LONDON (Reuters) – Max Verstappen is running away with the Formula One championship to such an extent that the Red Bull driver no longer seems sure who his main rival is.
Team mate Sergio Perez is mathematically closest, and fighting with the same equipment, but the Mexican is already a whopping 99 points behind the double world champion after 10 of 22 races.
Perez has also not been the closest driver to Verstappen at the chequered flag since he was second in Miami in May, six races ago.
Verstappen has won the last six races in a row, most recently at Silverstone’s British Grand Prix on Sunday, and has had five different teams and drivers finish second in that same period.
After Perez, it was Aston Martin’s Fernando Alonso in Monaco, Mercedes’s Lewis Hamilton in Spain, Alonso again in Canada, Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc in Austria and McLaren’s Lando Norris in Britain.
“It’s very confusing to me because every single race weekend, it’s someone else,” said the Dutch 25-year-old after celebrating his eighth win of the season and Red Bull’s record-equalling 11th in a row.
“I think it’s because it’s so close behind that if you get your car in a little bit of a better window, it works on one particular track
“So for me, I don’t know what’s going to happen in Hungary to be honest, who is going to be quick or the second quickest,” he added, referring to the next race at Budapest’s Hungaroring.
“The stable factor so far is that every single weekend, it seems like we are on top, which of course is the most important from our side.”
Verstappen is now effectively four races clear of Perez and the countdown has already started to where he might win his third crown.
Japan, at the end of September with six races to spare, does not look too outlandish a suggestion at Verstappen’s current rate of points accumulation but it could be even earlier if the Mexican has a meltdown.
The Red Bull pair were level-pegging after four races with two wins each but Perez’s challenge then ran out of road.
Since round four in Baku, Verstappen’s lead has accelerated from six points to 14 to 39 to 53 to 69 to 81 to 99. There is every chance of the champion going into the August break with a five-race cushion.
The most dominant season of the modern era so far was Michael Schumacher’s 2002 title sealed with Ferrari after 11 of 17 races.
Verstappen’s eight wins from 10 suggest his own record of 15 for a single season set last year is in danger, even if Red Bull stop developing the 2023 car to focus on 2024.
Simple mathematics already say that with 12 races remaining, and a win worth 25 points with 18 for second, Verstappen could clinch his third title without having to win another grand prix this season.
“At the end of the day you just have to focus on yourself throughout the whole weekend and then you just find out anyway what happens behind you, right?,” said Verstappen when asked about McLaren’s emergence as the latest best of the rest.
“Let’s see what the next race will bring again.”
(Reporting by Alan Baldwin, editing by Clare Fallon)
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