Max Verstappen
Max Verstappen addresses the press conference at the Formula One Etihad Airways Abu Dhabi Grand Prix on November 23, 2023. The Red Bull driver is chasing his fourth win at the Yas Marina. Image Credit: Virendra Saklani/Gulf News

Abu Dhabi: Max Verstappen doesn’t smile easily. He wears a stern expression. His steely blue eyes, darting around the press conference room of the Formula One Etihad Airways Abu Dhabi Grand Prix on Thursday, lit up on being asked about his incredible season with 18 wins in 21 races. Admitting that it has been an amazing year, he said the winning streak win will end at some point.

Looking back at his dominant performance, Verstappen was hard-pressed to pick his best race of the season. For there have been far too many highpoints for the Dutchman.

“Winning the comeback race in Miami was great. I think that was an important one,” Verstappen said. “Winning at home [Dutch Grand Prix in Zandvoort] was also a nice one. Also winning in Suzuka [Japan Grand Prix], after the tough week we had in Singapore [Verstappen finished fifth],” he added.

An eye on the next season

A win in Abu Dhabi on Sunday will take Verstappen to 54 career wins and past German Sebastien Vettel to the third place in the all-time list behind Lewis Hamilton [103] and Michael Schumacher [91]. What does it mean to him?

“It’s a crazy number. We had a crazy, crazy year. It will be very nice [to beat Vettel’s record]. At the same time, I’m very focused on what’s ahead of me and us. Next year also we’ve got a competitive car again. We can continue that development and win more races,” he said.

Soon the thoughts turned to the next season after the winter break. Ferrari said they will return with a car to challenge Red Bull next year. How will Red Bull respond?

“Difficult to tell,” Verstappen said, adding that Red Bull will also look at ways to improve their car. “We are also working on our car, trying to make it better. We know our weaknesses in the car and try to work on them. And try to make our strengths even stronger,” he added.

What are the weaknesses of Red Bull car?

That begs the question: Are there any weaknesses in the Red Bull car? Particularly since the team has killed off the Constructors’ title race, with Verstappen and Sergio Perez taking the top spots in the Drivers’ points table.

“Of course,” came Verstappen’s reply. “Look at our results in Singapore [Verstappen finished fifth and Perez eighth]. On street circuits, we are struggling a bit. Like in [Las] Vegas also. Lower speeds definitely are not our strongest point. That’s definitely a big area we can improve,” he explained.

How does Verstappen stay motivated to remain so dominant? Where does he get his inspiration?

“I don’t really think about it too much. All sports work a bit differently, I guess,” the Dutchman said, adding F1 is quite unique.

“I love driving. So it’s first and foremost important to be here [in Formula One racing]. Winning is the best thing. So, for me, naturally the motivation is there. I know that for most of the races that I go to, I have a big chance of winning. That’s great. I think it’s tougher when you come to a race where it’s not possible [to win] anymore. Then it’s harder to find motivation. Then we have to look at other places to keep that motivation going. Of course, when you are at the top, it’s probably easier than when you are in the middle of the pack,” Verstappen explained.

How about women in Formula One?

The 26-year-old threw his support behind the idea of women drivers in Formula One, adding that if they have the skill and talent, they can make it to the top.

“If you look at the percentage of men and women in racing, already for men, the percentage is very low in Formula One. For women, it’s even harder. I think physically driving in F1 in some places is quite tough, but it’s possible if you work hard. If you have enough talent, then it’s possible.

“I don’t think team bosses or people who make decisions to choose their driver look at, ‘Oh, we want to go for men’. If there’s a woman beating everyone else, then naturally they will have the opportunity to get to Formula One. But it’s just that there are less women in the sport, the percentage to make it to the top is lower,” Verstappen.

The Dutchman chases his fourth Abu Dhabi title to extend his win streak.