Max Verstappen might have had the fastest car on the grid last year, with the title-winning RB19 superior over the rest of the field, but that isn't the only advantage the world champion enjoyed, according to former Renault boss Cyril Abiteboul.
The Frenchman left Renault in 2021 as part of its rebrand as Alpine and having spent a couple of years on the sidelines as a spectator, Abiteboul is well placed to give his verdict on how the rest of the field went about trying to fight Verstappen.
In short – they didn't. Such was the superstar's superiority, the likes of Ferrari, Mercedes and McLaren often seemed to let him sweep by on the rare occasions they found themselves ahead on merit.
Part of this was due to tyre preservation, the delicate Pirelli rubber likely to take too big a hit if deployed in defence for lap after lap, especially if said defence was highly likely to be fruitless.
"He has psychological influence and such a great car. But the ease with which he overtakes is because the other drivers don't even fight him. They know they can't race him," said Abiteboul.
"So rather than wearing out their tyres to hold him back, they just let him pass."
That wasn’t the only thing Abiteboul had to say on the subject of Red Bull, as he offered some much-needed defence of the often-maligned Sergio Perez.
"Max [Verstappen] is exceptional but Perez is far from being a rookie or a junior," Abiteboul added. "He did his best, but he suffered from the fact that Max has a very special way of driving, with a car with a very light rear axle.
"There is no doubt that it's Max Verstappen's car - designed for him. He is pampered in this team. Very good drivers like Pierre Gasly and Alexander Albon were also his teammates and also did not succeed in driving that car."
Whether Verstappen's rivals continue to be so deferential in 2024 remains to be seen, with the paddock keen for a more competitive fight at the front.
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