A matured Max Verstappen has the world at his feet and only he decides what comes next

Max Verstappen has developed into a mature, ruthless winner and there is no limit to what he could go on to achieve.

Max Verstappen's position in the world of Formula 1 is somewhat of an enigma. Despite being just 24, he is seen as one of the most experienced heads in the paddock and yet 13 of the 20 drivers on the grid came into the world before the Dutchman did.

Since the turn of the century and through better understanding of sports science and nutrition, there has been a growing trend of athletes reaching the pinnacle at a younger age. The 23-year-old Kylian Mbappe is one football's best players, Emma Raducanu was 18 years old when she won the US Open and 13-year-old skateboarder Momiji Nishiya won gold in last year's Olympics.

Even in Formula 1, young success is not unique to Verstappen. The three youngest drivers to ever start a race are still in the sport and the four youngest race winners are still competing. The youngest on both of those lists? Max Verstappen.

A matured Verstappen has shed the outbursts that punctuated his early career

As a Red Bull driver, he is following in familiar footsteps. Sebastian Vettel became the youngest World Champion at the age of 23 years and 134 days and while Verstappen may have been 304 days older when he won his maiden title, it is not a bad bet to suggest the Dutchman may go on to equal, and even surpass, the German's four Championships.

In Baku, he equalled Jim Clark and Niki Lauda on 25 career race wins to move further clear at the top of this year's standings but when this feat was put to the Dutchman in the post-race press conference, he played it with a typically straight bat.

"We also do more races a year so if you have a good car it's not really comparable but it's nice for the books," he told reporters, a typically muted response from the reigning World Champion.

Verstappen seems utterly unfazed by the hype that surrounds him and the sport.

He does not take part in Netflix's Drive to Survive series, accusing them of creating "fake narratives", he rarely talks about his private life and in the limited downtime he has, it is unusual to see him anywhere other than at his Monaco home with family and friends.

The 2021 season should have in theory been the most stressful of his life and yet it seemed a turning point for him.

Faced with toppling the man with the strongest claim of greatest of all time, it was the seven-time World Champion that lashed out in the media rather than the young contender.

Lewis Hamilton accused his title rival of "not driving by the rules" and being "over the limit" and while there can be no doubt a huge slice of fortune allowed Verstappen to pip Hamilton to the title, there can also be little argument that his performances across the season more than warranted it.

This season, we have seen a continuation of this new Verstappen. In the early parts of the campaign when his Red Bull car struggled for reliability and Charles Leclerc appeared to be disappearing over the horizon, he kept his cool, reminding everyone that it was a long season and he has been proven correct.

Considering this was the man who repeatedly pushed Esteban Ocon in Brazil in 2018 just a few months after warning he may headbutt the next reporter who asked him if he was prone to crashing, it seems a remarkable maturation.

What has caused this change in attitude?

When pondering what has caused this change in attitude, the most obvious answer is time.

Everyone will have a story of something that occurred during their teenage years that they are not proud of now but the difference is Verstappen made his mistakes under the spotlight.

Seven years on from his first race he has gone from teenager to young adult and his driving style reflects that. He does not throw everything into the smallest opportunity and while he is more than willing to 'full send it', he is also able to recognise when a bit of patience is the most powerful weapon in his arsenal.

Another explanation is the group around him. His dad, Jos, is the most visual member of Verstappen's support group but there are plenty of other important characters.

When Verstappen replaced Daniil Kvyat at Red Bull, he was given Gianpiero Lambiase as a race engineer and the British/Italian seems almost perfectly tailored to Verstappen's style.

A shared determination to win but also a shared preference of not using 100 words when one word would do, Verstappen has praised Lambiase for his ability at guessing what he was going to say before he even says it.

Verstappen also has a very settled personal life. He began dating longtime partner Kelly Piquet, daughter of Nelson, in 2020 and while little is known about their relationship, an aspect by design from Verstappen, her frequent appearances at races show how important she is to his life.

He also has the perfect team for him and in Sergio Perez, the perfect team-mate. Team principal Christian Horner has been only too happy to alter the car for Verstappen at the expense of numerous team-mates (Pierre Gasly, Alex Albon) and rewarding the Dutchman with a contract lasting until 2028 shows how much faith the team has in him.

With Perez onboard, and up to speed with the car, Verstappen has all the tools to go on and create a Hamilton-esque legacy of his own.

What does the future hold for Verstappen?

The answer to that is simple: anything is possible.

Considering Fernando Alonso is still going strong at 40, there is little to suggest Verstappen does not have at least another 15 years in the sport. If Red Bull stay competitive in that time there is little to suggest that accolades such as most World Championships, most wins and most points could not soon be his.

In terms of the latter two, Verstappen himself highlighted the bloated modern calendar and in terms of the former, who else on the grid can have such a claim at dominance over the next 10 years?

Hamilton is in the twilight years of his career in a Mercedes car that still does not look right.

Charles Leclerc may have the same level of talent as Verstappen but so far Ferrari have fallen short and the Red Bull driver does not have to deal with the immense pressure that comes when you pull on that red race suit.

Lando Norris may develop into a future Championship winner but for now McLaren are fighting for midfield spots and George Russell is actually older than Verstappen and far less experienced.

Perhaps the only real challenge to Verstappen's legacy is himself.

His comments after the 2021 season suggested that his life had been so focused on one goal that now it had been achieved, he almost seemed a little lost at what comes next.

Ahead of the 2022 season, he told the Guardian the drama of the previous campaign was "not good for me" and "not healthy for anyone in the team" and that he was not overly bothered by reaching the level of Michael Schumacher or Hamilton.

"If I never get to a number seven or number eight, it's fine. You need a lot of luck to be in such a dominant position for such a long time. I just want to enjoy it and I know that, when I get to the track, I still want to win."

He repeated this mantra just before this year's Monaco Grand Prix, saying he "might stop" when his contract ends in 2028.

It should come as no surprise that Verstappen shows little desire to be proven as the best, because in his mind, he already is. He achieved the goal that he and father Jos set out to on the first day he sat in a go-kart and now, the 24-year-old is just enjoying the ride.

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