Let there be cake. The confectionary in the Red Bull garage was a decent touch. Happy 25th Max Verstappen. Cue headlines about having it and eating it, about race victories, even world titles, as birthday gifts. What a trifecta of a weekend this could be for Formula One’s orange-plated candle blower.
The sport is booming. Singapore is an 81,000-punters-a-day sell-out. Sky has extended its broadcast deal for a further five years on the back of a 60 per cent hike in viewing figures. And at the centre of it all is driver maturing into a figure of epoch-defining significance.
We lather our sports stars in soaring power descriptors reaching for a way to separate the greats from the good.
Verstappen has reached the point of universal appreciation, an acceptance that in this phase of the F1 cycle, in a car that has no equal, he might just be as good as any we have seen.
Verstappen has won the past five races. Start him anywhere it makes no difference. He won from 10th in Hungary, 15th at Spa and seventh in Italy. Should he make it six on the spin and others oblige accordingly, ie Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc and Red Bull team-mate Sergio Perez finish no higher than eight and fifth respectively, he will be champion with five races to go, a feat last achieved by Michael Schumacher 20 years ago.
The comparisons with Schumacher are apposite, not least because he enjoys the same No. 1 status within the organisation.
Perez accepts the dynamic, recognises that it flows not from a political or economic bias but from talent alone. Verstappen rings performance out of the Red Bull in a way Perez cannot.
Schumacher’s detractors would advance the idea that his flair for building a team around him as much as his ability was a factor in his rise.
The testimony of his teammates at Benetton and Ferrari, Jonny Herbert, Eddie Irvine and Rubens Barrichello drive a red line through that argument, acknowledging that Schumacher was an entirely different category of beast.
How to watch F1 Singapore Grand Prix 2022
TV: Sky Sports holds the right to broadcast all F1 races live in the UK, while Channel 4 shows highlights of both qualifying and the race later in the day.
Live stream: Watch it live on NOW. You can purchase a one-off day pass for £11.99 or a monthly pass for £33.99.
TV schedule in full:
- Free practice 1: Friday 30 September, 10.30am, Sky Sports F1
- Free practice 2: Friday 30 September, 1.45pm, Sky Sports F1
- Free practice 3: Saturday 1 October, 10.45am, Sky Sports F1
- Qualifying: Saturday 1 October, 1pm, Sky Sports F1 (Highlights 7.15pm Channel 4)
- Race: Sunday 2 October, 12:30, Sky Sports F1 (Highlights 6.30pm Channel 4)
Session start times:
- Free practice 1: Friday 30 September, 11am
- Free practice 2: Friday 30 September, 2pm
- Free practice 3: Saturday 27 August, 11am
- Qualifying: Saturday 1 October, 2pm
- Race: Sunday 2 October, 1pm
Naturally Schumacher is the ultimate reference for F1 motor sport director Ross Brawn, who helped steer him to his unprecedented seven titles at Benetton and then Ferrari.
According to Brawn Verstappen meets the Schumacher standard. “When you’ve got a car that can deliver and win races, he’s the one taking those opportunities. He’s beating his teammate every time, but it’s impressive to see day in and day out,” he said.
“Even practice one, two and three, he’s never under the limit, he’s always pushing the limits.
“Even P1, first lap of the whole day, his times are sometimes quicker than we ever do in qualifying! He’s one of the most talented drivers ever to come into Formula 1, one of the fastest.” The point was driven home around the Marina Bay circuit, where Verstappen’s opening lap was a second clear of the field.
How Verstappen can win F1 title this weekend
Quite a lot of favourable circumstances would need to go Verstappen’s way to get him over the title line this weekend.
Presuming the Dutchman is able to win and secure the bonus point for fastest lap, he would take 26 in total, meaning Leclerc would need to finish eighth or lower and team-mate Sergio Perez would have to finish fourth or lower.
If Verstappen wins but does not take the fastest lap, then Leclerc would have to finish ninth or lower and Perez fifth or lower for the championship to be secured.
Put simply, Verstappen must outscore Leclerc by 22, Perez by 13, and George Russell of Mercedes by four points to take title glory at Marina Bay. That possibility definitely cannot be ruled out, but is unlikely.
F1 2022 drivers’ standings
- Max Verstappen – 335
- Charles Leclerc – 219
- Sergio Perez – 210
- George Russell – 203
- Carlos Sainz – 187
Brawn saw alchemy on the track with Verstappen’s victory in Belgium last month, a circuit that tests every aspect of car and driver. “His dominance at Spa reminded me of Michael Schumacher at his best. When you have a perfect car and drivers like Michael or Max in the cockpit, they drive like they are on another planet.
“Then, as a spectator, you feel this certain magic. You have to remember that there is always another driver with the same car who cannot make that difference.
“Of course we want hard battles for the lead with many drivers. But at the same time, don’t we want to see the magicians who stand out from the rest? Max is without doubt the benchmark.
“Just like Michael. The future will show whether he can make the most of a race day when the car is not so good. That was one of Michael’s many strengths. But Max is still young and seems to have taken a step in the right direction in this too.”
For those wondering at the absence of Lewis Hamilton in this discussion, fear not. Brawn rates Hamilton as highly as any.
Hamilton’s difficulty this season has been context, or at least it was until the opening session in Singapore, which Hamilton topped for the first time this season, edging Verstappen by a tenth and his teammate George Russell, who struggled with set-up issues the whole session, by a second.
Hamilton rates his pole lap here four years ago among the best of his career and there have been 103 of those.
Though history is at Verstappen’s shoulder as he closes inexorably on his second championship, Hamilton is not done yet. And should he claim a first win of 2022 around Marina Bay he will take it as a nod towards better things in 2023.