INSTAGRAM | @maxverstappen1

MAX VERSTAPPEN HAS started his 2024 season much like his last, qualifying on pole and winning the Bahrain Grand Prix, and doing the same a week later in Saudi Arabia. The Dutchman is up to nine consecutive wins now – only needing one more to equal his own record – and has made dominant thrashings of the rest of the field look routine. Yet, at only 26, it’s unlikely that Verstappen’s reign will come to an end anytime soon. If he continues on his current trajectory, his case as the greatest F1 driver to ever grace the grid will be a tough one to dispute.

Verstappen has now won three straight championships, and each came easier than the one before. In 2021, he won 10 races and didn’t secure the championship until the final race of the season. In 2022, he won 15 and had wrapped up the competition with four races left to run. In 2023, he was even better, winning 19 and claiming the driver’s trophy with five races remaining.

We’re now at a point where Verstappen leading a race from start to finish happens more often than him losing one – and for the record, he did the former five times last season and the latter only three. F1 fans are now just as likely to be equally well-versed in the Dutch national anthem as they are with those of their own countries. Seriously, it must feel good to be Verstappen right now – particularly if you throw in the added bonus that he’s also the highest paid F1 driver.

Verstappen’s critics will say that he has it easy driving the fastest car on the track. That may be true, but to realise the futility of that argument in discrediting his achievements, you need only to look at Verstappen’s teammate, Sergio Perez. While he’s proven to be a worthy sidekick, driving what is ostensibly the same car, Perez hasn’t come close to matching Verstappen’s output, only tallying five wins to Verstappen’s 46 since the Mexican joined Red Bull.

Becoming the youngest ever driver to start an F1 race back in 2015, Verstappen got a head start on his career, debuting at just 17 years of age. He’s always been an early bloomer, and given the magnitude of his success from an early age, the expectation is that Verstappen will become the most decorated racer in history. But is he on track to do so?

Some drivers, like Verstappen, are competing for championships right from the get-go. Others are late bloomers and don’t reach their peak until the twilight of their careers – we’re still holding out hope for a Daniel Ricciardo renaissance. Today, we’re comparing Verstappen’s accolades at age 26 with those of other F1 greats, to see where the Dutchman stands on the all-time leaderboard.

Lewis Hamilton

INSTAGRAM @lewishamilton

Lewis Hamilton is a rarity among F1 champions, for while he is tied for the most championships of any driver, with seven, for a long time it looked like he might never reach his full potential. Hamilton became the youngest ever F1 champion in 2008 – although he would be surpassed just two years later – and was roughly four months younger than Verstappen at the time of their first championships, but it would take another six years for Hamilton to claim his second. The Brit was 29 by the time of his second championship, and while he would win five more over the next six years, his late-blooming gives the advantage to Verstappen here, who, at age 26, has three championships to Hamilton’s one.

Michael Schumacher

For a long time, Michael Schumacher has been considered the greatest driver in F1 history. He’s now tied with Hamilton for the most championships and has been surpassed for the record of most wins, but he still holds a special place in F1 fans’ hearts. The German had won two of his seven championships by age 26 – one less than Verstappen – before experiencing a four-year dry spell as he found his footing with Ferrari. He then won five-straight championships, a record that is yet to be broken, but could be shattered as early as 2026 if Verstappen maintains his current run. With age as our most important factor, Verstappen bests Schumacher here, but the Dutchman still has a long way to go before he overtakes the Red Baron on the all-time leaderboard.

Sebastian Vettel

Sebastian Vettel had one of the more unusual career trajectories, and in many ways, it mirrors Verstappen’s. Both got their first F1 starts with Ferrari’s junior club, Toro Rosso and both had won multiple championships by the time they were 26. But for Vettel, that’s where the trophies ended.

The German remains the youngest ever F1 champion, winning his first at age 23 in just his third full F1 season. He would then win three more shortly after, bringing his total to four consecutive championships, all by age 26. In terms of championships by age, he’ll stay one ahead of Verstappen regardless of whether the Dutchman finishes on top again this season, as he’ll be 27 by September. Although, after claiming four championships, Vettel would never win another after leaving Red Bull for Ferrari. Vettel is ahead of Verstappen for now. Although, barring an inexplicable drop off in performance from the Dutchman, Verstappen will likely match Vettel’s championship tally this season and better it not long after.

Fernando Alonso

Given that he’s been around the grid for so long and remains one of F1’s best drivers at the ripe old age of 42 despite not winning a race in over 10 years, you could almost forget that Fernando Alonso was once touted as the next best thing in racing after winning two championships before turning 26. Had Alonso managed a three-peat, he would be on par with Verstappen. But he didn’t and the Dutchman did. It’s also looking exceedingly unlikely that Verstappen, like Alonso, will be done with winning championships after an early career blitz.

Alain Prost

Before Schumacher came along, it was Alain Prost who was commonly regarded as the best ever F1 driver. The Professor was a constant threat to the podium throughout his career, racking up 51 total wins – at the time of his retirement, this was 10 more than the driver with the second most wins, and 20 more than the third. Prost, however, is a victim of coming from a bygone era, when athletes weren’t rising to the world’s stage when they were still teenagers. The Frenchman was 26 by his rookie season, making it literally impossible for him to amass more championships than Verstappen by that age. Prost wouldn’t win his first championship until he was 30, and although he won three more during his career, Verstappen obliterates Prost’s age 26 resume.

Ayrton Senna

Getty Images | Mike Hewitt

We’re beyond the primary GOAT contenders by now, and so far only Vettel can rival Verstappen’s early career dominance. Ayrton Senna is one of the most popular and influential drivers in F1 history, but he’s not quite on the same level as Schumacher, Hamilton, Prost and Vettel. But can he upstage Verstappen? The answer is no. Senna won three championships during his career, but the first came when he was 28.

Niki Lauda

Austrian legend Niki Lauda comes from a period in F1 history where it was more common to see a driver in their forties winning a championship than one in their twenties. Lauda is an outlier in that regard, winning his first at age 26 and second at 28. He also had tremendous staying power, winning his final championship at 35. He’s no threat to Verstappen though.

Nelson Piquet

Nelson Piquet was many things during his career. A maestro behind the wheel, a briefly promising tennis player, and a hero across his home nation of Brazil. What Piquet was not, however, was an early bloomer. He won his first championship at age 29 and two more in his thirties. Verstappen clears.

We can’t quite use the word ‘unprecedented’ to describe Max Verstappen’s dominance at this stage in his career because Vettel had actually won one more championship by the same age. Although, Vettel never dominated to quite the extent that Verstappen currently is. All of Vettel’s championships were closely fought, whereas Verstappen’s are cakewalks. The German is the only driver with an advantage over Verstappen, for now, but at this pace, it won’t be long before the Flying Dutchman stands alone as F1’s greatest to ever do it.


Is Max Verstappen too good?

Does F1 have a place in our eco-conscious world?