Max Verstappen was able to crown himself as Formula 1 world champion for the first time in his life in 2021, the highest achievable title in motorsport. Automatically, that title also brings a lot of obligations and a new kind of pressure. How did Verstappen fare with his predecessors in the first season as world champion?
It is not just something, the title of world champion Formula 1. An honorary title that many a boy can only dream about. Verstappen managed to fulfill his boyhood dream this year and that caused the necessary emotions. It also ensures that the world sees the young Dutchman differently. He is now a big man and will be treated that way.
Verstappen celebrates first world title
Next year, the Limburger will be on the hunt for world title number two in order to successfully defend his championship. It will not be an easy task, because everyone looks at you differently. As a world champion, there is a different kind of pressure and a different mentality around the corner, something that Verstappen will undoubtedly have to deal with next year. Interesting to look at the last six world champions and how they did their first year after winning the first title.
At the age of 24, Alonso crowned himself the youngest ever world champion at that time in 2005, replacing Emerson Fittipaldi. The Spaniard managed to break the five-year hegemony of Michael Schumacher with his Renault and delivered a top performance. The still active driver from Oviedo battled out the title with contemporary Kimi Raikkonen and eventually won.
Alonso and Schumacher in 2006
With the world title in his pocket, Alonso continued to drive with his trusted Renault. Schumacher was out for revenge in 2006 in his Ferrari. The German veteran did everything he could to take his eighth world title, but Alonso was unimpressed and showed he was cut from the right racer. Despite Schumacher’s enormous defense, Alonso crossed the line as world champion in Brazil. With this he managed to finish his first season as world champion perfectly. Result: world title number two. His last for now, by the way.
After Alonso’s double stroke it was time for ‘The Iceman’. 2007 was the year of the then 27-year-old Raikkonen. The Finn drove his first year for the Ferrari team and it turned out to be a huge success. The Finn was somewhat helped in the saddle by the men of McLaren. There was a lot of friction between Alonso and the debuting Lewis Hamilton and the two ruffs made each other’s life miserable. Raikkonen was the third dog to take off with the leg with what is for the time being the last Ferrari title among the drivers.
Raikkonen celebrates his first title in 2007
How did Raikkonen do as world champion? The answer is: could be better. Remarkably, it was Brazilian Felipe Massa who took the lead in the 2008 season. He was also behind the net in the last round of the season, but Raikkonen could never really play a major role in the world championship. In the first half of the season it went well with two wins in the first four races, but after that it was done with the Finn.
The year in which Raikkonen had to defend his first title became the year of a youngster: Hamilton. The Briton made his debut in 2007, but ran into the internal struggle within the McLaren team that year. Hamilton took revenge in a fantastic way in 2008. In the last round of the world championship it seemed to be Massa who took the title, but due to a slow-moving Timo Glock it was Hamilton who crowned himself world champion in Brazil.
Hamilton Championship in 2008
Hamilton went on the hunt for defending the world title for McLaren in 2009. It was a year to quickly forget for the Brit, especially the first half of the season. In the first race in Australia he was even dropped from the results and his subsequent races were not a great success either. It even took until the race in Hungary that Hamilton was allowed to take the podium. In the end, he achieved some fine results in the second half of the season, but defending the world title was never an option. Let’s just say he made up for that later on.
The dramatic year of McLaren and Hamilton was grist to the mill of Jenson Button and the brand new Brawn Grand Prix. The brand new stable became one of the most remarkable stories in Formula 1 ever with Button and Rubens Barrichello in the ranks. It was a clear changing of the guard. After years of battles between Ferrari and McLaren, Brawn GP and Red Bull Racing ended in 2009. Button kept his cool and took his first and only world title.
Button celebrates his remarkable first world title
As mentioned, it just went downhill after that. Brawn GP disappeared, Button packed his bags and the world champion left for McLaren. Even before the season, few chances for title prolongation were attributed to him. Button was seen as inferior to his new teammate, Hamilton. That turned out to be the case in practice, although in the end it didn’t make much difference. Hamilton was fourth with 240 points, while Button took fifth with 214 points.
Then we arrive at the greatest success story of the men in this row, when we talk about defending a first world title. Vettel managed to take the title of youngest world champion from his competitor that year, Alonso, at the age of 24 in 2010. After a fantastic and exciting season, Vettel was in charge after a blistering race under the artificial light of Abu Dhabi and for the first time in his life he was allowed to call himself weltmeister.
Vettel’s first world title
Where many first world champions have a hard time in the following season, there was no problem for Vettel. A period of pure dominance had begun for him and the Red Bull and Vettel team followed up its first world title with a second a year later. And that went on for a while. World title numbers three and four were only briefly attached to it for the sake of convenience and the 2013 season in particular was impressive to say the least. However, after four wonderful years, the success came to an end and Mercedes began its period of dominance.
One of the championships from that dominant period was won by Nico Rosberg. After a period of two seasons in Hamilton’s favor, it was the German’s turn in 2016. After a blood-curdling and controversial season, he was able to deal with his teammate and former friend and was allowed to celebrate his first world title in Abu Dhabi.
Rosberg takes the title, Hamilton smiles like a farmer with a toothache
However, we can be brief about Rosberg in view of the first year after a first world title in Formula 1. That season did not come. Rosberg chose eggs for his money, saw that he had achieved what he wanted to achieve and left as reigning world champion from Formula 1. Fortunately, Verstappen seems to have other plans, even if his dream and only goal has now been achieved.