Red Bull Team Principal Christian Horner insists that Formula 1 records mean “a great deal” to Max Verstappen as he stands on the brink of clinching a third consecutive Drivers’ Championship.
Red Bull and Verstappen’s record-breaking winning runs came to an abrupt end in Singapore, with the team’s RB19 unexpectedly struggling for grip and braking stability around the Marina Bay Circuit.
But they rebounded phenomenally at Suzuka last weekend, with Verstappen fronting all three practice hours before romping to pole position by six-tenths over the rest.
The Dutchman then emphatically won Sunday’s race by 19s, and Horner recalls that Verstappen was “fired up” to dominate the weekend after his Singapore setback.
“I think sometimes the races you lose are the weekends you learn the most at,” he said. “I think it was a big reminder to everybody that it is very easy to miss the target. We all left Singapore knowing that ultimately the winning run that we had would come to an end, but a little frustrated.
“I played padel tennis with Max on Wednesday [before the race weekend] and he was properly fired up! He made it clear and said, I want to win the race by 20 seconds. And in fairness, he came within 0.7s of achieving that had it not been for a blue flag at the end there.
“You could tell from the very first lap in first practice when on the Hard tyre he was 1.8 seconds quicker than the rest of field on Medium or Soft tyres that he was totally focused on this event. It’s a circuit that he loves and enjoys and it’s the ultimate driver’s circuit as a test round here.
“It was an outstanding performance, his laps in qualifying yesterday, particularly his final lap, will stand out as one of the best laps of all time in qualifying.
“He then converted that after not the best of getaways, but he was able to hand on to the lead thereafter and build a very commanding lead and win the race.”
Max Verstappen (NLD) Red Bull Racing RB19 celebrates with the team with Sergio Perez (MEX) Red Bull Racing RB19 and Christian Horner (GBR) Red Bull Racing Team Principal after winning the 2023 Constructors Championship. 24.09.2023. Formula 1 World Championship, Rd 17, Japanese Grand Prix, Suzuka, Japan, Race Day.
Red Bull’s Singapore slump coincided with the FIA introducing a new Technical Directive amid suspicions some teams were utilising flexy-floors and wings in order to increase aerodynamic performance on its cars.
After storming to pole on Saturday Verstappen issued that any critic who related Red Bull’s uncompetitive showing the week before could now “suck an egg”.
Asked if Verstappen was driven by the overall defeat or rumours over the TD impacting Red Bull, Horner replied: “He’s just a racer. He doesn’t need a lot of motivation, but he certainly came here very keen to reestablish the season he’s been having.”
Perez’s retirement coupled with Verstappen’s second successive triumph in Japan means the latter upholds a 177-point lead in the Drivers’ standings with only 180 available.
Verstappen only requires three more points to become a three-time F1 champion, with a sixth-place finish during Saturday’s Sprint Race enough to achieve that feat.
“I think he’s just got this inner hunger and determination and huge ability, but he channels it and he does not get distracted by some of the trappings of F1, he is an out-and-out racer,” Horner explained when discussing Verstappen’s recent accolades.
“If he’s not racing in the real world, he’s racing in the virtual world. That’s his passion, that’s what he wants to do.”
Pressed on whether he has Michael Schumacher and Lewis Hamilton’s joint-record of seven Drivers’ Championships in his sights, Horner responded: “I’m not sure he focuses too much on that. They mean a great deal to him, I think when he’s achieved them. But it’s not dictating his approach.
“He’s a winner, and he loves winning. You could see that competitive spirit at its absolute utmost this weekend, from Lap 1 in P1.”
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