Max Verstappen, George Russell, Circuit de Catalunya, 2024

Next to his easy 2023 win, Verstappen’s latest victory shows he has to fight again

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Max Verstappen’s seventh win in 10 races prompted the usual knee-jerk claims on social media that Red Bull are still F1’s dominant team.

The reality is quite different. Red Bull may still be winning but life is much more difficult for them than it was 12 months ago. To appreciate that, compared Verstappen’s victory yesterday with his win at the same circuit in 2023.

Last year he led from lights to flag, stretching his first stint so long he was able to pit after his closest challengers and still come out ahead. Verstappen won by 24 seconds, and illustrating how conservatively he was driving, he lowered his lap times by almost two seconds on the 61st tour to claim the bonus point for fastest lap without needing to pit for a fresh set of tyres.

Last weekend Verstappen faced real competition. He took pole position by nearly half a second in 2023, but Lando Norris snatched it from him by two-hundredths of a second this time.

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After George Russell beat the pair of them to turn one, Verstappen had to make his way past the Mercedes to gain the lead. From there his position became more comfortable, but he still had to keep an eye on the rapid Norris closing in behind. At the flag, four drivers from three teams took the chequered flag closer to Verstappen than last year’s second-place finisher:

The McLaren driver knew his car had been quick enough to win, and Verstappen had bested him on the day. “We should have won today,” said Norris. “We had the quickest car. But I just lost it at the start and then I couldn’t get past George for the first stint.”

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Lando Norris, McLaren, Circuit de Catalunya, 2024
Norris knew he missed another chance to win in Spain
This was the second race in a row which Norris felt he should have won. A missed chance to pit when the Safety Car was deployed during the Canadian Grand Prix two weeks earlier allowed Verstappen to get ahead of him on that occasion.

Red Bull rarely make such slips, and demonstrated their tactical mastery again yesterday. While Norris and the Ferrari drivers joined Verstappen in saving a new set of soft tyres from the race, only Red Bull chose not to use theirs for the start, keeping them for the final stint, where they proved crucial in allowing Verstappen to out-run Norris.

“Clearly today we just lacked a bit of that outright pace,” said Verstappen. “Just when we had to push, we just couldn’t look after the tyres like Lando, for example, could. These kind of things are quite crucial on most of the tracks where you have a bit of deg[radation] so we need to try and be better on that.”

The Circuit de Catalunya was expected to be a stronger venue for Red Bull, and it was. But they did not immediately return to the kind of superiority they enjoyed earlier this year, let alone when they routed the opposition much of the previous two seasons.

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Max Verstappen, Red Bull, Circuit de Catalunya, 2024
Passing Russell for the lead put Verstappen on course to win
That made it all the more important for them to get the tactical calls right and to make the passes that mattered when they needed to.

“Our last few wins, it’s been more about just being there at the right moment, at the right time, making the right calls and being quite strong as a team,” said Verstappen afterwards. The opposition may have narrowed the gap in terms of car performance, but they haven’t yet proved a match for Red Bull’s race-winning operation.

Whether they are able to in the coming races should mean we have many more absorbing contests ahead of us. Even if, as Norris admitted, Verstappen is already too far ahead in the drivers’ championship to entertain thoughts of beating him.

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Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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18 comments on “Next to his easy 2023 win, Verstappen’s latest victory shows he has to fight again”

  1. Does it really matter which car is the fastest when there is no dominance? Which car was faster in 2021, the Red Bull or the Mercedes? Which car was faster in 2007 and 2008, McLaren or Ferrari? Who really cares when there is close racing? I have the impression that 4 cars are now quite closely matched and I love it.

    1. José Lopes da Silva
      24th June 2024, 16:32

      It matters for those who like to understand the sport and, for instance, compare the brilliance Verstappen is putting into his recent races.

    2. I would say ferrari was quite a bit better in 2007 and 2008, mclaren had the stronger driver pairing in 2007, making it look more balanced than it should’ve been, and mercedes looked slightly better in 2021 on balance: significantly better in the last 4 races and very similar the rest of the year.

      It’s good to have closer cars, even if red bull remains the strongest, but I think saying 4 cars are closely matched is an exageration: this race for example only mclaren could possibly challenge red bull, mercedes was still quite far back in comparison, and ferrari isn’t really looking good after monaco.

  2. Mclaren is on par or maybe a little bit ahead (i believe Red Bull is controlling the narrative though, to keep regs untouched until 2026) but are as harmless as they were last year.

    Time to step up their game.

  3. Is it really a fight when his competitors are fighting each other more than they are fighting him.
    In other words the redbull in his hands is fast enough that its ahead of the very competitive pack of about 6 cars behind him.

    Eg Norris last two races was the one most likely to be able to beat him but was having to race those cars instead of max

    1. Max had to fight the other cars as well (George overtook him and Lando; he overtook Lando; he overtook George). The difference was that Max found a way past much more quickly.

      That isn’t him being ahead of a competitive pack; it’s him being part of it, and winning.

  4. This was easy too.

    Mclaren just kept giving the guy who won 7 races out of 10 a few free seconds after every pit stop.

    The race had 66 laps, they knew when to quit managing and sprint to the finish and Norris never got even close.

    1. Yeah, that’s why Verstappen’s comments about Norris pushing more than he could seem a bit off. Norris pushing a few laps towards the end is not a threat to the win, just as it wasn’t at Imola. It just means their ‘cruising pace’ was too slow.

      Seems to me like Norris and McLaren still need to adjust to racing for the win. I’m sure they’ll get there, but in the meantime they’re letting Verstappen off the hook.

  5. …at least he doesn’t have to fight his team mate and can actually get tows during qualifying.

    1. As did Norris, so whats your point?
      Fighting Piastri… neuhhh not really.

  6. Stephen Taylor
    24th June 2024, 18:01

    Listen I like both McLaren drivers but they are not there yet in terms of being championship calibre. Drivers McLaren should have won 4 or 5 races at least this year already . The car has been capable of winning since Monaco . I think I Max had been driving the McLaren this year he would still be on course for for a fourth WDC.

    1. I’d definitely like to see an alternate season with verstappen at mclaren and piastri at red bull, perhaps he’d be leading the championship, but don’t forget that for a few races red bull was dominant; mclaren never had that so far, so definitely it’s still the best car on balance and the margin would be much smaller in the championship.

    2. To me Norris was better than him on Canada, paced himself better through the early stages of the race and that’s why he was so much faster on the laps preceding the Safety Car, but Red Bull was better than Mclaren on all the rest. They are sure and decided when they make their calls, not “what do you think of…” like Mclaren has been doing and Ferrari also did a lot in the past. They don’t waste their time with this kind of stuff.

  7. He didn’t really have to fight at all. Sure, it wasn’t as easy as last year, but it was still a pretty easy win. Lando had a bad start and then had to slow down not to crash into George and then Max was able to get an easy DRS overtake on fresh tires. The race was never in doubt after that.

    1. To me, that is less the point than the fact he will have to begin fighting for his wins, unless RBR solves its suspension issues or an upgrade that pushes it forward.

    2. you know Max started on used soft while Lando and George started on new softs? It’s about racepace and overtaking when it counted.

      1. Again, while Max may still have a slight car advantage and this race wasn’t a very tough race for him, it seems clear he is going to have some fights on his hand to keep winning. This seems to be the important point.

      2. Lando yes, but George Russell and Hamilton didn’t have new soft tyres for the race.

        So shame on Lando for wasting his on a bad start and stuck behind George.

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