It feels right that Max Verstappen gets to bask in the glory of his Belgian Grand Prix victory by sharing it with his home crowd just a few days later at Zandvoort. Realistically the reception for Verstappen would have been raucous if the world champion had shunted at the first corner at Spa. But there will be a season-defining victory to celebrate on Thursday, elevating the party atmosphere even further – and who would bet against another triumphant moment to revel in just a few days later in the Dutch Grand Prix itself?
Of course, Verstappen’s win in Belgium was a home race as well (on his mother’s side). Verstappen loves Spa and the manner of his victory, by almost 18 seconds over team-mate Sergio Perez despite starting 14th on the grid, looked very much like Verstappen marking his territory.The outcome of the race never looked in doubt, even when it was known he would serve a back of the grid penalty. Every session that passed last weekend just served to underline Red Bull’s superiority and the fact Verstappen was on another level.
Verstappen’s performance has been compared to some all-time great ones. I’m not enough of a historian to comment on that. But I have covered 26 of his 29 victories and I’ve never seen him so dominant.Once a winner of great races, Verstappen is now simply a great race winner. Gone are the days where he would need an opportunistic or virtuoso performance to steal a victory from all-conquering Mercedes. Now Verstappen’s spent the last two seasons with either the best car or a close second-best, and he’s a threat every single weekend.
The Belgian GP brought the best out of Verstappen. The stunning car control to live with a car on a knife-edge (to a degree that Perez was utterly incapable of matching). The sheer confidence to only do a single run in qualifying and still take pole. The new-found patience matched with the incisiveness to survive a chaotic opening lap and then carve through the order. Yes, Verstappen needed an incredible car to dominate in Belgium. But the RB18 needed an incredible driver to look as good as it did. It was a combination that, unleashed to its full potential for the first at Spa, looked reminiscent of Lewis Hamilton and the Mercedes W11 or Michael Schumacher and the F2004.
Will we see the same thing in Zandvoort? I doubt it and so does Verstappen. There was something about Spa and the RB18 that just matched beautifully, likely the ride height requirements of a unique circuit and Red Bull’s mastery of bending physics around a Formula 1 car with higher rake.
It would not be a surprise if Ferrari and Charles Leclerc were more of a force this weekend, and for the sake of F1’s race-by-race stories that is much needed. But just as it was during the peak of the Hamilton/Mercedes era, there is also something fantastic to savour about seeing a driver of astounding ability performing totally unshackled.Red Bull reckons Verstappen has been “released” by his title win last season. A second championship beckons, and it will be entirely deserved.