Max Verstappen barely had time to enjoy winning a second Formula 1 title when he was asked about the possibility of adding a third in 2023.
With new aerodynamic regulations this year, Verstappen has dominated, winning 12 of 18 Grands Prix to become the second-youngest driver in Formula 1 history to attain two championships at the age of 25 years and nine days. Sebastian Vettel was about nine months younger.
“It’s going to depend on the coming years,” said Verstappen, of Red Bull. “We have a really good group of people who work really well together, so it’s about keeping them together, and if we do that then we can achieve a lot.
“Of course, if I have a competitive car, I’m confident we can keep this going. It also depends on what the competition is going to come up with, but I really believe in this group, and I really hope in the coming years we can enjoy a lot more wins and potentially, of course, championships.”
After missing his first opportunity to win the title at the Singapore Grand Prix, he made no mistakes at the race the next weekend in Japan.
But when Verstappen took the checkered flag, he did not know he had retained the championship he controversially won in the final Grand Prix of last season in Abu Dhabi.
The Japanese Grand Prix was shortened after a rain delay. Under new regulations this season that changed how points would be awarded for truncated races, there was confusion about whether Verstappen had scored the normal 25 points for winning or 19 under the new rules, which would have left him short of the title.
But afterward, while conducting his first interview for television, Verstappen learned he had become a two-time champion.
“Winning the race was great, but I wasn’t sure if we were going to have half points, full points, no clue,” he said. “Once I crossed the line, I was like, ‘OK, that was an amazing race. Good points again, but not world champion yet.’”
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After the rules were clarified, and with Verstappen’s mechanics cheering as he conducted the interview, his championship was confirmed.
“It was a little bit confusing initially, but once the confirmation came out, it doesn’t matter,” he said. “I actually quite enjoyed the confusion. It was quite funny.”
It was under different circumstances from last year, when Verstappen overtook Lewis Hamilton of Mercedes on the last lap to win his first title.
Mercedes protested the result and started an appeal after that protest was rejected by the stewards officiating the race. Four days later, Mercedes chose not to pursue its appeal, officially confirming Verstappen as champion.
He said his title victories were different, with “very different emotions.”
“That’s because of the whole season being very different anyway, with completely different cars, a completely different way of racing and then the amount of races we’ve won, but also they all came in quite a different way.
“Last year it was all qualifying-dependent, and that’s how you would normally win a race. This year, I’ve won even with some engine penalties, coming back to the front. It’s really been an enjoyable year.”
The victory in Japan was Red Bull’s 14th of the season, the most it has achieved in one year, and its 17th consecutive result in which one of its drivers has finished in the top two.
After the stress of last year’s “titanic battle,” said Christian Horner, the team principal, this season’s victory is easier to digest.
“This is far less controversial than the last race in Abu Dhabi,” he said. “A championship win is a championship win, and I think this one, the blood pressure is way lower than in Abu Dhabi, but it means just as much.
“To do it with four races remaining is a truly remarkable performance, and Max has been on another planet this year. He has dominated this championship and driven with such maturity, such conviction.”
A shadow was cast over Verstappen’s championship triumphs the day after the race in Japan. The F.I.A., the sport’s governing body, said Red Bull had slightly gone over the cost cap for 2021.
Teams were allowed a budget of $145 million for last season. The breach from Red Bull was no more than $7.25 million.
In a statement, Red Bull said it noted the findings of the F.I.A. with “surprise and disappointment.” The team is considering “all the options available” to it.
Before the F.I.A. announced its findings, Horner said that he was “very confident” that his team was within the cap and that he would be “extremely surprised at” anything other than compliance.
If the team and the F.I.A. don’t reach an agreement over the matter and the sport rules that Red Bull indeed went over the cap, punishments include the loss of constructors’ or drivers’ points.
If there are doubts about the validity of both championships, what cannot be questioned is the level at which Verstappen has driven this season.
“You always look back at a year and ask, ‘What can I do better?’” he said. “You always try to be a more complete driver. But you’re not a robot, you make mistakes, everyone makes mistakes.
“I don’t think I necessarily became a faster driver, because I don’t think at this stage of your career you suddenly find a tenth or two-tenths in your driving. It’s all about learning from previous seasons and just trying to apply that.”
With four races remaining, Verstappen has the opportunity to claim the record for most wins in a season. Michael Schumacher and Vettel hold the record with 13.
That would add to a year Verstappen said was “very special” and would be “very hard to match in the future.”
“That’s why we really have to appreciate and enjoy it,” he said. “We were enjoying it already. Probably now we can just enjoy it a little more.”