Max Verstappen’s commanding victory in the 2020 Formula 1 season finale was the 10th grand prix win of his career and unusual in the sense it was rather straightforward.
Red Bull’s position as the occasional threat to Mercedes’ dominance has left Verstappen often requiring some stars to align for him to be able to win in F1.
While no grand prix victory comes easy, that means Verstappen’s 10 triumphs are a collection of excellent performances, each with a mark of something special from Verstappen to make it happen.
Some drivers are great grand prix winners. Some are winners of great races. Verstappen’s becoming a rare example of both, while also being the youngest driver to reach 10 victories. But which win has been his best so far?
Red Bull team boss Christian Horner felt the Abu Dhabi victory was among Max Verstappen’s most professional, comparing it to his 2018 Mexican Grand Prix win.
“There’s some great victories that he’s won, but some of those have been conditions that he’s excelled in on,” said Horner. “Mexico was similar to this victory where he’s been been very dominant.
“But I think this circuit where Mercedes have been so strong, to break that stranglehold here and take them on and finish with them behind in second and third, that’s a great result for us at a venue that has been probably one of their very strongest.”
Here’s our ranking of Verstappen’s 10 F1 wins so far.
10 – Austria, 2018
The opening lap of the 2018 Austrian Grand Prix was frantic, with poleman Valtteri Bottas falling to fourth at the start then passing Verstappen and Kimi Raikkonen for second after Raikkonen held them both up after a mistake at the top of the hill.
Verstappen then seized his opportunity, taking advance of a tiny loss of momentum from Raikkonen through the left-hand sweep in the middle sector to dive to the inside at the first part of the fast Esses – not a normal overtaking place even on the first lap – and swept past to earn third place on the road.
It was a great move to win track position but would ultimately win him the race, as that scrap turned out to be lead battle once the Mercedes challenge imploded. A gearbox gremlin hobbled Bottas and Lewis Hamilton slipped back as Mercedes made the mistake of not pitting him under a safety car.
And as will become a familiar theme through this list, Verstappen had the composure, speed and the tyre management to take full advantage of the opportunity afforded him thereafter.
9 – Mexico, 2017
Another Verstappen victory won on the opening lap but in rather spectacular fashion as it was for the outright lead and was a little more akin to the touring car adage that rubbing is racing.
Verstappen got a good launch from second on the grid and challenged poleman Sebastian Vettel on his outside into the first corner, with Hamilton making it three-way into Turn 1 on Verstappen’s outside.
But Verstappen was the bravest of the three, braked fractionally later than Vettel to run side-by-side through the right-hander and then hold his ground to have the advantage for the tight left-hander that followed – surviving a wheel-to-wheel brush with the Ferrari on the exit of Turn 1 and also avoiding a puncture as Vettel broke his front wing on Verstappen’s right rear tyre in Turn 2.
It was an aggressively and just about perfectly judged pass from Verstappen, and if a ‘normal’ race had followed would certainly merit a higher place on this list – but Vettel compounded his woe by running into Hamilton on the exit of Turn 2 and giving the Mercedes driver a puncture.
That meant Verstappen’s two main rivals were taken out of contention.
8 – 70th Anniversary, 2020
Mercedes had such precious few off days in 2020 that Verstappen joked he felt like a “third wheel” during the season, crashing the Hamilton/Bottas duo’s date on the podium. He also ‘stole’ the seat for the third-placed driver in the press conference at the end of the season, to take it home as a souvenir.
But Verstappen claimed the odd Mercedes scalp here and there. And at the second of two Silverstone races in 2020, he claimed both.
On an unusually hot British summer’s day, with the range of Pirelli compounds a step softer than the previous week’s race, the Mercedes was surprisingly aggressive on its tyres and the Red Bull had a vital advantage. Verstappen’s own strength in that area gave him a vital edge.
He ran behind the Mercedes drivers in the opening stint and won the race by forcing the issue. Told by Red Bull to ease back and protect his tyres, Verstappen said no – he didn’t want to drive “like a grandma”, and saw this as the only opportunity to actually take the fight to Mercedes.
So he did. He pressured them relentlessly and they had to yield, race leader Bottas pitting first and Hamilton a lap later – while Verstappen was able to stretch out his stint almost twice as long. By the time he eventually pitted he rejoined only just behind Bottas and with a massive tyre offset, which he used to immediately breeze past and go on to win at a canter.
7 – Germany, 2019
A chaotic race a few drivers could have won and almost everybody, including Verstappen, made a mistake in, the 2019 German GP is one of the most entertaining in recent memory.
Verstappen had to recover from a bad first lap in which he fell from second to fourth with a terrible start in the wet conditions. He was back up to third by the time the track dried enough for everybody to switch to slicks, although Verstappen wasn’t thrilled to be on mediums when he did a neat 360-degree spin exiting the hairpin in the final sector.
But others would make bigger and more costly errors. Hamilton and Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc went off at the penultimate corner, Leclerc retiring and Hamilton breaking his front wing. Verstappen jumped Bottas in the pitstops during the ensuing safety car period and was already well on his way to victory when Bottas eliminated himself from contention with a big shunt exiting Turn 1 late on.
You can’t say this race was handed to Verstappen as so many made mistakes and it was about finding control within the chaos. Verstappen did that better than anybody, while also feeling a little under the weather.
6 – Spain, 2016
The 2016 Spanish GP will live long in the memory and might well remain Verstappen’s most famous victory.
Promoted to the Red Bull senior team ahead of this race, Verstappen adapted immediately and qualified fourth for his debut behind team-mate Daniel Ricciardo. Then the Red Bulls ran first and second after the opening lap because Mercedes driver Nico Rosberg and team-mate Lewis Hamilton infamously wiped each other out a few corners.
The race descended into a Red Bull vs Ferrari fight for honours, with Ricciardo leading the Red Bull challenge – until he found himself on the wrong side of the strategic divide, as a three-stop strategy left him with more work to do on-track and he couldn’t do it. A puncture later rubbed salt into the wound.
At the front, Verstappen was left to fend off Raikkonen. He showed excellent composure and executed his two-stop brilliantly to score his first win in the most surprising of circumstances.
This one might seem like it merits a higher place given it was Verstappen’s first win and on his very first start for Red Bull. But it’s also arguably the most dependent on fortune and other circumstances going in his favour.
So, while it was an absolutely mega drive and a fantastic win, heightened by his personal circumstances, unlike other victories on this list it relied on other factors to become possible in the first place.
5 – Abu Dhabi, 2020
No, this isn’t recency bias. We all know the race was boring. It certainly lacked the ‘wow’ factor of most of Verstappen’s other wins in this list. And given the absence of a hurdle to overcome and the straightforward manner of the win, this sort of victory – while absolutely impressive and very commanding – would have a lower ranking in this list in any other season or circuit combination.
But it deserves this place on the grounds of the all-round weekend performance, as it was so complete and won with no outside help, and in the context of the 2020 season and Abu Dhabi’s history in the V6 turbo-hybrid era.
Verstappen won this race in qualifying with an excellent lap, which set him up for a professional and controlled win. “We did basically everything right and I think once you start upfront you can control the pace a bit more and it makes your life a bit easier,” Verstappen noted.
Oh, and he did that in a season Mercedes dominated and at a track the world champion team has won at from pole position every year since 2014.
“To beat Mercedes fair and square from pole position, the first time Mercedes have been beaten at this circuit since 2013 when we last won with Vettel, is a phenomenal performance,” said Horner.
4 Austria, 2019
In probably the feistiest performance on this list, Verstappen made life harder for himself in Austria in 2019 with a terrible launch that threw away the promising position of a front-row start.
That factor simultaneously commands this win a high position in the list, as the drive that followed it was extraordinary, while also stopping it from breaking the top three, because it was self-inflicted.
Verstappen’s recovery from seventh was excellent. What made it better was that it had seemed so unlikely pre-weekend, given Red Bull’s first season with Honda had been going well up to this point but lacked any kind of sign it was on the brink of a Mercedes challenge.
But at Red Bull’s home race, with senior Honda management in attendance, and aided by Mercedes being hamstrung by a cooling deficiency that left it vulnerable to the warm temperatures that day, Verstappen was simply too quick to stop.
Victory never seemed inevitable given Leclerc was doing a good job in the lead but it quickly became apparent that Verstappen had a tyre and a speed advantage. Leclerc managed to rebuff one attack up the hill, but next time Verstappen left no prisoners. He was ultra-aggressive, just about toed the line, and gave Leclerc no choice but to concede the position (although Leclerc did try to tough it out and had to take to the run-off after light contact).
That pass also effectively rewrote F1’s unofficial rules on how hard drivers could race. That’s how much it stood out.
3 Mexico, 2018
Verstappen was an immensely frustrated man after missing out on pole position in Mexico, which he had identified as a huge chance to win again in 2018. That his Red Bull team-mate Daniel Ricciardo was the one who beat him to pole was a big part of his irritation.
Come race day though, Verstappen channelled his anger into an absolutely sublime performance.
He aced the start, clearing Ricciardo before Turn 1, and never looked back. In fact he absolutely disappeared, pulling out an entire pitstop on Ricciardo over the course of the grand prix before Ricciardo’s race was ended by an engine problem.
Verstappen didn’t quite do enough to take pole but made amends and produced a very similar performance to his two 2020 wins: just relentless pace and tyre management that nobody else could match.
It was an absolutely crushing performance, the sort that justified Verstappen’s position as the cemented central figure within Red Bull, and why Ricciardo needed to leave or risk the consequences of what could have become a regular beating.
2 Malaysia, 2017
After the shock of winning on his first start for Red Bull, Verstappen had to wait a little while for his second victory. When it came, it was earned from start to finish. The only factor going in Verstappen’s favour this time was Kimi Raikkonen’s Ferrari had been removed from the lead battle before the start because of an engine problem.
Still, Verstappen had the small matter of trying to beat eventual champion Hamilton in a straight fight – his first such battle with the Mercedes.
And it took a proper overtake to do it, on only the fourth lap. Verstappen was tucked underneath Hamilton’s rear wing down the start-finish straight and even though Hamilton defended and thought he had the line covered, Verstappen jinked to the right late and committed to the pass with the tightest of entries – and made it stick as Hamilton tried to fight it out mid-corner.
Hamilton had the entire race to try to hit back but couldn’t. It was the earliest sign that with the right car Verstappen could be a very serious, immediate threat to the Mercedes’ driver’s supremacy.
1 Brazil, 2019
The number one pick but far from undisputed given the particular brilliance of the top four entries on this list. What wins it for the 2019 Brazilian GP is it brings together the best factors from several other Verstappen victories.
First, it was a win earned, not given. Verstappen had claimed a rare pole position, only the second of his career, as Red Bull was genuinely fast enough to fight the Mercedes and Ferraris at Interlagos. So this was a straight fight between Verstappen and the others.
Second, it featured adversity that Verstappen had to overcome, and none of it was self-inflicted. He only lost the lead because Williams released Robert Kubica into his path in the pitlane, costing Verstappen valuable time and allowing the undercutting Hamilton to take track position. Then he fell behind Hamilton later on due to Mercedes keeping the world champion out under a late safety car, while Verstappen pit for fresh tyres.
Third, Verstappen aced every key moment. He put himself in control with pole and the start, and left nothing to chance, re-passing Hamilton both times he had the race taken away from him.
A cheeky dive inside Leclerc, who had yet to pit, into the penultimate corner on his outlap prevented Hamilton getting away in the race lead – and Verstappen used an almighty tow down the main straight to catch Hamilton out and launched a superb pass into Turn 1 to take the lead.
Later on, the tyre advantage meant Verstappen was always likely to re-pass Hamilton after the safety car restart. But many have squandered such advantages before and Verstappen wasn’t about to – taking to the outside at the first corner, just about keeping it on track as the two ran wheel-to-wheel and Verstappen swept by into the lead.
Verstappen didn’t just win this race. He won it three times.