Honda Racing managing director Masashi Yamamoto has likened Red Bull‘s Max Verstappen to legendary three-time F1 world champion Ayrton Senna, claiming that there are plenty of similarities between the two drivers and backing the Dutchman to beat his predecessor’s record of six Monaco Grand Prix victories. Verstappen has made a promising start to the new season with two wins from the opening five races, and looks set to bring the fight to Lewis Hamilton of Mercedes for this year’s Drivers’ Championship crown.
The Belgian-born star has long been regarded as one of F1’s brightest talents and appears to be determined to follow through on his title-winning credentials this year.
He currently leads the Drivers’ Championship standings by a narrow margin of four points after claiming an impressive victory in Monaco on Sunday, finishing ahead of runner-up Carlos Sainz by more than eight seconds.
Verstappen was allowed to pull clear of the rest of the field early on after pole-sitter Charles Leclerc was ruled out of the race before the formation lap.
The Monegasque hopeful was unable to take part due to a driveshaft problem caused by his crash at the end of Saturday’s qualifying session.
Verstappen’s victory was all but confirmed by lap 31 of 78, with Valtteri Bottas forced to retire after a botched pit stop in which his Mercedes crew failed to dislodge a stubborn front right wheel nut.
The result marked the first victory for a Honda-powered car at Monaco since Senna took the chequered flag in the principality with McLaren 29 years ago.
The Brazilian legend won on six occasions at the famous street circuit during his glittering career in F1, and Yamamoto has declared that Verstappen has every chance of surpassing the late champion’s impressive tally in the years to come.
The Honda chief also highlighted the similarities between the pair’s respective driving styles, suggesting that it is difficult to avoid comparing the two drivers, especially when the Red Bull man’s frightening potential is taken into consideration.
“Honda won the Monaco Grand Prix six times in a row from 1987 to 1992, five of those victories coming from Ayrton Senna,” said Yamamoto in his column for Honda F1.
“Coincidentally, this is the first time for Honda to win in Monaco since Senna in the second season, but I always see an overlap between Verstappen and Ayrton Senna, who is a very special driver for Honda because his driving is very similar to Senna’s.
“At just 23 years of age, he still has the potential to match and surpass Senna’s record of six Monaco victories and I’m delighted to have helped him take that step.”
Sunday’s race also saw Red Bull take the lead in the Constructors’ Championship, a rare sight given the unrelenting dominance of Mercedes during the hybrid era.
Although team principal Christian Horner was understandably delighted with the result, he stressed that his team will not be getting carried away in the coming weeks, underlining their desire to focus on returning to the top of the pile at the end of the season.
“Look, it’s still a long, long way to go but when they have an off day, it was very important for us to bank a lot of points,” Horner told Racer.
“To do that and come out leading both championships is beyond expectations, certainly coming into the weekend. It just shows how close things are and things can move around very quickly.
“We’ve just got to keep in striking distance until the back end of the championship and that’s where the pressure really comes. So at the moment, you’re in that [place] where you’re running through the races, it’s important to be reliable, consistent and not lose too much ground.”