Max Verstappen has shown remarkable confidence as he clinched his third Formula One world championship this year. The Dutch driver made the challenging sport seem effortless with his consistent string of victories in 2023. However, beneath his cool demeanor, the top drivers are still working hard to stay at the top.
Following the sprint race in Qatar on Saturday, the championship title is now secure. Discussions about Verstappen’s success have begun. Some critics mention his exceptionally powerful Red Bull car and dismiss the competition from his teammate, Sergio Pérez. While these observations are valid, they may be somewhat unkind, considering Verstappen’s exceptional performance this year.
Few are better placed to assess him than the double world champion Mika Häkkinen, a driver who enjoyed a dominant car for his first title in 1998, one that appropriately was designed by the genius behind Red Bull’s current rocket ship, Adrian Newey. Häkkinen remains an ambassador for McLaren, with whom he won both titles, and is still a keen observer and attendee at F1. The Finn barely hesitates when asked whether such success really does come easily.
“Max owns an incredible car, but it’s not just handed to him,” he passionately states. “Max has a car that is incredibly fast, like a bullet, but you still have to put in effort and utilize it. Whether the car is good or bad, you still have to give your all and deliver.”
Mika Häkkinen competed in Formula 1 from 1991 to 2001 and was a highly skilled driver, winning two championships in 1998 and 1999. His first title was in the MP4/13 car, designed by Newey for McLaren, which he considers his greatest accomplishment. In the first race of the season in Australia, both Häkkinen and teammate David Coulthard lapped the entire field. Häkkinen went on to win eight out of 16 races that season. While he may have made it look effortless at times, he insists it was a challenging feat, similar to Max Verstappen’s current performances.
Max’s driving performance this year has been exceptional, and he has shown domination in all aspects – practice, qualification, and the race. His driving has been not only physically controlled but also mentally controlled, as he has been able to stay highly focused throughout. This is very impressive, especially considering the high-pressure environment of F1 where winning or not can put a lot of pressure on a driver.
“To achieve such results, a driver must possess tremendous mental fortitude as it is extremely challenging to maintain balance and control.”
At 55 years old, Finn remains as perceptive as ever when it comes to the sport. He is quick to point out that success, like what Verstappen is currently experiencing, does not occur in isolation. His own experience serves as a reminder of how many elements must align within a team in order to achieve seemingly effortless performance.
“When you acquire a top-of-the-line F1 vehicle, it is specifically customized for you. I personally witnessed this when working with McLaren, as every department of the team collaborated to create the perfect car. I am familiar with the effort and dedication put into achieving this incredible package. In today’s racing world, it is even more difficult and demanding. With larger teams and more data to analyze, effective communication and organization among different departments is crucial. Red Bull and Max have successfully accomplished this and are excelling in their performance.”
Christian Horner, the team principal of Red Bull, referred to Verstappen as a resilient and demanding driver who holds high expectations for his team. This quality is often seen in top racers and is appreciated at Red Bull, where Verstappen’s dedication and strong desire to win are highly praised. Häkkinen sees in him the competitive drive that is essential for a champion.
He recalls how even when McLaren were the class of the field in 1998 there was no room for complacency. It is a trait Häkkinen believes he shares with Verstappen: the hardworking relentless pursuit of improvement that ultimately contributed to what has been a remarkable season.
According to the speaker, it is important to always strive for improvement in the car, even if it is already performing better than its competitors. This can be a challenging mindset because it involves constantly searching for areas of improvement. One must always be asking themselves, “What can I do to make the car even faster?” Max has shown great focus and determination in this aspect.