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Red Bull team principal Christian Horner feels Max Verstappen was “released” as a driver after clinching his maiden F1 title last year.
Verstappen endured a season-long battle with Lewis Hamilton before controversially clinching the championship in the final race of the campaign in Abu Dhabi.
This season, and notably following an unfortunate start after being hit with reliability issues in two of the first three grands prix, Verstappen has performed superbly to win nine of the 14 races overall and open up a 93-point lead in the drivers’ standings.
Across the Belgian Grand Prix weekend, in particular, Verstappen drove at a level rarely seen in F1 as he clinched a comfortable 17-second victory after starting from 14th on the grid.
Asked as to whether that performance underlined Verstappen is the best driver in the world at present, Horner replied: “Since winning that championship last year, Max has taken another step.
“It has in many ways released him and he’s driving at an incredible level.
“Around Spa, Max was quite simply in a league of his own and not just on Sunday but the whole weekend.
“He’s excelled there in the past and he smashed it out of the park. He did a lap on mediums that still stood as the fastest lap despite Charles [Leclerc] having a go at the end on a set of softs.
“He qualified on pole on two sets of soft tyres throughout the whole of qualifying and didn’t even do the last run so it was a huge performance by him.”
As to whether there was more to come, Horner replied: “Given his age and experience, what we’re witnessing at the moment is a driver completely at one with the car and is in an absolute purple patch of his career.”
Despite the advantage, with Red Bull team-mate Sergio Perez now his closest rival and Ferrari‘s Charles Leclerc 98 points adrift, Horner is refusing to concede the title race is as good as over.
Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff suggested the championship could be done by the end of the Italian Grand Prix, although that is not actually possible. Singapore offers the first possible opportunity should certain circumstances unfold.
Regardless, assessing the title picture, Horner said: “As far as the championship tables look, they obviously look really healthy.
“But things can change really, really quickly. We saw that earlier this year. We were 46 points behind when we left Australia and within a couple of races had managed to turn that around.
“Our prerogative is on each race one at a time and the championship tables will take care of themselves.
“We just want to keep this momentum moving forward.”
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