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Max Verstappen stands on his Red Bull as he gets out of the car and celebrates winning the Hungarian Grand Prix
Max Verstappen won the Hungarian Grand Prix by nearly 34 seconds, the largest winning margin of the season

Max Verstappen described his comfortable victory in the Hungarian Grand Prix as “a pretty perfect day”, and it is increasingly looking as if this could become a perfect season for his Red Bull team as they sweep all before them in Formula 1.

Verstappen’s dominant drive at the Hungaroring resulted in a record being broken. It was Red Bull’s 12th consecutive victory – starting from last season’s final race in Abu Dhabi – and it moves them past the 11 wins in a row achieved by McLaren in 1988.

That was the year the combination of Ayrton Senna, Alain Prost, the McLaren MP4/4 chassis and Honda’s turbo engine set new standards by putting the two best drivers in the world – two of the greatest of all time – into one of the all-time great cars, produced by a team whose drive for perfection moved the game on in that era.

Red Bull also have a Honda engine, but the combination of this team and Verstappen is so powerful this year that they do not need a second driver even close to his calibre.

Sergio Perez managed to squeeze in a couple of victories in the first four races of the year, but he has been making heavy weather of the summer, and Verstappen is now on a run of seven victories in a row and giving every impression of being unbeatable.

At this rate, a lot of F1’s records will be smashed in 2023. Mercedes’ achievement of 19 victories in a year, set in 2016, is beginning to look vulnerable. As is McLaren’s other record from 1988 – winning all but one race. Red Bull have the potential to become the first team to sweep the board.

On the driver front, next up for Verstappen is Sebastian Vettel’s record of nine wins in a row, set with Red Bull in 2013. And Verstappen could smash his own record of 15 wins in a single season, achieved only last year.

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McLaren team, featuring Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost, celebrate their success in the 1988 season
McLaren, featuring legendary drivers Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost, won the first 11 races of 1988, with only the Italian Grand Prix eluding them in an otherwise perfect season

In a way, Red Bull’s achievement this year is even greater than McLaren’s in 1988. That was the final year of turbo engines before a switch back to normally aspirated. McLaren and Ferrari were the only top teams with turbos, and Ferrari had won the final two races of 1987 and felt they needed only to modify that car to stay competitive.

It was a terrible miscalculation, which not only reckoned without McLaren producing an all-time great car, but also did not factor in the likely impact of their joining forces with Honda, who had dominated 1986 and 1987 with Williams, and Senna joining Prost to make one of the greatest line-ups in history.

Now, by contrast, F1 is in only the second year of a set of new regulations that were explicitly designed to close up the field and make it harder for teams to eke out a technical advantage.

The opposition has far greater depth, and it includes a team in Mercedes who set their own all-time records from 2014-21 when they won eight consecutive constructors’ titles, and seven drivers’ championships. Everyone saw Red Bull’s advantage last year and tried everything they could to catch up, yet the world champions find themselves even further ahead.

Verstappen and Red Bull can now be mentioned alongside the great dominant combinations of history – Alberto Ascari and Ferrari in 1952-53; Juan Manuel Fangio and Mercedes in 1954-55; Jim Clark and Lotus in the 1960s; Nigel Mansell in the technology-fest Williams FW14B in 1992; Michael Schumacher and Ferrari in the 2000s.

The Red Bull RB19 will go down in history as one of the great cars – and is quickly making a case to be considered the greatest ever. Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff said on Sunday that it was “like a field of Formula 2 cars against a Formula 1”.

But while Red Bull team principal Christian Horner spent a fair bit of time during the years of Mercedes domination complaining about it making F1 boring, Wolff is not about to do the same.

“I love this sport because it is meritocratic,” he said, “as long as you are moving within the regulations, and entertainment follows sport, not the other way around.”

In Verstappen, this rocket machine is being driven by a generational talent, someone who can be mentioned alongside all the great names, and is building numbers to compare with them, too. And each recognises how lucky they are to be with the other.

Max Verstappen driving the Red Bull during the 2023 Hungarian Grand Prix
Max Verstappen, aged 25, now has 44 F1 race wins – only four other drivers have more

“It is really enjoyable to work with the whole team and have this kind of success,” Verstappen said. “People forget how tough it is to win 12 in a row. Even when you have the fastest car, it is easy to make mistakes or have an off weekend.

“We had weekends where the gap was a bit smaller than we would have liked but we also have weekends where we surprised ourselves. I hope we can keep that momentum going.”

Horner added: “There is not a driver in F1 like Max. He is a sportsman at the top of his game.

“He is very modest and he is just a very focused young man who is hugely driven and determined. He just has this hunger and desire to compete and to win. As an example, it hurt him not getting that pole yesterday and he went into today even more motivated.”

This was Verstappen’s 24th win in the 33 races since the start of the 2022 season, and the 44th of his career. Before the race, the question was whether Lewis Hamilton, who somehow had beaten Verstappen to pole position in his Mercedes, could perhaps make a race of it for a while. But a lightning start from the Red Bull and too much wheelspin from Hamilton put paid to that idea. Verstappen was passed into the first corner, and gone.

The only thing that went wrong for him all day happened on the podium and it was not even his fault.

Lando Norris, who finished second for the second consecutive race with a fine drive in the vastly improved McLaren, did his trademark thing on the podium where he bangs the champagne bottle down to release the cork.

It is a neat trick, except this time he tried it rather too close to the winner’s trophy, which Verstappen had placed rather too close to the edge of the top step. The trophies in Hungary are arguably the loveliest of the year, handmade from porcelain and very expensive. The impact of Norris’ bottle sent Verstappen’s into the air, and it fell on to the floor, breaking into several pieces.

Max Verstappen's broken race winners trophy
The sorry remains of Max Verstappen’s winner’s trophy

Verstappen laughed about that, and a little later he made a joke, too, about the coincidence of being on the same number of victories as the one Hamilton carries on his car.

“Hopefully I don’t stay on 44 wins – that would be terrible,” Verstappen said. “I need to get to 45 quickly.”

The likelihood is that he will not have to wait that long – almost certainly only until Belgium this coming weekend. Verstappen races under the Dutch flag, but he was born in Belgium so this is the first of two consecutive home races for him, and the magnificent Spa-Francorchamps is his favourite circuit.

Last year, it gave him his most dominant victory. Starting 14th, he carved imperiously through the field, dancing the Red Bull with its edgy oversteer balance through Spa’s demanding fast corners in a dimension all of his own, at times two seconds a lap faster than anyone else.

There is absolutely no reason to think the same thing will not happen again.

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