Max Verstappen not the same as Novak Djokovic and might never outdo Hamilton

The tributes since he secured the world title have been so glowing, the acclaim so universal that it is easy to fall into the trap of thinking it inevitable that Max Verstappen will end up as the greatest driver in Formula One history.

A hat-trick of championships, the latest by a margin so embarrassingly chasmic he is in danger of lapping the field, would seem to point in that direction.

If he has three by the age of 26 then passing Michael Schumacher and Lewis Hamilton to reach eight by the time he is done seems eminently achievable.

Sport though has a habit of refusing to cooperate in drawing neat straight career lines. However exceptional an athlete is they remain subject to the human condition.

Verstappen is not the same driver or person now as when he burst onto the F1 scene as a talented but wild prodigy. He has matured and evolved, just as we all do through the passage of time and the experiences we live.

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He will continue to do so but maybe not in the direction forecast for him. Some champions are driven by the desire to set records that will never be broken – Novak Djokovic springs to mind. They go and go and go again.

But for most, motivation is not some eternal inner fountain. The ‘what next?’ after achieving their goals does not always lead to the answer the outside world might expect.

Bjorn Borg got to 25 and then walked away from top-level sport because he decided he wanted a life. So too did Ash Barty. Physically and emotionally spent, the world No 1 decided it was time to pursue other dreams.

Verstappen, in his current incarnation, is as intensely dedicated a sportsman as you will find, pushing others as hard as he pushes himself. But it was interesting to hear Christian Horner, who knows his driver as well as anyone, say that he cannot see Verstappen carrying on in Formula One into his mid-30s.

Verstappen has spoken openly about the futility of carrying on if he feels his inner stimulus begin to subside.

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While he is contracted at Red Bull through until 2028, the Dutchman has other things he wants to do with his life. Some are behind the wheel – Le Mans for instance – some aren’t but one thing is for sure, he won’t have the longevity of a Hamilton.

While he loves the racing, he does not care overly for the grind. He started so young, debuting at 17, that he has already lapped the globe many times over. He is against next season’s expansion of the calendar to 24 Grands Prix, citing his desire for more home time in Monaco.

Keeping on keeping on might be his biggest challenge. Even if the mind holds up and staleness is warded off, there is the question of the machinery.

Red Bull seem invincible – this season’s RB19 has been a jet fighter disguised as a motor car and has amassed more than twice as many points as its nearest rivals. But it wasn’t so long ago that Mercedes were being viewed as unbeatable. Now, when they’re not crashing into each other, they are scrambling to make the podium.

Verstappen will be there next season and the season after that, but who knows beyond 2025, especially if he picks up even more titles by then. After all, he already achieved his dream in F1 a long time ago by just winning one.

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