Max Verstappen became a two-time F1 world champion with victory in the Japanese Grand Prix, after he delivered one of the most assured drives of his career. To mark the occasion, we’ve had a go at picking out the top 10 best drives from his eight seasons of racing in motor sport’s top tier so far…
10. Japan 2022 – A champion’s drive
Needing at most victory and fastest lap to seal the title, or hoping that Charles Leclerc would finish third or lower to deem just the win sufficient, Verstappen arrived in Japan as overwhelming title favourite. It was just a case of when, not if, he’d seal the championship. He opened his case with pole position over Leclerc by a margin of just 0.010s.
Rain continued into Sunday and the teams settled for intermediates at the start, with Verstappen in the lead when the race was red-flagged after just two laps – despite a charge from Leclerc into Turn 1.
A lengthy delay followed but when it did get going again, Verstappen’s pace was commanding; in a 28-lap race, he managed to win by more than 27 seconds. That the title was sealed when Leclerc dropped from P2 to P3 thanks to a post-race penalty should do nothing to take away the Dutchman’s achievement in the most challenging of conditions.
Race Highlights: 2022 Japanese Grand Prix
9. Malaysia 2015 – Setting the first of many records
On his Grand Prix debut for Toro Rosso, Verstappen became F1’s youngest driver ever at the age of 17 years and 166 days. In his second race, he became F1’s youngest ever points scorer.
Banking a lap before heavy rain hit, Verstappen made it to Q3 and qualified a stellar sixth – just shy of Red Bull drivers Daniil Kvyat and Daniel Ricciardo.
On race day, despite the wet weather being replaced with dry conditions and the usual intense heat, Verstappen kept himself firmly in the points with an impressive run to P7, claiming the second of many records he would eventually break.
8. Hungary 2022 – Spin and win
Qualifying 10th at the Hungaroring normally leaves a driver hoping for, at most, a top-five finish. Maybe a podium, if fortune falls their way.
Progress was relatively slow for the Dutchman but an undercut saw him jump Lewis Hamilton and Fernando Alonso for P5. Another undercut saw Verstappen move not only into podium contention, but victory contention.
Despite a spin after passing Leclerc, Verstappen recovered, passed him again, and then inherited the lead when the leaders pitted. From P10, he won by nearly eight seconds…
2022 Hungarian Grand Prix: Max Verstappen takes win from P10 on grid at the Hungaroring
7. Mexico 2018 – Victory fuelled by defeat
Having been denied a maiden pole position when then-team mate Daniel Ricciardo aced qualifying by just 0.026s, Verstappen admitted to feeling “super angry” after Saturday’s shootout. Did that spur him on?
After clearing Ricciardo off the line (the Australian later retiring with a technical issue), Verstappen drove into the distance and took the chequered flag almost 20 seconds ahead of nearest rival, Ferrari driver Sebastian Vettel.
Kimi Raikkonen and Hamilton – the Mercedes driver crowned world champion for a fifth time that day – were the only other drivers to finish on the lead lap.
6. Austria 2019 – Pouncing on Leclerc for victory
After losing out on pole to Leclerc by four-tenths of a second, but helped by Hamilton’s penalty to P2 on the grid, Verstappen was bogged down by a glacial getaway off the line that dropped him to seventh at the start of the race.
Back into the top five by Lap 10, Verstappen stayed out long and eventually stopped on Lap 31, emerging fourth with a serious job to do. Twenty-five laps later, he passed Mercedes’ Valtteri Bottas and then caught up to leader Leclerc.
They banged wheels, swapped positions, and produced a scintillating battle before Verstappen snatched the lead on Lap 69, to deliver Honda’s first victory since 2006 – and at Red Bull’s home race.
Austrian GP: Contact as Verstappen passes Leclerc for the lead
5. Emilia Romagna 2021 – Sending a clear message
At Imola in 2021, Verstappen and Hamilton had the first serious run-in of their intense battle for the title. With heavy rain falling before the race, Verstappen leapt away from P3 on the grid to clear team mate Perez and challenge pole-sitter Hamilton for the lead into the first corner.
As Hamilton placed his Mercedes around the outside of Tamburello, Verstappen held firm on the inside line and came out on top despite minor contact. From there, he batted away Safety Car restarts and the crossover from intermediates to slicks to keep the lead.
Hamilton, meanwhile, slid off the track and was forced to pull off a rapid recovery drive from the fringes of the top 10 to P2. In the early stages of his first title fight, Verstappen had sent a clear message to rival Hamilton: ‘I’m coming for your crown’.
2021 Emilia Romagna Grand Prix: Verstappen overtakes Hamilton at race start
4. United States 2021 – Late-race magic at Austin
“It’s all about the last three laps,” came the message to Hamilton late at COTA when Verstappen was bearing down on the lead Mercedes. The Dutchman had qualified on pole but lost out at the start – but then began to rein in the reigning champion after his second pit stop.
The gap to Hamilton, on a surface that is infamously harsh on tyres, began to tumble, and Verstappen navigated not only Austin’s bends but various backmarkers to usurp Hamilton with five laps remaining and win the United States Grand Prix with what Christian Horner proclaimed was a “classy” display.
Race Highlights: 2021 United States Grand Prix
3. Netherlands 2021 – Soaking up the pressure at home
Verstappen entered his first-ever home Grand Prix weekend with the weight of the Dutch nation on his shoulders. Not only was Zandvoort returning to the calendar for the first time since the mid-1980s, but the Red Bull driver found himself in his maiden F1 title fight against the might of Hamilton and Mercedes.
Would he crack under the pressure? Absolutely not. Instead, Verstappen used the orange-filled grandstands to his advantage as he charged to pole position and then stormed clear of the two Mercedes drivers in the race – Hamilton finishing 20 seconds adrift, with Valtteri Bottas almost a minute behind.
2. Spain 2016 – Winning on his Red Bull debut
What can you say about Spain 2016 that hasn’t already been said? Red Bull decided to demote Kvyat and promote Verstappen, putting their faith in the 18-year-old hotshot. There were doubters and supporters alike on social media – but nobody could have predicted how Verstappen’s debut would unfold.
When title rivals Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton collided, Verstappen – who had qualified fourth but lost out to Vettel before re-passing the four-time champion – lined up second on the resulting Safety Car restart.
The Dutchman held his ground in a two-stop strategy (to team mate Ricciardo’s three-stopper) and fended off a late charge from Raikkonen to produce a momentous victory on his debut for Red Bull – becoming the youngest ever F1 race winner in the process.
Race highlights – Spain 2016
1. Brazil 2016 – A masterclass in the wet
It may seem unusual to put a third-place finish at the top of Verstappen’s best F1 drives to date, but his performance at a soaking wet 2016 Brazilian Grand Prix stunned the Interlagos paddock and fans around the world.
Whether it was his spectacular spin-and-save on the main straight, bold passes on Kimi Raikkonen and Nico Rosberg – the latter a particularly daring move around the outside of the Curva do Sol – or a recovery from 16th to third in 16 laps (behind only Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton) after a fifth stop for fresh tyres, the Dutchman ensured that everyone was talking about him after the race.
Where does it rank amongst the best wet-weather performances in F1 history? “It’s right up there,” said Red Bull team boss Christian Horner, while Mercedes’s Toto Wolff called it “the Verstappen show”, adding: “It was really unbelievable driving. Physics are being redefined.”
Brazil 2016: Max Verstappen fights through the field