Abu Dhabi F1: Max Verstappen has more records and glory within reach

Three-time world champion eyes Jim Clark's laps led record that has stood for 60 years

Formula One world champion Max Verstappen will be eyeing a grand finish to the 2023 season in Abu Dhabi. Victor Besa / The National
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Max Verstappen is poised to finish his stellar season with two more records in Abu Dhabi as well as a third world title.

If the Dutchman triumphs again at Yas Marina Circuit, he will become the first driver to have won 19 races in a single season, with an overall tally of 54.

That will lift him above four-time champion Sebastian Vettel to third in the all-time list, chasing only Michael Schumacher (91 wins) and Lewis Hamilton (103).

But arguably even more impressive is the conquering of another statistic that has stood for 60 years.

That is the benchmark of most time spent at the front of the field set by Jim Clark when he obliterated his rivals as he roared to the 1963 crown.

But the statistics are as much a reflection of the Dutchman’s robot-like consistency as the lack of competition he has faced from his rivals and teammate Sergio Perez, who has won just twice in the same car.

The laps led statistics may appear one that is solely for hardcore fans, but it is the best barometer of real success.

It has stood the test of time and defied even the greatest drivers from Ayrton Senna and Schumacher to Alain Prost and Jackie Stewart, even in their pomp with superior machinery.

It even eluded Hamilton when he won pretty much as he pleased between 2014 and 2021, 2016 excluded.

And even with all the records tumbling, Red Bull’s veteran rival said such easy domination begins to pall if you get so much of it.

“When you have so much success, no matter how hard you try it’s hard to keep things in perspective,” said the seven-time champion Hamilton.

“I even hear it in Christian Horner’s voice when Max wins, he doesn’t know what to say. He’s like: ‘Here we go again. Good job, Max. Good job’.

“The excitement goes, but when you first get that win it’s amazing. But if you have it all the time [it’s not the same]."

Despite their rivalry, the Mercedes ace has been full of admiration for the Dutchman’s unending domination while he dreams of ending his own 722 days outside the winner’s circle.

“Of course, I want to win again. When we do, the feeling is going to be even greater because everyone’s struggled,” Hamilton added.

And the driver hogging the headlines is not bothered if some fans are getting fed-up with the one-man show.

“To be honest I don’t care at all,” Verstappen said recently. “I just do my thing.”

“It depends if you’re the person who dominates or not. If you’re not it’s not so nice but if you are it’s a beautiful thing.

“As an athlete you do everything you can to win and if you get the chance, then you do everything you can it keep it going for as long as possible.

“If you are not a fan of that person then you find it less exciting. Some people can’t appreciate dominance or don’t want to.”

Clark’s long-standing record is one of the most telling markers of true sporting superiority. He led 71.47 per cent of all the laps raced that year.

Verstappen, though, has led 75.06 per cent of laps so far, which is, arguably, more impressive because he will have contested twice as many races, 22 GPs to Clark’s 10.

Clark led 506 of the 708 laps raced while the Red Bull racer has, so far, led 951 of 1,267.

Incredibly, it has been almost two years and 40 GPs since the Dutchman last finished out of the points, in Australia 2022.

For Verstappen, like the rest, Abu Dhabi is the final, star-studded, stop of a demanding schedule across five continents and 20 countries since March.

This week’s 8,000-mile dash from Las Vegas to Abu Dhabi ends an exhausting five races in six weekends, across three continents.

To have a chance of being even partially recovered for Friday’s practice, drivers leapt on the gruelling 16-hour flight from Las Vegas before the engines had finished cooling from Saturday night’s race.

But the 12-hour time difference meant they have to battle jet lag through the shortest recovery period of their careers.

Verstappen admitted the only way to cope was to get plenty of sleep on the flight, play some sport when he landed and “keep busy”.

Hamilton will be among those getting a welcome few extra hours in bed because his car will be occupied for Friday’s first hour of action by Dane Frederik Vesti, 21.

Updated: November 23, 2023, 4:14 AM