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Max Verstappen rewrote history books in 2023 – but his dominance stretches way beyond F1

On taking off his seat belt in the Red Bull 2023 juggernaut for the final time on race-day in Abu Dhabi, Max Verstappen took stock. The Dutchman had just coasted to a record-extending 19th victory of the season; his 54th overall, with only Lewis Hamilton and Michael Schumacher ahead of him now in the all-time stakes. For a man whose unflappability has been the defining characteristic of his championship cruise, the three-time world champion admitted to feeling emotional as he waved goodbye to the RB19.

“An incredible season – it was a bit emotional on the in-lap,” he said. “The last time sitting in the car that has of course given me a lot.”

A lot is an understatement. Pretty much everything is more accurate. Save a strange anomaly in Singapore in September, Verstappen has been on the podium at the end of every race. His 575 points gave him a 290-point margin over second-place, his teammate Sergio Perez. If the Mexican’s tally of 285 was doubled, he’d still be five points shy.

MAX VERSTAPPEN’S 2023 RECORDS

-          Most wins in a single season – 19

-          Most podium finishes in a season – 21

-          Highest points total – 575

-          Largest championship-winning margin – 290

-          First driver to surpass 1,000 laps led in a single season

-          Only driver to complete every lap in the 2023 season

- Highest win percentage in F1 history – 86.3

He also became the first driver ever to surpass 1,000 laps led in a single season, while his Abu Dhabi victory meant he was the only driver on the grid to complete every lap in 2023. In fact, he has not endured a retirement since Australia last April.

The sheer supremacy and dismissal of the opposition – both across the garage and the other nine teams, flailing in his wake – has been ruthless. There has been no let-up.

Yet the ultimate indication that this was the most dominant season in F1’s 73-year history is best represented (in a time where podiums and race wins are incomparable due to the current record-breaking calendar) by his win percentage. Nineteen out of 22 gives him 86.3 per cent. The previous record had held for over 70 years: Alberto Ascari’s 75 per cent in 1952, when he won six of eight races.

It makes Verstappen’s 2023 campaign, statistically, the best-ever by some distance. The 26-year-old – whose calculated in-race menace and over-eagerness of his early 20s looks a thing of the past – has set the new benchmark, far beyond the likes of Fangio, Schumacher and Hamilton. Formula 1 has never seen the like before. In Verstappen’s own words: “It will be hard to do something similar again.”

But where does it rank in the all-time great sporting seasons? A comparison in this respect is difficult, by virtue of different sports placing different emphasis on different competitions, with the weight of team vs individual at play too. Nonetheless, speculating is fun: we’ll give it a go.

Max Verstappen’s 86.3 per cent win ratio in 2023 puts him top of the all-time F1 standings (Getty Images)
Max Verstappen’s 86.3 per cent win ratio in 2023 puts him top of the all-time F1 standings (Getty Images)

Immediate standouts include Tiger Woods’ 2000 season, where he stormed to three of the four majors and nine out of 20 PGA Tour wins. Novak Djokovic – take your pick – has a quadruple of hat-trick major glory in 2011, 2015, 2021 and 2023, while Roger Federer’s 2006 saw him lose to just two players (Rafael Nadal and a young Andy Murray).

But even then, Verstappen is superior in the numbers game. Woods entered 20 tournaments in 2000, winning nine to give him a 45 per cent win ratio. Of course, golf has a bigger playing field and is prone to more random winners (and just how F1 would value a bit more uncertainty right now for the sporting product). But still, they’re the facts.

Federer played 17 tournaments in 2006, winning 12 of them. The Swiss maestro is closer, with a 70.6 per cent win percentage in tournaments played. He has Rafael Nadal to thank for it not being near-perfect, with four of those five losses at the hands of the Spaniard. Djokovic’s best season for titles was 2015, when he won 11 from 16 tournaments played – 68.75 per cent. Serena Williams had an identical 11/16 titles record in 2013. Still, some way short of Verstappen.

In recent years in European football, Barcelona’s treble-winning season in 2014-15 was super impressive. Lionel Messi and co played 61 matches, winning 51 of them. That gives them 83.6 per cent across the course of the season. Staggering, really. Manchester City’s treble last year came in at 73.77 per cent of matches won, with their 2017-18 100-point season statistically better at 80.7 per cent.

In men’s rugby union, there has been a perfect international season. New Zealand went through the entire 2013 calendar year without losing a match, sealing it with a comeback victory against Ireland in Dublin to win 14 from 14. France also won from 13 from 13 last year, including a Six Nations Grand Slam.

Barcelona won the treble in 2015 with an 83.6 per cent win ratio (Getty Images)
Barcelona won the treble in 2015 with an 83.6 per cent win ratio (Getty Images)
Steph Curry’s Golden State Warriors had a 89 per cent win ratio in 2015-16, but did lose in the NBA Finals (Getty Images)

Across the Atlantic, only two NBA teams have ever recorded win percentages higher than Verstappen’s: Michael Jordan’s Chicago Bulls in 1995-96 and Steph Curry’s Golden State Warriors in 2015-16. The 1972 Miami Dolphins are the only team ever to complete a perfect NFL season, with Tom Brady’s New England Patriots coming close in 2007 before falling at the final Super Bowl hurdle.

We could go on and on. Blatantly, different sports have different barometers of success. Different competitions and tournaments have different significance depending on prestige and ranking points, unlike F1 where points are identical for each race. But what this very basic overview does show is that Verstappen in 2023 is very much in the conversation.

It still feels as though the Dutchman’s achievements this year are viewed through quite a narrow prism. “It’s all about the car,” says Joe Bloggs, with a Mercedes cap on. Sure, the RB19 is one of the greatest cars in F1 history and has a monumental impact. But Perez’s topsy-turvy season in identical machinery shows there is more to Red Bull’s success than the machine. It needs to be armed and steered by capable hands. Verstappen has barely made a mistake all season.

His year of dominance will be looked back on in years to come, similar to the Schumacher reign at the start of the 2000s. It’s now about how big Verstappen’s legacy will be. How many titles can he win in a row? Can he get up to Schumacher and Hamilton’s record of seven? And how many races can he continue to win, with a brash sense of ease and control, along the way?