Reigning world champion Max Verstappen has revealed he would have no regrets if he were unable to add to his tally of world championships between now and the end of his career.
Having dramatically beaten Sir Lewis Hamilton to the championship in 2021, the defence of the Dutchman’s crown has not gotten off to the easiest of starts this year, as he retired from two of the first four rounds of the season.
They came either side of an enthralling victory at the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix, and his frustration was plain to see after a fuel line failure put an abrupt end to his running in Melbourne.
Verstappen also took the win last time out in Imola, allowing him to close the deficit to championship leader Charles Leclerc to 27 points.
Patently, any world champion – particularly a perennially hungry one like Verstappen – would love to put more in the bag, but the Dutchman recognises that his magnificent achievement is one that not many people in the world have the distinction of having accomplished.
“It is definitely better than having zero titles,” he told La Marca.
“It really depends on the car you have to drive, also some luck, and the luck to be in a team that can fight for the championship several years in a row.
“But yes, one title is more than I could dream of, so I’m sure I’d be happy with that.”
The 24-year-old recently signed a contract that keeps him at the Milton Keynes side until at least the end of 2028, so he will naturally have an abundance more experience, as well as perhaps a slightly different outlook on his career than he has now.
As such, he cannot say for sure what his mindset will be in six years, but he affirms that he is excited to see what the future brings, especially when Red Bull construct their powertrains factory in Milton Keynes.
“When the contract ends and I am 31 years old, we will see if it is time to continue or not, what opportunities I have, because I will be a lot older then,” he explained.
“But I did it because I feel good at Red Bull, there’s no reason to leave, we have a very competitive team, the people at the factory too, everyone is very committed to the long term.
“With the new powertrain division as well, they are very solid foundations in the long term and I did not want to leave.”
Red Bull advisor Dr Helmut Marko suggested last week that Sergio Perez has adapted to the 2022 car slightly better than Verstappen has, but the Dutchman leads the qualifying battle 3-1, and was set to finish comfortably ahead of the Mexican in both Bahrain and Melbourne when he retired.
Perez had the edge in Saudi Arabia where he took pole for the race, and the 24-year-old’s current positioning in the Drivers’ Championship is hardly reflective of the consistent performances he has been putting in.
Verstappen therefore dismisses the notion that Perez has surpassed him this year, but concedes that he has work to do to adjust to the new ground effect aerodynamics that perhaps do not accommodate an aggressive driving style.
“It’s too early to tell,” he said.
“There are still many things I want to improve in the car, that’s clear, and we’re working on it. But we’ve only had three races, so we’ll see.”
Red Bull have generally had a pace deficit to Ferrari despite looking exceptional on the straights and almost seemingly immune to the “porpoising” that has been caused by the new technical regulations.
Almost is the key word, because Dr Marko suggested that the bouncing may have been what damaged the fuel line in the back of the 24-year-old’s car in Australia, meaning that reliability and speed are a slight concern for Verstappen right now.
“It’s both but obviously if you keep retiring due to problems you are not going to win the title, so you need both,” he added.
“You need to be reliable and score points basically in every race, but also be competitive, so it’s definitely a combination of the two.”
The consensus is that, provided Red Bull can address their reliability issues, Verstappen could find himself batting Leclerc for the title this year.
His dynamic with the Monegasque is disparate from that with Hamilton, and he has been racing Leclerc since they were juniors in karting.
The reigning champion maintains that there is nothing abnormal about treating different opponents in a distinct manner – everyone is unique after all – but the toxicity that appeared to exist last year may have derived from the hostility between Red Bull and Mercedes.
“Every driver and every opponent is different in terms of how they defend and how they attack, so of course your approach to each one is slightly different. That’s just normal,” he affirmed.
“I think it was also more about the relationship between the two teams, with all the things that were happening throughout last season, and that played a very big role also on the track.”