DECEMBER 5, 2023

Verstappen rivals don't even fight says Abiteboul

No team and driver combination has ever dominated Formula 1 in the way that Red Bull and Max Verstappen did in 2023.

Max Verstappen, Brazilian GP 2023
© Red Bull

That is the claim of former Renault team boss Cyril Abiteboul, who says even Michael Schumacher's title-winning streak at Ferrari hardly compares.

Ferrari's dominance was at a time when F1 was much less competitive than it is now, he told Franceinfo. "Ferrari dominated with budgets and a structure that had nothing to do with the other teams.

Sure, Red Bull is a prestigious team that is very well organised and financed, but it is not the only one. Yet they dominate in an environment where others are not weak, the Frenchman added.

He says the way Verstappen won at the end of the last regulations cycle in 2021 and then followed it up with two more increasingly-dominant title victories in 2023 and 2023 was particularly impressive.

When there is a change in regulations, we can have a team which has worked particularly well and found a trick, said Abiteboul, 46. But here in 2023, the regulations were already known. So the other teams should have become more competitive.

One of the secrets to Red Bull's success, he argues, is personnel stability at the very top - headed by Christian Horner, Adrian Newey and even sporting boss Jonathan Wheatley.

They know each other by heart, Abiteboul says. And they are formidable, he added, even though he had a fractious relationship with Red Bull at times during its Renault-powered era."

But the obvious key to the utter dominance of 2023, Abiteboul argues, was Dutchman Verstappen - who even put Sergio Perez's place beside him in peril by managing to score only half of his teammate's points tally.

Max is exceptional, he says, "but Perez is far from being a rookie or a junior. He did his best, but he suffered from the fact that Max has a very special way of driving, with a car with a very light rear axle.

"There is no doubt that it's Max Verstappen's car - designed for him. He is pampered in this team. Very good drivers like Pierre Gasly and Alexander Albon were also his teammates and also did not succeed in driving that car.

"He (Max) has psychological influence and such a great car. But the ease with which he overtakes is because the other drivers don't even fight him. They know they can't race him.

So rather than wearing out their tyres to hold him back, they just let him pass, Abiteboul smiled.

Despite Verstappen's dominance, and a reportedly 20 percent TV audience drop in the German market, France's Canal Plus has posted similar TV ratings in both 2022 and 2023.

Abiteboul, however, warns that continuing Verstappen dominance could start to hurt F1 eventually.

It's a championship that has remarkable commercial dynamics, because it brings new things every year like Las Vegas, he said. "There are many other interests than first place in the drivers' championship.

If this situation were to drag on for too long, it would pose problems, but I would be surprised if the dominance we have seen this season continues into next season. By the time of the next rule change in 2026, Red Bull will face more competition.