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Verstappen vs Vettel: Who is Red Bull's 'golden driver'?

Both drivers hold up the reputation of the Red Bull Junior programme, but has Verstappen usurped Vettel as the team's best driver?

Max Verstappen's victory at the Miami Grand Prix saw him equal Sebastian Vettel's record of 38 F1 victories for Red Bull. The Dutchman has been in imperious form since the beginning of the sport's new technical regulatory era, securing his second title last season by a margin of 146 points over Charles Leclerc. Whilst his title-winning achievements have not yet matched Vettel's, has Verstappen now surpassed Vettel as Red Bull's greatest driver?

The original Red Bull success story

Vettel became the fifth different World Champion in five years when securing his first title in 2010, following Fernando Alonso, Kimi Raikkonen, Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button. But the German's triumph would see the dawn of a four-year period of dominance not seen since his idol Michael Schumacher secured five in a row for Ferrari a decade earlier. Whilst Red Bull was dominant in 2011 and 2013 - where Vettel equalled Alberto Ascari's long-standing record of nine consecutive race victories - 2010 and 2012 saw the championship battle go right down to the wire. Many will point to the Abu Dhabi finale in his first championship-winning year as a fortunate series of events in his battle against Alonso, but it must be remembered that no title is won in a single race. Two years later, he must have thought his dream of a third-successive triumph was over when colliding with Bruno Senna at Turn 4 of the season-ending Brazilian Grand Prix. The memorable comeback through the field with an extensively damaged car epitomised Vettel's attitude towards racing and again left rival Alonso dumbstruck as to how he had failed to add to his own tally. Red Bull lost its edge when hybrid power units were introduced to F1 in 2014 and having failed to beat new teammate Daniel Ricciardo across the season, Vettel left for Ferrari having amassed 44 pole positions and 65 podiums for Red Bull. What Vettel had done is given proof that the Red Bull Junior programme was worthwhile, despite the number of drivers that had come and gone for both Red Bull and Toro Rosso before 2014.

F1's youngest driver makes a mark

Whilst Ricciardo's seven wins for the team established the Australian as a household name for F1 fans, Verstappen's fast-tracked arrival to Toro Rosso in 2015 saw him become the youngest driver in the sport's history. But his rise accelerated further when he was promoted to Red Bull after four races in 2016. Verstappen underlined his potential by securing a hard-fought victory in his first race for the team, holding off Raikkonen's advances in a nervy end to the Spanish Grand Prix. Verstappen's stock has continued to rise since that point, securing victories in each year since despite Red Bull being some way behind Mercedes for the majority of the end of the decade. Not until 2021 would Verstappen be afforded the opportunity to challenge for the Drivers' Championship - a battle with Hamilton that will be remembered as one of the most dramatic in F1's history. Despite lacking experience compared to the seven-time champion, Verstappen refused to wilt under the pressure both internally and externally. Ten victories underlined his right to be crowned champion, regardless of how some perceive the events of the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. Verstappen followed up last season with an emphatic triumph over Ferrari driver Leclerc and whilst the Red Bull was dominant, the margin to Sergio Perez and the record-breaking 15 wins in the season proved this was not just down to machinery. The Mexican is not the first driver to be unable to reach Verstappen's powers, with Pierre Gasly and Alex Albon both falling by the wayside despite their own talents.

Generational talent

Vettel is undoubtedly a legend of F1 for his exploits both on the track and off it. His time at Red Bull was a scintillating show of talent and he continued to demonstrate his ability in championship challenges with Ferrari. But with Verstappen lies a generational talent. Rarely is a driver able to arrive on track for the first lap of first practice at any given grand prix and set a lap time capable of being a second faster than any others - there is no need for a build-up of confidence across the session. His Miami Grand Prix victory perfectly surmised his career to this point - the pace he achieved with his set of hard tyres in the middle of the race was untouchable by anyone on the grid and his stance within F1's legends list will only improve with a third title a near certainty. Vettel will always hold a place in Red Bull's heart, but Verstappen is undoubtedly the 'golden driver' of the entire motorsport operation.

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