After clinching his maiden Formula 1 world title with a controversial final lap duel against seven-time champion Sir Lewis Hamilton, Max Verstappen has earned the right to shelf his regular race number 33 next season in favour of number one. Reserved solely for the current King of the Grid, this marks the first occasion it has been adopted since Sebastian Vettel in 2014, immediately after the Red Bull Racing driver secured his fourth consecutive title.
“Yeah I will run it,” says the 24-year-old Dutch motorsport talent.
“How many times can you do that? I don’t know, maybe it’s the only time I can in my life.”
“It’s the best number out there. So I will definitely put it on the car.”
Verstappen’s Mercedes rival in Lewis Hamilton has famously opted to stick with race number 44 throughout his entire tenure as reigning F1 champion. Although as formula1.com has noted, he has received dispensation to run it on a handful of occasions as a one-off during Friday practice.
Hamilton’s former teammate Nico Rosberg, of course, never took up the opportunity either, given how he retired immediately after his own maiden championship win in 2016. Whether he would’ve adopted race number one like Seb Vettel or Max Verstappen really is anyone’s guess.
Despite the protests lodged by Mercedes F1 – as well as the protests of a rabid fandom – the FIA has tuned out all the noise to confirm Max Verstappen as the official 2021 world driver champion. But it’d be fanciful to assume the matter of a late safety car deployment in conjunction with hilariously fresher tyres won’t plague Verstappen until he logs another season victory against Hamilton under different circumstances.
As far as 50% of Formula 1 fans are concerned, Red Bull’s latest title comes with an asterisk.