Max Verstappen was the only driver who consistently extracted the maximum from his car during the 2023 season, the bosses of his two closest rivals admitted.Sergio Perez often failed to qualify in the top 10 and ended the season with less than half his team mate’s points score.
Ferrari and Mercedes saw greater swings in performance between their two drivers. Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz Jnr “had different momentum during the season,” admitted Ferrari team principal Frederic Vasseur.
“I think it’s true that the Carlos was very, vey strong after the summer break and Charles was flying in the last six or seven events,” he said. “But overall I think the evaluation that we had into the team was a good one.”
While Verstappen usually had a comfortable margin over his rivals, especially in race trim, for those behind him the slightest difference in a drivers’ confidence could significantly affect their results, said Vasseur.
“It was true for every single team except Max everybody on the grid had up-and-down during the season,” he acknowledged. “It’s very, very tight so sometimes for one tenth [of a second] or one tenth and a half, because you like the track or you like the set-up of the car this day, you can move from P2-P3 to P10 and then it’s almost a disaster.”
Mercedes found the swings in performance between their drivers was especially acute over the course of the season. Lewis Hamilton ended the season with a string of finishes outside the top six, but earlier in the year he had performed better while George Russell was the one who struggled.
Like Vasseur, Wolff said the one driver who was a constant throughout the season was Verstappen.
“It’s difficult to comprehend that good drivers in various teams have these oscillations of performance,” he said. “You’ve seen it this weekend with Sainz and Leclerc, you’ve seen it with George and Lewis, Oscar [Piastri] and Lando [Norris].
“And the obvious one is Perez and Verstappen. Perez is not a second slower than Max. So, what is that?
“We have seen it swinging in both directions. So fundamentally, I think it’s all around the tyre grip. If you are able to have the car in a sweet spot, a stable platform that you start the work with the beginning of the weekend, then you can extract performance.
“I think if you’re not, there’s just no performance. You’re falling off the cliff, literally. So I have no explanation for that.
“I think the only one this year who has understood how to drive these tyres is Max.”
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