Red Bull boss Christian Horner has hailed Max Verstappen as “quite clearly” the best driver the Austrians have ever had, in what is a surprising snub of the team’s most successful driver.
Based on current records, Sebastian Vettel is the energy drink-owned team’s most decorated driver, having claimed four consecutive World Championships from 2010-2013, as well as 38 victories for the Austrians across his six seasons with the side.
Both Vettel and Verstappen’s rookie seasons came behind the wheel of Red Bull’s sister side Toro Rosso (known now as AlphaTauri), with Horner having special memories of both during their time at the Faenza-based team.
Vettel did achieve something Verstappen didn’t, though, whilst racing for Toro Rosso, by claiming a victory.
In his rookie season, Vettel famously won the Italian Grand Prix in 2008, whilst Verstappen’s best result in his rookie year was fourth.
During his time at Red Bull, for which he’s now in his seventh season with, Verstappen has claimed two consecutive titles and 32 victories, both less than Vettel.
Despite this, Horner seemingly rates the Dutchman more than the retiring German, with the team principal knowing the exact moment when he thought Verstappen was a “shining star”.
“What stood out was Spa, when he drove round the outside of Felipe Nasr,” Horner explained in an interview with The Guardian.
“I thought: ‘This boy is properly brave, committed and quick.’ You saw it that season, he was a shining star. It was evident immediately he was a prodigious talent.”
What he did do, unlike Vettel, was win on his Red Bull debut.
Verstappen did just that after being promoted to the team at the fifth round of the season, where he claimed victory at Barcelona after Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg took each other out on the way into Turn 4 on the opening lap.
Horner labels that day in 2016 as “something special”, that might actually never be seen again.
“I’ve never seen anything like it, what we witnessed that day was something special,” Horner added.
Verstappen and Vettel are currently being compared due to the 2022 World Champion being just one win short of matching Vettel’s record for most wins in a season.
Vettel and Michael Schumacher hold a joint record for 13 wins in a single season, something the Dutch driver can match at the United States Grand Prix this weekend.
With that in mind, Horner is confident that Verstappen is the “most talented” Red Bull driver in the team’s history.
“The great thing is he is just open to pushing himself in all areas, he always feels there’s more to be had,” Horner explained.
“He is quite clearly the most talented driver that I think we have had in one of our cars.”