Max Verstappen takes a moment and ponders the question as to which of his two Formula 1 championships was the most satisfying.
Of course, they were won under very different circumstances. In 2021, there was the initial euphoria of winning his maiden title with a pass on Lewis Hamilton on the final lap of the last race of the year in Abu Dhabi to conclude an epic season-long duel between the bitter rivals.
Within an hour, the celebrations had been crushed under the weight of Mercedes' protests and the accusations of poor regulatory judgment levied against then-FIA race director Michael Masi, which although rejected on the night, spilled over into the threat of an appeal as controversy overshadowed what should have been the Dutchman's finest moment. It wasn’t until four days later, shortly before Verstappen was due to receive his championship trophy at the FIA prize-giving gala, that Mercedes begrudgingly opted to let the result stand.
Fast forward 10 months on into October of this year and Verstappen was crowned again following his victory at the Japanese Grand Prix. This title triumph was achieved at a canter after dominating the campaign which concluded with a record-breaking 15 wins. You would assume the first championship was the most satisfying, particularly after going toe-toe with Hamilton for 22 rounds and delivering the knockout blow just before the final bell sounded, even if the 'referee' inadvertently played a pivotal role.
That was the suggestion to Verstappen in an interview with this writer as 'the most satisfying' question was posed.
"No," was the response from the 25-year-old Red Bull driver. "The first one was honestly the more emotional, but the second one is definitely the most satisfying, just because of what we have done this year in terms of the amount of race wins, but also just working with the team, the whole season.
"But they are very different. It's the same with having your first win. The emotion is completely different compared to winning right now because the first one is always more special than the second.
"I do think this year has been a better year in terms of performance. But definitely, this title is a better one. I'd say it like that, but the first one is way more emotional."
As to why it was better, Verstappen replied: "Performance-wise, but also the season itself was great. We had a rough start, but since then, we did very little wrong, and even though you cannot be perfect, we always will strive to achieve that."
Those 15 race wins helped carry Red Bull to an equally as dominant constructors' championship triumph for the first time in nine years after playing second, even third fiddle to Mercedes for the intervening eight seasons as the German manufacturer held their F1 rivals in a vice-like grip. Team-mate Sergio Pérez played his part with two victories of his own, although missed out on completing Red Bull's first one-two in the drivers' standings by just three points to Ferrari's Charles Leclerc.
Mercifully, Verstappen's refusal to allow Pérez by in the closing stages of the penultimate race of the campaign in São Paulo did not ultimately affect the standings. Verstappen declined on several occasions to reveal the cause of his stubbornness, whilst Pérez was equally as reluctant to confirm speculation that he deliberately crashed his car during qualifying in Monaco was the spark that lit the fire to the furore.
The fallout from that incident spewed over into the concluding event in Abu Dhabi, and while both claimed peace had been made, you have to wonder whether trust on both sides has been broken and is now irreparable for as long as they remain team-mates.
From Verstappen's perspective, helping Red Bull finally win a constructors' title was a monkey off the back.
"You work on it every single year, and this year both cars had really good results," assessed Verstappen. "You always need two cars to perform well, and we did.
"It's really satisfying for everyone also at the factory. They're working flat out, trying to achieve it. The drivers' title is amazing, but it probably gives you even more satisfaction if you can win as a team as well.
"This year we had a bit more luck. Last year, in some races, both cars got taken out or whatever, and we lost a lot of points battling. This year, in general, we were more competitive. We had a better car compared to the competition.
"At the end of the day, it's all about who designs the best car, who comes up with the more clever ideas. It was all a big question mark for everyone as to where you were going to be.
"From the start of the year, our car was a little bit overweight, but overall, it performed quite well."
Red Bull, under the stewardship of design guru Adrian Newey, took the new aerodynamic regulations and ran with them, developing a car that might not have been the quickest early on in comparison to Ferrari, but soon overhauled and eased away from the Scuderia.
Now there is talk of a Red Bull/Verstappen era of dominance. He is not so sure, though.
"With new regulations, it's always very important to hit it off well, and we did that," said Verstappen.
"Now, it's all about trying to continue that, trying to find even more performance in the cars because normally throughout the years, it all comes together.
Photography courtesy of Motorsport Images.
"Yes, we've had a good head start, but as a team, we're never satisfied. We always want more. We want to do better, but that will also depend on what the other teams find or improve on."