Updated November 14, 2023 - 12:38 pm
Max Verstappen, the three-time Formula One World Drivers’ Champion, isn’t particularly excited about coming to Las Vegas.
The undeniable favorite for the inaugural Las Vegas Grand Prix, Verstappen doesn’t plan to spend much time in the city once the race is complete.
“I think we are there more for the show than the racing itself, if you look at the layout of the track,” Verstappen told reporters Nov. 3 at the Sao Paulo Grand Prix in Brazil. “But, you know, I’m actually not that into it. I’m more like, I’ll go there and do my thing and be gone again.”
That brusque, race-first mentality is a major part of what’s made the 26-year-old all-conquering Dutch driver one of the greatest Formula One racers in recent memory.
Thanos of the track
Eras of dominance are fairly common in Formula One. Lewis Hamilton won six of the seven championships from 2014 to 2020 immediately before Verstappen’s three-year reign atop the sport.
Red Bull’s Sebastian Vettel was Formula One’s preeminent force before Hamilton, winning four consecutive titles between 2010 and 2013. Michael Schumacher won five consecutive titles from 2000-04.
So what separates Verstappen?
This season, he’s been inevitable — like Thanos snapping the rest of the grid into oblivion. Verstappen’s 17 trips to the top step of the podium this season out of 20 races beat his own record for most wins in a single Formula One season set a year ago (15).
He’s already clinched the highest single-season winning percentage, most podiums in a single year and most hat tricks — winning the race, pole position and claiming fastest lap in a single race weekend — all with two races to spare.
“Him and the team have been phenomenal this year, faultless, and I think they’ve raised the bar,” Hamilton told reporters ahead of the Qatar Grand Prix, where Verstappen clinched his third consecutive championship during the weekend’s sprint shootout Oct. 7.
“You cannot appreciate the excellence enough,” added Vettel on Sept. 16 while speaking to Sky Sports’ Martin Brundle after Verstappen won his 10th consecutive race to break Vettel’s seemingly untouchable record of nine consecutive victories.
Born to race
Verstappen’s rise to the pinnacle of motor sports almost seemed predestined. The son of former F1 driver Jos Verstappen, Max was famously racing in Formula One before he earned his actual driver’s license.
He joined the Red Bull Driver Academy during his junior career, and made his F1 debut with Toro Rosso, then the Red Bull junior team and now called AlphaTauri, at the 2015 Australian Grand Prix.
Verstappen was 17 years and 166 days old, becoming the youngest driver to start a Formula One race by almost two years. One race later, at the Malaysian Grand Prix, he became the youngest point scorer in F1 history when he finished seventh.
His performances with Toro Rosso caught the attention of Red Bull Racing team principal Christian Horner, who promoted Verstappen to the senior team four races into the 2016 season to partner with Australian driver Daniel Ricciardo.
At the 2016 Spanish Grand Prix, Verstappen, in his first race for Red Bull, took advantage of Hamilton’s collision with Mercedes teammate and fellow title contender Nico Rosberg to claim his first win, breaking another Vettel record to become the youngest Formula One winner at 18 years and 228 days.
Verstappen’s prodigious rise also came with some criticisms for what other drivers deemed dangerous driving. During the 2018 Azerbaijan Grand Prix, for example, he and his teammate Ricciardo crashed out after battling for the entire race.
Ricciardo departed for Renault following the season, making Verstappen the undisputed No. 1 driver at Red Bull. He picked up three wins and finished third with 278 points behind Hamilton and Mercedes teammate Valtteri Bottas in 2019. A year later, during the COVID-impacted 2020 season, Verstappen had two wins and reached the podium 11 times in 17 races.
His 2020 season was a sign of what was to come. In 2021, Verstappen and Hamilton engaged in one of the most dramatic, tightly contested championship chases in F1 history. Verstappen started hot, winning seven of the first 13 races, but Hamilton — seeking a record-setting eighth championship — won the three penultimate races to pull level on points with Verstappen entering the final race of the season in Abu Dhabi.
Hamilton led with four laps to go, but a late safety car, or caution, allowed Verstappen to pit for soft tires while his championship rival stayed out to maintain track position. However, a controversial decision by race director Michael Masi allowed all the lapped cars between Verstappen and Hamilton to unlap themselves during the restart, but not the lapped cars behind Verstappen.
With his fresher tires and clean air between himself and his title rival, Verstappen charged past Hamilton on the final lap to win his first championship, end Hamilton’s run of four consecutive titles and complete his rise from prodigy to world champion.
Any doubts about his championship quality were reinforced a year later, as Verstappen won 15 races to claim the 2022 championship after a shaky start, beating Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc by a commanding 146 points. He repeated the feat in 2023, winning his third championship and cementing his status as one of the sport’s greatest of all time.
Verstappen is already fourth all-time in victories, and he trails only F1 legends Schumacher, Hamilton, Vettel, Alain Prost and Juan Manuel Fangio in championships despite turning 26 less than two months ago.
“To cross the line and win the championship,” he told reporters Oct. 7, “(I’m) incredibly proud of everyone’s effort.”
Formula One Las Vegas Grand Prix
When: 10 p.m. Saturday
Where: The Strip
Favorite: Max Verstappen -500