SPO_230901 VERSTAPPEN1-1693576341715
Red Bull's Max Verstappen ahead of the Italian Grand Prix in Monza. Image Credit: Reuters

Monza: For Max Verstappen it’s not about records, it’s about winning.

The Red Bull driver could do both at the Italian Grand Prix on Sunday as he looks to firmly etch his name in the Formula One record books.

Having equalled Sebastian Vettel’s F1 record of nine straight victories at the Dutch GP last weekend, Verstappen can break it on the famous Monza track.

But the 25-year-old is focused on one sole thing: the victory.

Nine in a row

“I mean, I never thought that I would win nine in a row, first of all,” Verstappen said. “But yeah, now that we are here, of course I’ll try to win 10, but it’s more about that I want to just win.”

Vettel set the consecutive wins record in 2013 with Red Bull during their first dominant era — when he won four straight titles — and Verstappen remembers how astounded he was as a teenager when he saw the German driver achieve that feat.

“I remember when he did it, I said ‘Wow, that’s just a crazy number. I think no one ever will do something like that’,” Verstappen said. “And here we are… but I’m also not really too fixated on it.”

Few would bet on Verstappen bettering that “crazy number” at Monza in a season he is overwhelmingly dominating.

Last weekend’s win increased his huge championship lead to 138 points as he races toward a third straight world title.

SPO_230901 VERSTAPPEN-1693576334758
Max Verstappen makes a pit stop during the first practice session. Image Credit: AFP

Verstappen also moved closer to his own F1 record of 15 wins set last year and onto 46 overall — already fifth all-time in wins. Alain Prost (51) and Vettel (53) are within his sights with nine races left.

And people are already talking about Verstappen being considered one of the all-time greats, despite his relatively young age.

Play in rivals' favour

“Well, I mean, everyone, of course, has their own opinion about these kind of things,” Verstappen said. “But for me, I’m not — I was never — in F1 to try and prove that I belong in between other people’s names…”

One thing that might play in his rivals’ favour this weekend is that Verstappen has rarely fared well at the Italian Grand Prix — although he ended his winless run at Monza last year. Before finally clinching victory at the Temple of Speed, Verstappen had never finished higher than fifth — in 2018.

Red Bull have won every race this year but, despite Verstappen looking seemingly invincible, some think the team will struggle at Monza, the fastest track on the calendar.

Not Verstappen.

He said: “People are allowed to wish for these kind of things but I think this is going to be a good track for us.”

Gap to Perez

Unbeaten Red Bull is dominating the constructors’ standings just like Verstappen is crushing the drivers’ championship.

The team is chasing a record-extending 15th straight win on Sunday — including last season’s final race — and has more than double the points of second-place Mercedes.

But most of those points have been earned by Verstappen who has won 11 of the 13 races so far, with teammate Sergio Perez claiming just two victories.

“It’s quite hard to see as his teammate, you know,” Perez said. “It doesn’t really matter what’s happened, whether we have a good margin or bad margins or the car is becoming difficult. He’s been able to extract 100 per cent, out of him, out of the car, pretty much every weekend.”

Perez’s two victories came in the opening four rounds but the Mexican driver’s season has imploded since then and he was an astonishing 1.3 seconds behind Verstappen in qualifying for the Dutch GP, despite having the same car.

“Definitely I went through a bit of a tough patch through the middle of the season where I was struggling the most with the car,” Perez said. “But I think that’s all behind us and we should be having good races from now on.”

SPO_230901  HAMILTON-1693576331005
Mercedes ace Lewis Hamilton looks on prior to the first practice session. Image Credit: AFP

Fumbling Ferrari

Ferrari haven’t had the best of times at its home track of late, offering little for the thousands of red-clad local fans — “tifosi” — to cheer about in recent years.

Charles Leclerc claimed victory for the Scuderia in 2019 but that has been its only win since 2010.

Leclerc came close last year but finished second after another questionable strategy decision from Ferrari.

SPO_230901 LECLERC-1693576338802
Mechanics work on Ferrari's Charles Leclerc's car during the first practice session ahead of the Italian Grand Prix.

Bizarre incidents

That was just one of a number of botched strategy decisions and bizarre incidents that have plagued Ferrari for the past two seasons, with the latest coming at the Zandvoort track last weekend.

That and the car’s unpredictability means Leclerc and his teammate Carlos Sainz Jr. are facing an uphill struggle. But Leclerc remains optimistic.

“We should be a bit more competitive here,” he said. “Then, whether it will be enough to fight for the podium, I don’t know but I really hope so and we will do everything for it, for sure.”