Max Verstappen is one of the most talked about drivers in Formula 1 today. This young pretender to Lewis Hamilton’s championship has quickly become a sensation on and off track, with his aggressive driving style earning him comparisons to the legendary Michael Schumacher. Max talks about his childhood dreams and how he managed to get where he is now.,
Max Verstappen is Formula 1’s “bull fighter” and the family that shaped him. Max was born in Belgium to a Dutch father, who also competed in Formula 1. The two were not close as they had different views on how to raise their son.
Max Verstappen was two years and eight months old when his father Jos finished 13th in the 2000 European Grand Prix at the Nürburgring.
Max Verstappen’s parents initially realized he could be destined for a career as a racing driver when he was two and a half years old.
Max Verstappen’s father, Jos Verstappen, a former grand prix driver who achieved two podiums in a career spanning 1994-2003, remembers his son being “in the yard every day on a quad bike” before becoming the man who might end Lewis Hamilton’s reign as Formula One world champion this weekend.
“On the second or third day after getting it, he went on two wheels, had to change the steering, and hit the wall side-on.” He was fortunate in that he was wearing a helmet, which was scratched. But it didn’t bother him.
“He was always behind the wheel. With an engine, he had a sensation. It didn’t matter whether it was a quad bike, an electric jeep – you know, the tiny toys for kids – or something else. He was constantly behind the wheel. He had to be on it every day.”
Max “grew up with go-karts,” as Jos puts it. His mother Sophie Kumpen is a former top-level karter who raced against future F1 drivers Jenson Button, Jan Magnussen, Giancarlo Fisichella, and Jarno Trulli as a youngster.
Jos explains: “I didn’t want him to get going too soon. I hoped to get started at six o’clock. I believe that’s a wonderful age to start since they’ll comprehend more.”
Max, on the other hand, had different intentions. Jos was away at a race in Canada with his own kart racing team a few years after the quad bike tragedy in the lawn when his phone rang.
Max was with family members at a racing track near their home in Genk, Belgium. Jos remembers him “half-crying.” “He was four and a half years old at the time, and he wanted to drive like the other kids. So that’s how it all began.”
That was in the year 2002. Jos’s own Formula One career had come to an end at the end of 2003. “After that, I truly poured my heart and soul into his profession,” he recalls. “That was my responsibility.”
The narrative that follows is one of love and commitment, culminating in the development of a driver with extraordinary skill and potential.
A successful kart racer for a mother and an F1 driver for a father. Max Verstappen, at 24 years old, was destined to be an F1 driver. Once that was established, his father basically programmed him as one as well.
“I wouldn’t be sitting here right now if it weren’t for my father,” Max adds. “He has practically spent all of his time since he retired from Formula One racing training me in the best possible manner. He was my go-kart mechanic when we were kids. Driving with the van from Holland or Belgium to all of Europe’s go-kart events.”
Following the tears in Genk, Jos purchased a “baby kart” for Max.
“That go-kart is still with us,” Jos explains. “It’s on display at the Verstappen store.” I recall the first time he entered it. They aren’t quick, but he was all over the place right away, and the thing was vibrating so violently that the carburettor was falling out all the time.
“So, after a day of driving that thing, I purchased him a mini-kart, which we had to tweak quite a bit due to his tiny size. Then everything improved.”
It was more of a matter of “let’s see what happens” at first, according to Jos. “Let’s go to Formula 1,” they said hurriedly.
“I wouldn’t go that far into it if he didn’t have the skill, since go-karts are incredibly costly if you do it globally.” As a result, we were practicing.
“But it was clear that, in comparison to all the other kids his age, he was much ahead of the pack. We were also competing against youngsters who were two or three years older, which makes a significant difference.”
Max entered his first kart race when he was seven years old. His opponents were as young as eleven years old. He was victorious.
“”It was difficult because the tyres were soft (and sticky), and you could tell he was exhausted at the conclusion of the race,” Jos explains. However, the manner in which he competed revealed his character. He didn’t care whether the other players were older or not; all he cared about was winning. You could see he had it in him all the time.”
‘Always wanted to be a mechanic!’ Verstappen captioned this picture on Instagram.
How involved were the Verstappens in Max’s development as a potential Formula One world champion?
“How much longer do you have?” Jos explains. “Let’s put it this way. The junior division was the next step for him when he was nine or ten years old. We travelled to Italy every weekend after school over the winter, starting in November.
“At 2:30 p.m., school ended. In the vehicle, I was waiting. I drove to Italy as he got inside the van. We’d spend two days visiting all of the circuits he needed to drive on, and then I’d pack up and drive back about 5 p.m. on Sunday. Each journey is roughly 1,250 kilometers (780 miles). Then I left him off at school again the next morning.
“I wanted him to learn all the tracks and see where we were in terms of speed, engine, chassis, and things like that, and I wanted to know where we were in terms of speed, engine, chassis, and stuff like that.”
“So I spent a lot of time preparing ourselves, and he enjoyed it.” We’re in the van traveling there, just the two of us. He slept the whole time. You see a lot of things on the track, and you talk about them with him to tell him how things should be done – it’s a great way to learn how to race.
“In Genk, it was the same. We were probably on the racing circuit two or three times a week, and we didn’t mind whether it poured. We went there even though it was -2C and we needed to test things.
“He’d finished five laps and his hands were freezing. I stated: “‘All right, get in the vehicle and warm up.’ I took him out of the vehicle after five minutes, and he had to drive again. It wasn’t always nice for him, but I believe it helped to shape his personality.
“He watched how much work I put in and hasn’t seen any difference, and he is the same way. He is a very driven and dedicated individual.”
Verstappen (center of the drivers) celebrates his KF3 debut win at La Conca, Italy, in March 2010, when he was 12 years old.
Max didn’t take long to make a name for himself in the tight-knit Dutch motor racing scene. His father’s name drew attention – Jos was the country’s most successful F1 driver at the time – and Max’s results took care of the rest.
Before progressing to single-seater vehicle racing – formula cars – all F1 drivers learn their skills in karting. Karts don’t have gears, and drivers sit on them rather than in them, but they’re similar to small racing cars in every other aspect. Max, on the other hand, was a natural.
As the championships piled up, it became clear that Max was on his way to greatness. People started to see – and hear – how much work his father was putting in.
Frits van Amersfoort is the owner of a Dutch racing team that competed in Formula 3 with Max Verstappen in 2014. Before moving on to F1, it would be his lone year in single-seater racing.
“Jos and Sophie developed a kid with the correct DNA together,” Van Amersfoort explains, “and then Max was trained to be a racing driver after a time.”
“I recall Andre Agassi’s father constructing him like a tennis robot by putting 3,000 balls around his ears every day. Jos was the same way. How the two of them worked together in the karting years, as far as I understood, was sometimes un-human, how Jos groomed and programmed his son to be the finest racing driver in the world.”
Of course, there were ups and downs. Max was a sensation, but he was only a child.
Looking back, he credits his karting circuits as a youngster for instilling in him the singularity of purpose that has served him so well in his F1 career.
“That’s all that matters,” Max adds. “That’s how my father instilled in me a sense of responsibility. You must concentrate on yourself while also cooperating with your colleagues. Everything else is irrelevant.”
It’s simple to say, but is it simple to put into practice?
“Yes, after spending so many years with my father.”
How did he pull it off?
“It can be done in a variety of ways. Ways that are nice. Ways that are a little more enraged. No, that does not work for me. It was just what I needed. He forced me to toughen up, which is a good thing.”
Jos explains: “Yes, he did need it on occasion. When I saw he wasn’t focused and was playing or doing things like that, I informed him since I had a lot of stuff to create and I went to circuits to test and see if it was good. And if he’s teasing, I didn’t give him the correct response.”
Was it Jos’ intention to raise his kid to be tough?
He answers, “I guess it’s a little bit how I am, so absolutely.” “Did I do it on purpose? Probably not, since I’m the same way.”
Max was 16 years old at the time, and the world champion in the top kart racing category. It was time to step up to automobile racing.
Verstappen in April 2014 in Silverstone, where the F3 season’s first round was held.
Max’s maiden trial in a single-seater was to be low-key, according to Jos. He contacted the Anglo-Dutch Manor MP team, who recommended a private test in their Formula Renault vehicle at Pembrey, a small track in south Wales that hosted junior single-seater races on occasion.
Pembrey has grown since then, although there were no pit garages back then.
“I believe they were rather surprised to come and basically see a track and some sheep and a scrutineering area,” recalls Manor MP team manager Tony Shaw, who oversaw the event.
The Verstappens had reserved two days, but it rained on the first day.
“Jos wanted to put off releasing Max,” Shaw explains. “He didn’t want to let him out in the rain right away.” He wanted to wait for things to dry out. ‘No, let’s just go out and get on with it,’ we said.
“I have to tell, he was incredibly anxious, which you don’t expect from someone like Jos Verstappen, but he was pacing all over the place.”
He didn’t have to be concerned.
“From the beginning, Max was absolute dynamite,” Shaw says. “It was a joy to work with you. ‘Is this truly his first test?’ we wondered. But he was fully in charge, and he was quite fast; he was perfectly natural and unobtrusive.”
In fact, Manor was where Hamilton had his first taste of racing in 2001. The situations were not the same. Whereas Verstappen had the track to himself, Hamilton was in a group test with a variety of other cars of differing performance levels, and the test was held at Mallory Park in Leicestershire, not far from the UK’s racing heartland.
“We were a little concerned when Lewis drove since there were so many other vehicles on the circuit and he appeared more enthusiastic,” Shaw adds.
“Within ten, fifteen, twenty laps, he’d had a crash and pulled a corner off.” By getting hold of it and flinging it about, he displayed a different approach of not being scared of it, while Max was quick but much more controlled. He didn’t make any errors, either.
“‘Wow,’ we said. He was genuinely remarkable. Max was one of those people that you just knew was going to shine. You could tell with both of them right immediately.”
Verstappen participated in a few more Formula Renault testing throughout the fall and winter of that year, and he was fast everywhere. Jos and his manager, Raymond van Beuren, chose to bypass that category and focus on Formula 3.
It was an audacious move. F3 is a technically advanced division that features vehicles that are basically scaled-down versions of F1 cars. It is usually not recommended for novices. Max, on the other hand, was far from ordinary.
Max and Jos during F3 testing with the Van Amersfoort Racing team in Hungary in April 2014.
The Verstappens went up to Van Amersfoort, whom they had known for a long time. Jos, who was a prodigy back in the day, had driven for his team in Formula Opel Lotus in his maiden year of automobile racing in 1992, before going on to F3 in 1993 and then joining Benetton as Michael Schumacher’s teammate in F1 in 1994.
The plan was to participate in the European Formula 3 series.
Van Amersfoort explains, “We were running out of time.” “It was already February when the decision was made. We placed an order for a vehicle, but Dallara was unable to fulfill it. As a result, we borrowed a chassis. We constructed a vehicle around it, had a test drive in Most, Czech Republic, and then proceeded to Budapest for the first formal test.
“From the first hour on, Max was the fastest. Verstappen, that’s a Verstappen. They never cease to amaze you. Any Verstappen, whether Jos or Max, will always wow you with their abilities. Their desire to be speedy is incredible and fierce.
“It may seem strange, but after one day in the team, we joked between ourselves, ‘We could put Max in an F1 vehicle tomorrow.’ After a single day. That is the reality.”
Max won ten races that year, one more than Esteban Ocon, but he lost the championship to the Frenchman, who is now an F1 driver, due to an engine problem at the conclusion of the season. The penalty was a 10-place grid penalty in three different races.
Verstappen’s performance was nothing short of spectacular. Both the Mercedes and Red Bull Formula One teams expressed interest in signing him soon after. Verstappen had joined the Red Bull driving program by August. They recruited him to compete for their Toro Rosso junior squad in F1 in 2015 shortly after, before he had ever driven an F1 car.
Verstappen got his first genuine run in an F1 vehicle in September, earning the license he required to compete in a grand prix weekend for the first time. At the Japanese Grand Prix, he took part in the first practice session. In 2015, at the age of 17 years and 166 days, he became the youngest F1 driver ever.
After four races in the 2016 season, he was promoted to the Red Bull senior squad, fourteen months later. At the 2016 Spanish Grand Prix, he won for the first time.
When Verstappen won the 2016 Spanish Grand Prix, he was 18 years and 228 days old.
It’s difficult to convey to someone who isn’t familiar with motor racing how incredible it is for a driver to go from karting to a technical category like F3, with downforce and all the intricacies that entails, and perform as if he’s been doing it his whole life.
Drivers are expected to progress through the junior categories in a step-by-step manner. F3 is usually the second or third category they compete in, and many drivers spend more than a year in each one. Just the exceptional need only one year in each, never mind only one year in everything, to achieve F1.
“It’s only conceivable when you have an exceptional driver,” Van Amersfoort adds, “and we knew Max was like that from the start.” And, given Jos’ expertise, I can’t emphasize this enough.
“This isn’t your typical driver’s coach.” Jos was everything from the start, and we accepted that. We were well aware that our collective abilities were likely inferior than the Verstappens’ combined abilities. However, by working together, we were able to make it a success.
“We also had a debate. We were on the verge of a brawl. However, the year as a whole was fantastic.”
The 2014 F3 season was a triumph for Van Amersfoort, but it was also a hard one.
“According to the account, the Verstappen family is difficult to deal with,” he explains. “They have big hopes for the future. They don’t settle for second place, or even a year of study. They just want to be there from the start. They just want the best for themselves.”
Van Amersfoort recounts an event at the conclusion of that year to demonstrate Max’s tenacity and focus.
The F3 season concluded, as has been customary, with a race in Macau, China, in which all of the top drivers from different championships compete together on a fast and hazardous street circuit that draws adoration and amazement from drivers all over the globe.
The track at Macau is distinguished by a lengthy pit straight, where slipstreaming is a common occurrence, and a tight and hard back section, where the cars twist and turn through the city’s hills. It’s a course similar to Monaco, but considerably more challenging and quicker. Macau is also known for collisions during the race’s opening turn.
Macau should have been Max’s. He finished second in qualifying, which would have been an ideal starting position for the main event since he could slipstream the pole sitter down to the first turn. But his will to win triumphed over reasoning.
Van Amersfoort states, “Max was P2 in qualifying but he didn’t give up.” “In an attempt to win pole, he wrecked the bleeding automobile.” Max is his name.
“Then, as is customary in Macau, there was a pile-up in the main race on Sunday, and Max’s vehicle was seriously damaged.” The only option to keep going was to return to the starting grid, but the marshals all instructed him to get out because they intended to tow it away.
“He refused to go.” He remained in the automobile and was found hanging from a crane while it was being pulled out of the wreckage. He drove back to the grid on three wheels as soon as he was placed back on the circuit, and we were able to fix the vehicle. He came in eighth from the back of the pack.
“I’ve never seen anything like this great desire, this incredible internal determination to win, and I’ve seen a lot of racing drivers.”
At the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix, when Lewis Hamilton secured a critical win, Verstappen was named F1’s driver of the day.
Verstappen’s will to win has been evident throughout his Formula One career, partially due to his demeanor outside the vehicle, his straightforwardness, and his extreme singularity of purpose. But it’s also because of the way he drives.
Verstappen is known for his intense aggressiveness, which has been one of the defining characteristics of his duel with Hamilton this season. Even when other drivers might, he will not back down in a race because racing ethics dictate that he should.
If he’s on the inside, he’ll force the other driver wide; though he’s on the outside, he’ll turn in on them and compete, even if usual procedure would suggest they’ve won the corner and he should really yield. He races in this manner.
Jos claims that he “doesn’t know” where Max got his style. “”I don’t see anything different since he accomplished it in go-karts,” he adds. He’ll go for it when he sees the distance and has the sense he can overtake.”
Van Amersfoort, on the other hand, claims: “Jos was doing the same thing. Jos is the source of this information. We went to the stewards so many times in the F3 year, and it was always the same. Verstappen is unbeatable. They are unable to accept their defeat.”
Christian Horner, the Red Bull team principal who competed against Verstappen’s mother in karting, agrees: “That was something his father told him. His mother was a skilled racer. He inherited his father’s anger and his mother’s racing mind.”
However, not everything was handed on from father to son if that strategy was used.
“Max has Jos’ hard side and racing talents, but he also has his mother’s sociable side,” Van Amersfoort explains. Max is totally in the midst of his father and mother as a human being.
“He wouldn’t be a good racer if he was too kind, or if he was a little too Sophie. If he was too much like Jos, he’d be the same kind of racing driver as Jos, and there would have been tears at the end. He is, however, perfectly in the center.”
Jos’ son is Max. Jos aided him in his development as a driver. He isn’t, however, Jos.
Max has a reputation for being impatient with others. And he has a harsh side to him; in 2018, after having issues in each of the first six races of the season, he threatened to “headbutt someone” if media continued asking him why.
However, he varies from his father in terms of personality.
“When I put pressure on him, he’s always calm,” Jos explains. “‘OK, it’ll be OK, don’t worry,’ he said. And he’s still like that.”
“My father was occasionally concerned that I couldn’t be bothered or was too easygoing,” Max adds, “but I told him, ‘Dad, don’t worry.’” This is exactly how I enjoy it and how I approach a race weekend or getting into my zone.’
“He was still concerned about it up to F1, but he realized he couldn’t change that aspect of my training. My father is still more thrilled than I am about the start of the Formula One weekend. I receive so many emails from my father wondering about the weekend, and all I can say is, “I’ll find out when I get to the track.””
This was Max’s response in an interview this summer. I told Jos about it.
“The point is, he doesn’t feel the pressure,” Jos explains. “He doesn’t even consider it.”
“If my vehicle is quick enough to win a championship, I’ll win the championship,” he says. If not, I’ll come in second.’
“Everyone can see – and you can too – how talented he is. At the end of the day, all of the teams in the paddock want Max. That helps us feel at ease as well.”
Max has become a phenomenon in his own country of the Netherlands. For many years, races hosted in central Europe – in Belgium, Austria, and Hungary – have been thronged by Dutch supporters, all dressed in orange T-shirts and cheering for Verstappen with a zeal that rivals, if not exceeds, that demonstrated for Ferrari in Italy.
For the first time since 1985, the Dutch Grand Prix returned to the schedule this year, with a race staged at the famous coastal city of Zandvoort. It did so in order for the Dutch organizers and Formula One to profit from the Verstappen sensation. It went off without a hitch.
There was practically a nationwide celebration in honor of Verstappen for four days. Verstappen flags were hung across the little tourist town. In the midst of the epidemic, grandstands were crowded with as many spectators as the authorities would allow. From sunrise to night, house music was played at the track. Fans yelled Verstappen’s name and threw orange pyrotechnics in the air. And he rewarded them by taking the lead and winning convincingly.
“The Dutch people’s excitement for Max is remarkable,” Van Amersfoort remarks. “Our national football squad was backed by the whole Dutch population five years ago. All of these folks are now on Max’s side. They had completely forgotten about football.”
Why did he elicit such a response?
“”We Dutch don’t like the polished world champion,” Van Amersfoort remarks. The raw person struggling for it is one of our favorites. The bullfighters are a favorite of ours. The Verstappens are the same way.”
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