Juan Manuel Fangio, Michael Schumacher, Sebastian Vettel and Lewis Hamilton. He has also joined an elite group of three-time champions, including Jack Brabham, Niki Lauda, Nelson Piquet, Ayrton Senna and Jackie Stewart.

Red Bull team boss Christian Horner hailed Verstappen as “the most competitive driver I’ve ever seen” on Saturday.

“He’s up there with the very best, some of the greatest the sport has seen and I think this season has just surpassed anything we’ve seen,” Horner said.

Qatar Grand Prix

Perez seemed capable of challenging Verstappen when he won two of the first four races of this season, but has not won since the Azerbaijan Grand Prix in April.

Piastri followed up his first Grand Prix podium in Japan two weeks ago with his first victory in an F1 race, even if the sprint does not count as an official Grand Prix win. “It’s a bit of a weird feeling because it’s not a race win. It does feel a little bit strange,” he said.

Both the venue in Qatar and the format are modern additions to F1. The Lusail circuit and the sprint events – which Verstappen has opposed in the past – were both added to the calendar in Verstappen’s first title year in 2021.

A day before the Qatar Grand Prix race on Sunday, the sport’s governing body, the FIA, said it could mandate at least three pit stops with tyre changes. That follows concerns that the sidewalls of the Pirelli tyres have been damaged when cars run over the pointed “pyramid” kerbs used in Qatar.

The track has already been narrowed at one point to stop cars running quite as wide over the kerbs. The FIA said it would take a final decision about Sunday’s race after it and Pirelli can study the tyres which were used on Saturday.

For the new three-time champion, it is a question of how to balance celebrations with the reality of having to race again on Sunday. He will start on pole.

“I guess quite a few sparkling waters tonight,” Verstappen said with a smile when asked how he would mark the occasion. “But I’ll be here tomorrow.”

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies