ABU DHABI: Red Bull team principal Christian Horner believes Max Verstappen has pulled off a season no one else could have achieved, heaping praise on the two-time Formula One world champion.
Verstappen successfully defended his F1 title this campaign, winning 15 of 22 grands prix, including a third consecutive Abu Dhabi triumph over the weekend.
“I think Max is operating at a level that I’m not sure anybody — the way he’s driving at the moment — in the same equipment will be able to repeat what he’s done this year,” Horner said on Sunday.
Red Bull missed out on a one-two finish in the drivers’ championship as Sergio Perez was pipped by Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc in the season finale in Abu Dhabi. Still, Horner paid tribute to Perez for enjoying his best season in F1 to date.
“This is the strongest that Red Bull has ever been,” said Horner.
“The strength and depth that we have, technically and operationally, throughout the business, everybody has gone their extra yards, which you need to do to achieve the kind of results that we have, against opposition that is world class.
“And nobody ever lost sight of the target, after eight years in the wilderness effectively, of keeping that momentum going, keeping that focus and determination. And when we got an opportunity, we grabbed it with both hands.”
However, it has not all been smooth sailing for Red Bull this year, with lots of controversy off the track, including being handed a $7 million fine and a wind tunnel penalty for exceeding the budget cap last season.
Add to that the manner in which they won the championship 12 months ago, as well as the recent drama with team orders that transpired between Verstappen and Perez in Brazil, and the Milton Keynes-based marque has made headlines for much more than winning races.
Horner believes that Red Bull Racing’s success has has created resentment among other teams.
“The higher you rise, the sharper the knives, and we’ve experienced a bit of that this year,” he said.
“The quickest way to become unpopular in this paddock is to win and win consistently. We’re a subsidiary of an energy drink, racing against OEMs (original equipment manufacturers) and historic brands and, of course, that does not sit comfortably with some of our competitors.”
He added: “I think off track we’ve firmly had a target on our back this year. We’re a race team, what we do is — we’re not a political organization, we just focus on going racing.
“We’re hard racers, we push the boundaries, which is what race teams do if they want to succeed, and that’s always been our approach. It’s worked well for us. It’s the way we enjoy competing. At times, it’s felt it has been tough this year, but that’s, unfortunately, Formula One.”
Horner expects a tougher challenge from Ferrari and Mercedes next season, and says Red Bull will take nothing for granted.
“When you win 17 grands prix and do what we’ve done, you can understand that it hurts our opponents, and I’m sure there’ll be even more motivated to become a challenger next year. They’re both such high-quality teams and nothing can be taken for granted in 2023,” he said.
Horner dedicated this triumphant season to Red Bull founder and co-owner Dietrich Mateschitz, who died last month, and said there were many lessons learned from 2022.
“It’s been a phenomenal year for the team, for the drivers, for our partners. Obviously in a year where we unfortunately lost our founder, to have had the most successful year that we’ve ever had in the sport, is testimony and dedicated to him,” said the 49-year-old Brit.
“I think that you learn in this business never to expect a quiet life, particularly when you’re running at the front. Never be complacent about winning and enjoy every result, enjoy every victory, enjoy every moment, because it’s so hard-earned and it means so much that they should be never underestimated. Whether it’s with budget caps or drivers, there’s always things to learn.”