As the championship has been decided with still five grands prix left in 2023, speculation is rife: Is Max Verstappen the premier Formula 1 driver ever?
F1 luminary Gerhard Berger, who has ties with the Red Bull team and is perhaps most renowned for being Ayrton Senna’s teammate at McLaren, was probed by Italian publication La Gazzetta dello Sport: Does Verstappen eclipse his triple-world champion comrade, Senna?
“I’ve always seen Senna as the greatest of all time,” Berger responded. “But I have to say that Max is on the same level.
“He doesn’t make mistakes, he is always fast in any condition – wet, dry, fast or slow tracks, he is always in front. He is truly an excellent driver.
“I think he and Senna are drivers we will remember forever.”
The topic then shifted to a comparison between Verstappen, at the age of 26, and another motorsport titan – the seven-time world champion Michael Schumacher.
Mika Salo, who stepped in for Schumacher at Ferrari when the German had a leg injury in 1999, commented to Ilta Sanomat: “Michael never had quite as superior a car as Max has now.
“But in principle, they’re very similar. Michael made mistakes at times, he was aggressive and ruthless, but in my opinion he never had a car as fast as Max has at Red Bull compared to the others,” Salo noted.
“But he also got a little more resistance from his own teammates than Verstappen has.”
Another burning question as the 2023 season wraps is whether Verstappen and Red Bull will encounter stiffer competition from their counterparts next season.
Berger remarked: “You can never know about that.
“Next year everyone will have a new car and hope the gap will be smaller because it is more spectacular to see. But if we remove Max we can already see a good championship, because Ferrari, McLaren, Aston Martin and Mercedes are all on a similar level.”
Lastly, when the Austrian was inquired by the Italian newspaper about whether Ferrari’s racers can challenge Verstappen, he responded:
“They have two excellent drivers,” stated Berger, also a past Ferrari pilot.
“(Charles) Leclerc is very fast on the flying lap in qualifying, while (Carlos) Sainz is very consistent in the race. I think there are strategic or other problems at Ferrari, but the drivers are certainly good.”