Amid all the current dominant form that means he could win the title at next weekend’s Singapore Grand Prix, it’s easy to forget the drama that overshadowed the start of the campaign.
Indeed, early in the year it looked like his championship challenge might be over before it even started, as a series of reliable dramas allowed main rival Charles Leclerc to unlock a very significant advantage in the drivers’ championship.
Then, once Red Bull finally had the reliability of the RB18, Verstappen found himself battling some car characteristics that were not to his liking.
Instead, the car’s weak front end seemed to play perfectly with what teammate Sergio Perez likes about the car, and there was a stage around the Monaco Grand Prix where it looked like the Mexican would even be the main threat to the title.
As the F12022 season continues, it has been very noticeable that both Red Bull and Verstappen were able to find other gear, especially on Sunday.
While the Ferrari F1-75 still looks like a lap-faster car, the progress the RB18 has been able to make with tire degradation has been impressive.
And it is this factor that has played perfectly in the hands of the team, in allowing Verstappen not to lose ground on those occasions when he began to rank.
But more importantly, to help maintain his championship edge, was the fact that he seemed more comfortable with the way the RB18 was developed, which was also taking the car away from what Perez liked.
The shift has prompted some of the suggestions the team has put in place about the promotion push that Verstappen favored.
Max Verstappen, Red Bull Racing RB18
Photography: Alessio Morghese
However, the truth is that the car came more to Verstappen simply through its natural evolution to get better, and in particular opening setup windows that weren’t available in its infancy.
Verstappen’s real achievement wasn’t some aero development or custom setup that was introduced to help him make the gains – it was simply that, with Red Bull losing weight, he then made a double whammy of the gains.
First, losing most of what was thought to be up to 10kg of excess weight at the start of the season enabled the automatic sprint advantage.
In F1, 10kg of weight is said to equal 0.3s per lap, so a rough estimate means a few tenths are gained on the table here.
But perhaps most important for Verstappen, a driver known for his love of the sharp front end of the car, put the extra weight off the car, meaning there were finally some options for moving the ballast.
Even a few kilograms of extra weight transferred toward the rear of the car would have been enough to call into a lazy front end – and make the maneuverability close to what Verstappen craves.
As he explained recently at Monza: “The car was too much, the wrong place for the car plus the extra weight, which is why it was driving a lot less and prone to front locking.”
Red Bull technical director Pierre Wachs made it clear that with Opening the freedom to be more aggressive with the setup, he has played that further to allow Verstappen to get what he wants out of the car.
“At the beginning of the season, we didn’t have the possibility to transfer the weight, and that was part of the preparation,” he said.
“But I think it’s all together and after you find your performance somewhere and it’s a little more difficult to set up the car, then I go for Max.
“I think he can drive any car. Now we have to find a way to give Sergio a car to perform and to compete.”
Sergio Perez, Red Bull Racing RB18
Photo by: Red Bull Content Pool
While Verstappen is fully cooperative with the RB18, more needs to be done to help Perez feel more comfortable.
The situation is easy to understand, Wash says: Perez is not as happy to be treated as he once was on the campaign. But the hard part is coming up with a solution that doesn’t make the car slower.
“The key factor clearly is the balance of the car and the confidence in the car, compared to the beginning of the year when the car was a little more balanced for him and a little bit less for Max,” he said.
“And after the development potential we’ve put on the car during the season, maybe moving away from it is part of it.
“After finding the right setup for him, it’s very hard to get him to be as confident as he can beat him or fight Max.”
In the end, Watch admits that the only way forward might be to sacrifice some final lap time that can be reclaimed by making Perez happier.
“every-time [it is] Tough when you’re trying to develop the car in theory for performance, and after you’re stuck in terms of setup tools to rebalance the car.”
“Then that means you’re going to have to go down a little bit in performance. To get the right balance, that’s required, I would normally say you’re going to lose a little bit of performance to improve it. That’s not to say it’s a lot, but that kind of trend, yeah.”
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