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Red Bull Racing's driver Max Verstappen and Red Bull Racing's British team principal Christian Horner celebrate with the members of the Red Bull Racing team after winning the Dutch Grand Prix race at The Circuit Zandvoort, on August 27. Image Credit: AFP

Milan: Max Verstappen is on the cusp of another new record as he prepares for the Italian Grand Prix and another step towards a near-inevitable third consecutive Formula One world title.

The dominant Dutchman is red-hot favourite to break the record of nine straight GP wins he shares with four-time world champion Sebastian Vettel after drawing level with the German at Zandvoort last weekend.

Verstappen delighted an army of home fans at the Dutch Grand Prix with a superb victory in wild conditions which extended his lead at the top of the drivers’ standings over Red Bull teammate Sergio Perez to 138 points.

The 25-year-old looks certain to smash his own records for wins and points in a season — 15 and 454 respectively, both set last year.

He could break the wins record at the so-called ‘Temple of Speed’ where he won comfortably last season despite starting seventh on the grid due to a power unit penalty.

Red Bull’s chief technical officer Adrian Newey told Autosport on Wednesday that Verstappen has become “one of the all-time greats” after winning 11 of this season’s 13 GPs and effectively racing his own championship.

“Since he won the championship in ‘21 I think that took a took a lot of pressure off himself, and his driving has got a lot better for that,” said Newey.

“He’s totally in tune. The thing about Max, like all the real greats, is that you have the impression he almost drives the car on automatic, which leaves plenty of processing power to think about everything.”

Red Bull have no real rivals this season as the nearest outside challenger to Verstappen is veteran Fernando Alonso who is 171 points off the pace despite having a hugely impressive season at Aston Martin.

Alonso might have no chance of winning his third world title but his performance at Zandvoort suggested he might be the best candidate to stop Verstappen from claiming his 12th win of the season.

Alonso on right track

The 42-year-old sparkled in the Netherlands, snatching second place and his seventh podium of a remarkable campaign.

And he won’t have a deluge to deal with in northern Italy, where a brutal late summer heatwave and powerful storms have given way to pleasant temperatures and sunny skies.

He set the fastest lap last weekend and told his ambitious team “we will win one race soon, we are getting closer” after crossing 3.7 seconds behind Verstappen.

Alonso’s second place was Aston Martin’s first podium since the Spaniard finished runner-up at the Canadian Grand Prix in June and team principal Mike Krack is in positive mood heading into Monza.

“After all these podiums in the first half of the season, and then more difficult races, now finally in a very difficult weekend we managed to get another podium, which is great,” he said.

“We really want to try and keep fighting as much as we can in this battle, and see where we end up at the end.

“Everything points in the right direction. I think we made a small step in Spa, I think we made another one here, but we also need to confirm them over the next races.”

Ferrari will be hoping for a better showing in front of their home fans than last weekend’s dismal efforts, as Carlos Sainz crossed in fifth place and Charles Leclerc was forced to retire.

Leclerc finished behind Verstappen from pole position at Monza last year after being outdone in pit strategy and has ended up third both times he has started at the front of the grid in 2023, in Azerbaijan and Belgium.

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Mercedes' British drivers, Lewis Hamilton (left) and George Russel walk the paddock ahead of the Dutch Grand Prix at the Zandvoort Circuit. Image Credit: AFP

Hamilton, Russell renew contracts

Meanwhile, Lewis Hamilton and George Russell renewed their contracts with Mercedes until 2025, the Formula One team announced on Thursday.

The Silver Arrows confirmed that the pair would continue driving together in the next two seasons ahead of this weekend’s Italian Grand Prix.

Hamilton currently sits fourth in the drivers’ standings, 183 points behind Verstappen.

Fellow Briton Russell is three places back on 99 points.

“We have never been hungrier to win. We have learnt from every success but also every setback ... we continue to fight no matter the challenge and we will win again,” said Hamilton in a statement.

“I’m grateful to the team who have supported me both on and off the track. Our story isn’t finished, we are determined to achieve more together and we won’t stop until we do.”

Seven-time world champion Hamilton will extend his F1 career beyond his 40th birthday with Mercedes, where he won six of his drivers’ titles between 2014 and 2020.

The 38-year-old is reportedly set to earn around #50 million ($63.4 million) a season with Mercedes after renewing a contract which was set to expire at the end of the current campaign.

Mercedes’ announcement brings to an end speculation over Hamilton’s future as they struggle to compete with dominant Red Bull who have won every GP so far this season.