MONZA, Italy (AP) — For Max Verstappen, it’s not about records. It’s about winning.
The Red Bull driver could achieve both at the Italian Grand Prix on Sunday as he looks to etch his name further in the Formula One history books.
After tying Sebastian Vettel’s F1 record of nine straight victories last weekend at the Dutch GP, Verstappen can break it on the famous Monza track.
But the Dutchman is focused on one sole thing: Victory.
“I mean, I never thought that I would win nine in a row, first of all,” Verstappen said. “But yeah, now that we are here, of course I’ll try to win 10, but it’s more about that I want to just win.”
Vettel set the consecutive wins record in 2013 with Red Bull during its first dominant era — when he won four straight titles — and Verstappen remembers how astounded he was as a teenager when he saw the German driver achieve that feat.
“I remember when he did it, I said, ‘Wow, that’s just a crazy number. I think no one ever will do something like that,’” Verstappen said. “And here we are … but I’m also not really too fixated on it.”
Few would bet on Verstappen not bettering that “crazy number” at Monza in a season he is overwhelmingly dominating.
Last weekend’s victory increased his huge championship lead to 138 points as he races toward a third straight world title.
Verstappen also moved closer to his own F1 record of 15 wins set last year and onto 46 overall — already fifth all-time in wins. Alain Prost (51) and Vettel (53) are within his sights with nine races left this season.
And people are already talking about Verstappen being considered one of the all-time greats, despite his relatively young age.
“Well, I mean, everyone, of course, has their own opinion about these kind of things,” Verstappen said. “But for me, I’m not — I was never — in F1 to try and prove that I belong in between other people’s names …”
One thing that might play in his rivals’ favor this weekend is that Verstappen has rarely fared well at the Italian GP — although he ended his winless run at Monza last year. Before finally clinching victory at the Temple of Speed, Verstappen had never finished higher than fifth — in 2018.
Red Bull has won every race this year but, despite Verstappen looking seemingly invincible, some think the team will struggle at Monza, the fastest track on the calendar.
“People are allowed to wish for these kind of things but this is going to be a good track for us,” he said.
GAP TO PEREZ
Unbeaten Red Bull is dominating the constructors’ standings just like Verstappen is cruising to the drivers’ championship.
The team is chasing a record-extending 15th straight win on Sunday — including last season’s final race — and has more than double the points of second-placed Mercedes.
But most of those points have been earned by Verstappen, who has won 11 of the 13 races so far. Teammate Sergio Pérez has the other two victories.
“It’s quite hard to see as his teammate, you know,” Pérez said. “It doesn’t really matter what’s happened, whether we have a good margin or bad margins or the car is becoming difficult. He’s been able to extract 100%, out of him, out of the car, pretty much every weekend.”
Pérez’s two victories came in the opening four races but the Mexican driver’s season has imploded since then and he was an astonishing 1.3 seconds behind Verstappen in qualifying for the Dutch GP, despite having the same car.
“Definitely I went through a bit of a tough patch through the middle of the season where I was struggling the most with the car,” Pérez said. “But I think that’s all behind us and we should be having good races from now on.”
Ferrari hasn’t had the best of times at its home track of late, offering little for the thousands of red-clad local fans — “tifosi” — to cheer about in recent years.
Charles Leclerc claimed victory for the Scuderia in 2019 but that has been its only win since 2010.
Leclerc came close last year but finished second after another questionable strategy decision from Ferrari.
That was just one of a number of botched strategy decisions and bizarre incidents that have plagued Ferrari for the past two seasons, with the latest coming at the Zandvoort track last weekend.
That and the car’s unpredictability means Leclerc and teammate Carlos Sainz Jr. are facing an uphill struggle.
“We should be a bit more competitive here,” Leclerc said. “Then, whether it will be enough to fight for the podium, I don’t know.”
Sainz gave the tifosi something to cheer — and himself something to celebrate on his 29th birthday — as he was fastest in the second practice.
The Ferrari driver was ahead of Lando Norris and Perez, who crashed late on.
The session was red-flagged after Perez’s car went off into the gravel and kicked up a huge amount of dust as it spun round before the rear of the car slowly slid into the barriers.
There was also a red flag right at the start of the second practice after Lance Stroll lost power and was stranded on the side of the track.
Verstappen was fifth fastest. He set the pace in the first session, ahead of Sainz, with their teammates Perez and Leclerc third and fourth respectively.
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