By Alan Baldwin
LONDON (Reuters) – Max Verstappen can enjoy Formula One’s August break knowing that it is now surely a question of where he wins his second title rather than whether.
The Red Bull driver is 80 points clear of his closest rival, Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc, after 13 of 22 races and that is the kind of margin — more than three race wins — that simply does not get overturned in grand prix racing.
The statistics after Sunday’s Hungarian Grand Prix, won by Verstappen from 10th on the grid and despite a spin, point to a conclusion with several races to spare however thrilling the action has been.
Even if Leclerc were to win every remaining round with a bonus point for fastest lap it would still not be enough if Verstappen finishes second every time — and he has been on the podium nine times in the last 10 races.
No Ferrari driver has ever won nine successive races in a season, a feat achieved only by Sebastian Vettel at Red Bull in 2013, and their current campaign has been plagued by unreliability and mistakes.
Mercedes’s seven-times world champion Lewis Hamilton is sixth in the championship, 112 points adrift of Verstappen, and yet the Briton has been on the podium this season more often than Leclerc.
Verstappen is making very few mistakes and showing plenty of patience and maturity, biding his time and then reaping the rewards.
The 24-year-old has won eight of the first 13 races, putting him well on track to equal or beat the record of 13 wins in a season shared by Vettel and Ferrari great Michael Schumacher, who was dominant in 2004.
This season is longer than in those days, however, with Schumacher winning 13 of 18 and Vettel 13 of 19.
Verstappen, naturally, refused to take anything for granted and shrugged off talk of records on Sunday.
“I don’t know. We’ll of course try to win as many as we can in the remaining races we have,” he said.
“But of course, more importantly, we have to keep the lead in the Championship. That’s, of course, what we have to try and secure.”
Verstappen has previously won at six of the nine circuits still to come, with home rounds in Belgian and the Netherlands next up.
Last year’s title went down to the wire, controversially, in Abu Dhabi but there is little chance of that race deciding anything this time.
Ferrari will undoubtedly continue to put up a straight fight but Mercedes have moved back into the mix after a difficult early season, and Verstappen welcomed that.
“It’s good that they are competitive because then they can steal more points off Ferrari,” he said. “So I’m very happy.”
(Corrects para five to ‘No Ferrari driver’ from ‘Ferrari have never’)
(Reporting by Alan Baldwin, editing by Pritha Sarkar)