Max Verstappen and almost bulletproof Red Bull leave Ferrari far behind | Max Verstappen

“Imy day won’t be ruined,” was Max Verstappen’s nonchalant response when asked about the booing he received on the podium after last weekend’s Italian Grand Prix victory. Dutch was still smiling as he shrugged. So did he, the rumble of discontent from Monza fan an insignificant background to the resounding success that earned him all but his second Formula One world championship.

After a scary conclusion last season, when his contest with Lewis Hamilton went to the controversial decision in Abu Dhabi, this year could not stand in greater contrast. Verstappen imposed himself on the championship, winning 11 races from 16 meetings. He leads Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc by 116 points and his Red Bull team-mate Sergio Pérez by 125. There are six races remaining but he could wrap up the title at the next round in Singapore or, failing that, the next in Japan.

It’s been an impressive run for the 24-year-old after last season confirmed all the promise he showed as a teenager when he joined F1 as its youngest driver aged 17 in 2015. But last season of last season, when he clinched his first title , remains debatable, especially for Hamilton.

The decision by the then race director, Michal Masi, to improvise the rules under the late safety car cost Hamilton the win and the world title. The seven-time Italian champion said he still felt the pain, especially when the FIA ​​used its rules cautiously under a similar late safety car as Verstappen won at Monza.

This season, however, there is no question about Verstappen defending his title. Nor, despite what the results suggest, is it a pushover.

In March at the season-opener in Bahrain, while Mercedes scratched their heads as to why their car was so far off the pace, Ferrari appeared to hold all the cards. They were very fast in testing and Leclerc took advantage of this, winning two of the opening three races while Verstappen suffered two DNFs. After the third round in Australia, Leclerc’s lead over Verstappen, who is sixth in the drivers’ standings, was 46 points.

But the Dutchman remained calm, as did his team, and with the technical issues that had hampered their opening rounds resolved, staged a remarkable comeback. One, it must be emphasized, is a team effort. Verstappen became the tip of a well-honed spear with skill, as the Ferrari began to pound the battlefield with all the efficiency of an armored elephant.

Max Verstappen gets pit service during the Italian Grand Prix. Pitwall, garage and factory performance is nearly flawless. Photo: Ciro De Luca/AP

Red Bull followed with six wins, five for Verstappen and one, a tactical masterclass victory for Pérez in Monaco that not only denied Leclerc a win but ensured Verstappen finished in front of him. The cars at this point remained fairly evenly matched but Ferrari suffered mechanical problems and made tactical and driving errors.

In contrast to the pitwall, in their garage and factory, Red Bull’s performance was almost flawless. Strategists Hannah Schmitz and Will Courtenay have become experts at making the right calls. With Schmitz on the wall in Hungary the late call to change to soft tires proved vital as Verstappen came from 10th to victory.

Almost bulletproof Red Bull left Ferrari behind. In the second half of the season the RB18 showed menacing speed on every type of circuit. Since Leclerc’s last win in Austria, a ruthless Verstappen hasn’t given him much of a sniff of victory. The hotheaded Verstappen of old, impulsive and overly aggressive, where belief and desire to win overrode better judgement, is no more.

After Hungary, in Belgium he came back from 14th on the grid to win. In Italy, from the seventh take the flag. He did this with great calmness and even a degree of indifference. Yes, his car is the fastest, but he still has to keep it on the track, make the passes and not destroy his tires. His and Red Bull’s ability to maintain speed and not eat through the rubber was recognized by Ferrari principal Mattia Binotto as an important advantage.

In each case, the opposition is powerless. Five wins on the trot but just one from pole position suggests that with five races to go Michael Schumacher and Sebastian Vettel’s shared record of 13 wins in a season are there for the taking. In Singapore in two weeks, he will be crowned world champion if he wins and sets the fastest lap and Leclerc finishes no higher than eighth and Pérez misses the podium. Whether at Marina Bay or Suzuka, it’s a matter of when, not if.

“Given his youth and ability to improve, the best is yet to come,” Red Bull principal Christian Horner said. Observer before the season starts. But it’s doubtful even he expects it to show itself so well this season.

F1 would be better if Verstappen had to face a real challenge but he will be a worthy champion, and one who rightly won’t let anyone put him off enjoying not just a day but a season in day.