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Kokot: Is Max Verstappen’s Success the Driver or the Car?

Without his Adrian Newey-designed car, the Dutchman arguably would not be where he is today

Posted on November 6, 2022


  By Greg Kokot, SWS | Dane Miller, Series Editor

Editor’s Note: Throughout the history of Formula 1 there has been a constant debate: Is a driver’s success due more to individual talent or to the quality of his car?

It’s an age-old dispute that might never be resolved.

Our Greg Kokot dives into Max Verstappen’s record-setting success in 2022, putting the Dutchman’s 14 race wins into context.

And while you may have never heard of Adrian Newey before, from here on out whenever you think of Verstappen’s success you’ll be reminded of the impact Newey’s had on it.

Max Verstappen crossed the finish line at the Mexico City Grand Prix in First Place for the 14th time this year.

The victory set the record for the most wins in a single season, albeit during the longest year in Formula 1 history with 22 races.

Verstappen surpassed Michael Schumacher’s 13 wins in 2004 and Sebastian Vettel’s 13 victories in 2013 with his dominant performance at Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez.

Michael Schumacher | dw.com

But while the historic achievement is an incredible feat, in Formula 1, some would say it all comes down to the equipment a driver is given.

The RB18 has been an incredibly dominant car, winning 16 of the 20 rounds so far. Without such a superior car, Verstappen arguably would not be able to compete at his current high level.

In that sense, Red Bull Chief Technical Officer Adrian Newey is responsible for Verstappen’s record as much as the Dutch driver is himself.

Born in England, Newey studied aeronautics at Southampton University and designed an IndyCar in the 1980s that won three-straight Indy 500s.

He began his Formula 1 career in the late 1980s, joined Red Bull in 2006, and has designed cars that have produced 10 F1 Constructors’ Titles.

It’s quite telling when two of the top three record-winning seasons in Formula 1 history are from cars designed by Newey, the aerodynamics genius who was also behind Vettel’s 13-race win car in 2013.

The other car in the top three, the Ferrari F2004 engineered by Ross Brawn, has been touted as one of the greatest F1 cars of all time.

Adrian Newey | driving.co.uk

To even be in the same category as the F2004 is a testament to Newey’s genius.

And his hand in both Vettel’s and Verstappen’s record-setting years arguably solidifies him as the greatest technical designer in F1 history.

At the end of the day, without Newey designing the car, Verstappen would not have reached the lofty height he has ascended.

Still, comparing Max’s win percentage to those previous record holders, he will need to top the chart in the last two races of the year at Brazil and Abu Dhabi to surpass Schumacher’s 72.22 win percentage as well as Vettel’s 68.42 win percentage.

The unfinished story and historical achievements up for grabs make the last two races worth watching.

And considering the records at stake, the old debate of how much is the car and how much is the driver remains to be determined.

But even if Verstappen doesn’t secure the highest win percentage in a single season, the fact that he won his second consecutive championship with a record-setting 14 wins will surely cement his legacy in Formula 1.

Max
Max Verstappen celebrates his title | Clive Mason/Getty Images

Putting the Dutchman’s record into context, there are several years with Lewis Hamilton taking 11 wins during the dominant Mercedes era.

Yet, even in those seasons of Mercedes seemingly winning everything, there is no campaign with a higher constructor success rate than the 1988 McLaren MP4/4.

That was the season when Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost battled for the championship, winning 15 of the 16 total races for McLaren.

Ferrari was the only other constructor to win that season, fittingly getting the top step of the podium at their home race of Monza.

So while Verstappen’s individual accomplishment is no doubt historic, there are still greater team achievements in F1 history that might never be broken.




—More from Greg Kokot—