The Grand Prix weekend in Las Vegas has yet to start, but Max Verstappen is already assured that he will once again break Michael Schumacher’s record on Sunday. The Dutchman owes this to his dominant form in recent seasons, and specifically his form at the start of the 2023 season.
Verstappen won the opening race of the season, becoming the first championship leader of 2023. The Red Bull Racing driver held on to first place, although teammate Sergio Pérez managed to come very close twice. Thanks to technical problems in qualifying in Saudi Arabia, Verstappen had to start fifteenth, after which he had to settle for P2 behind Pérez in the race. However, Verstappen took a point for the fastest lap and therefore maintained a one-point lead over the Mexican.
In Miami, Pérez had a new opportunity. Verstappen had made a rare mistake in his first Q3 lap, and was therefore only ninth when Charles Leclerc caused an early end to qualifying with a crash. Pérez took advantage with pole position, and with just six points behind going into the Grand Prix, he knew that with a win he would become the first ever Mexican championship leader, as Pérez would leapfrog Verstappen with a third win of the season on equal points. However, things turned out differently, as Verstappen triumphed after a strong catch-up race from P9. Since then, Pérez has not come close to challenging the Limburger.
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Verstappen joins a nice list
The result is that Verstappen has been leading the championship for the entire 2023 season, and as world champion that will not change in the next two weekends. In the 74-year history of the Formula 1 World Championship, it has happened seventeen times before that a driver led the championship for the entire season. Michael Schumacher (1994, 2001, 2002, 2004) did it no fewer than four times, Juan Manuel Fangio twice (1954, 1957), while eleven other drivers did this once in their careers: Alberto Ascari (1953), Jack Brabham (1959), Graham Hill (1962), Jackie Stewart (1969), Ayrton Senna (1991), Nigel Mansell (1992), Damon Hill (1996), Mika Häkkinen (1998), Jenson Button (2009), Sebastian Vettel (2011) ), and Lewis Hamilton (2015).
Schumacher record is coming
Only Fangio and Schumacher did this more than once, with Schumacher doing it in consecutive years in 2001 and 2002. It ensured that the German was World Cup leader for no fewer than 37 races in a row. He took over the lead in 2000 with three races to go, and then added the seventeen races of 2001 and 2002. He also became champion in 2003, but in the Australian season opener he finished fourth, ending the series.
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Verstappen also had a difficult start to the season in 2022, with two retirements in three races. A difficult overtake on Charles Leclerc seemed to follow, but a festival of mistakes by the Monegasque and the Italian team ensured that Verstappen took the lead again after the Spanish Grand Prix, where Leclerc retired from the leading position with technical problems. In the last seventeen Grands Prix of the season, Verstappen held the championship lead, and with Las Vegas as the 21st Grand Prix of 2023, the counter now stands at 38, a new record.
Since the seasons were shorter in the past, Schumacher still holds the record for the longest series in terms of days. The German was the championship leader for no less than 896 years, while Verstappen’s counter will be ‘only’ 650 days at the 2024 season opener in Bahrain. If Verstappen also starts strong with a win in 2024 and then dominates, he can match Schumacher on November 3, the day of the Grand Prix in Brazil.