The half-century of Grand Prix wins is now within reach for Max Verstappen after a stunning period of success in which he's won 39 of the 61 races held since the start of the 2021 season, heading into the 2023 United States Grand Prix.
That year, he would go onto claim the first world title of his career, and has quickly added two more as he has ripped up the record books in 2023 and firmly taken Lewis Hamilton's crown as 'the man to beat.'
Given the events of the 2021 finale in Abu Dhabi, much of the season has been forgotten and some of the thrilling battles Verstappen and Hamilton have been largely overshadowed.
But Verstappen's 18th Grand Prix win in October 2021 was his greatest, firmly putting Hamilton on the back-foot and dealing a blow in the title race with a 14 point swing given the 25 he got for winning and the 18 Hamilton did for second.
Most F1 World Championship Grand Prix wins
|Position||Driver||Total wins||Last win|
|1||Lewis Hamilton||103*||Saudi Arabia 2021*|
|2||Michael Schumacher||91||China 2006|
|3||Sebastian Vettel||53||Singapore 2019|
|4||Alain Prost||51||Germany 1993|
|5||Max Verstappen||49*||Qatar 2023*|
|6||Ayrton Senna||41||Australia 1993|
Why 2021 United States Grand Prix is Verstappen's best
Austin was generally considered a Mercedes circuit, but Verstappen grabbed pole position on F1's return stateside following the COVID-19 pandemic with Hamilton second.
Given the nature of the run to Turn 1 at Austin with P2 often scything up the inside to take the lead and the ferocity of the title race, the odds of both making it cleanly out of Turn 1 were slim to say the least.
But surprisingly, just, the duo did with Hamilton leading from Verstappen, as Red Bull elected to stop early with the Dutchman successfully undercutting the Mercedes to regain the lead.
By Lap 29 of 56, Verstappen was called in for his second stop, leaving him just under half the race to do on a single set of tyres - with Mercedes playing the smart game by keeping Hamilton out to build a fresh tyre offset.
He stopped eight laps later, leaving him 19 laps to chase down the 8.8s or so that separated the two.
Rather than going banzai and destroying his tyres and leaving no energy to be deployed, the mouse (Verstappen) let the cat (Hamilton) begin to reel in his prey and carve chunks of time from the deficit.
This canny move allowed Verstappen to still have some tyre life in his Pirellis for the final assault, even picking up an assist beginning the final lap with DRS on the pit-straight from the lapped Mick Schumacher.
Verstappen lulled Hamilton in and then took off when it mattered, leaving the Mercedes simply no answer to win by 1.333s.
The next weekend in Mexico, Verstappen done a job on both Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas on the long run to Turn 1 from third to win with Hamilton again P2.
In these two races alone, there was a 28-point swing towards Verstappen in the closest title fight in a generation.
The Austin race was a composed, analytical Verstappen in the mould of peak Hamilton or Fernando Alonso in his ability to read the race and stick to a executing his game plan.
In a 2021 season where he took risks against Hamilton and his driving left a lot to be desired, such as in Imola and Spain and the collisions in Italy and Saudi Arabia, this was an excellent sign of a maturing Verstappen.
It gave him the luxury of a buffer to play with in the charge towards Abu Dhabi and we all know what happened then...
Do you agree? Is the 2021 United States Grand Prix the greatest win of Max Verstappen's career - so far? Let us know by voting in the poll below and in the comments!