Christian Horner: Max Verstappen still hasn’t reached peak potential

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Red Bull's Max Verstappen watches on during the Hungarian Grand Prix weekend. Budapest, July 2022. Credit: PA Images
Red Bull's Max Verstappen watches on during the Hungarian Grand Prix weekend. Budapest, July 2022. Credit: PA Images

Red Bull’s Christian Horner reckons that Max Verstappen is not yet at his peak potential performance in Formula 1.

The Dutch driver may already boast an impressive record, with 28 victories – and 70 podiums in total – from 154 race starts, but the 2021 World Champion is still “evolving”, according to his boss.

Red Bull’s Christian Horner believes that, once the pressure of winning a title was lifted, Verstappen is driving in a much more mature fashion and is capable of handling intense pressure.

Verstappen leads the 2022 Drivers’ Championship by 80 points over Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc, a strong lead with just nine races remaining in the season. Aside from minor, infrequent, mistakes such as his slide off track in Spain, and a spin in Hungary, Verstappen has been almost wheel-perfect all season, and Horner said that speaks to his increasing maturity.

“I think in many respects it’s [winning the title] released him,” he told GPFans.

“That expectation of needing to win your first world championship – he’s achieved that. He has that on his CV now. Anything that he adds to that is a bonus.

“He’s just become more rounded, more experienced, and has handled the pressure incredibly well, which is remarkable for a 24-year-old. I think it’s just generally, he’s continuing to evolve.”

Given that the 2023 season is set to be evolutionary, rather than revolutionary, the strength of the current Red Bull package is unlikely to fall away from being close to the front any time soon. For that reason, Horner believes Verstappen will win more titles as long as the team keep up their end of the work required.

Max Verstappen stands on top of his Red Bull car. Hungaroring July 2022. Credit: PA Images
Max Verstappen stands on top of his Red Bull car. Hungaroring July 2022. Credit: PA Images

“Max is capable of winning many championships,” he said.

“I think it’s down to us to provide him with the equipment to do it. He’s doing a super job this year.

“Ferrari are tough competitors. They’ve also got two quick drivers. Mercedes are sorting themselves out and they could well be back in the game in the second half of the year.

“There’s nothing that we take for granted. We just got to keep that momentum running.”

Is Max Verstappen driving with more maturity?

Earlier this month, Dutch racing driver Tom Coronel agreed with Horner’s assessment of Verstappen.

“You see a clear change in how he thinks and how he races,” said Coronel of Verstappen on RacingNews365.nl’s Formula 1 podcast.

“Everything is based on finishing. No longer that fierceness as we knew from him in the beginning. Very conservative and more like: ‘OK, my turn will come in a moment’. That also struck me: Max knows that if he is less fast, he has to take chances to get as many points as possible.

Certainly, Horner and Coronel’s statements tie in with what Verstappen himself said heading into the 2022 season. Having dealt with the huge stresses and pressures of ’21, Verstappen did an extensive interview with sponsor CarNext and promised he was going to enjoy his racing more.

“Everything that comes now is just a bonus and I am just going to enjoy it,” he said back in January.

“For me, I always wanted to win one and you will see where you go from there.

“Everything that comes now is a bonus but that doesn’t mean that if I lose a race… I will still be upset, but maybe a few minutes after I will say ‘it’s OK’.”

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