Red Bull Motorsports
Max Verstappen is not just having a good 2021, he’s having a phenomenal one. The 23-year-old Red Bull Racing driver has won six grand prix races so far this season, and is breathing down Lewis Hamilton’s neck for the No1 spot in what promises to be a thrilling racing season.
But the best way to understand a once-in-a-generation talent like this is to hear from those who know him best: his family, his team-mates, his coaches. These, combined with F1 experts including David Coulthard and Jess McFadyen, provide expert insight and personal stories about the life of Max Verstappen on the latest episode of Red Bull’s Beyond the Ordinary podcast, Becoming Max Verstappen, which explores how the driver arrived where he is, and where he’s heading next.
The podcast unveils some surprising and little-known facts about the world champion contender. Here, we reveal just a few of the most intriguing:
1. His dad put him in a go-kart aged four
Max’s dad and former F1 driver Jos Verstappen says that he had his son around engines from when he was barely a toddler. “Max was four and a half when I first stuck him in a go-kart. It wasn’t that nerve-wracking, as when he was two he was driving a quad bike, so he had experience with speed, how to steer. He’d done quite a lot of things before I put him in a go-kart.” By the time he was seven, Max was competing, and he’s been racing – and winning – competitions ever since.
2. While also showing him tough love…
As well as contributing the driving DNA, Max’s dad has been a huge influence on his son. Together, the pair covered about 80-100,000km per year for 10 years in his junior days, and Verstappen senior felt each result as intensely as Max. "In a 2012 world championship race, I crashed and lost the championship," says Max. "I was upset, but my dad was really, upset and disappointed. I had to pick up the go-kart off the side of the track as my dad said I had to do it myself. I wanted to talk to him about what had happened, but he did not want to talk to me. I kept trying, and at one point, at a gas station, he said, ‘Get out, I don’t want to talk to you anymore.’”
Fortunately, the pair can laugh about it now. “I knew his mum was a few kilometres behind,” laughs Jos. “It wasn’t that I was leaving him there on his own.”
I’d be getting ready for qualifying and looking at data, and Max would be playing FIFA or Call of Duty. I admire it, I wish I could be that relaxed.”
3. Max tried to bribe his driving instructor
Remarkably, the Dutch driver didn’t even have a driving licence when he began racing F1, as he was only 17 years old. “My driving instructor was very strict, which was good,” says Max. “I was prepared – I had caps and T-shirts ready in case someone needed to be bribed, but he didn’t take it!” This led to F1 bringing in a new ‘Verstappen’ rule – drivers had to be aged at least 18 to race.
4. He wears his seatbelt loosely
Max is known for his relaxed attitude, both on and off the track. Commentator and 13-time F1 GP winner David Coulthard reinforces this, saying, “Max mentioned to me that he doesn’t run his seatbelts particularly tight. He has the confidence to be free in the car, which I find remarkable. I wanted to be bolted to the car."
5. His team-mates cannot get their heads around how Max prepares before races
Max’s former Red Bull Racing team-mate Alex Albon says that Max has a lot of self-confidence, but it’s not to be confused with arrogance. “There are times when I’m getting ready for qualifying races, and looking at data or whatever, and Max is playing FIFA or Call of Duty. I admire it, I wish I could be that relaxed.”
6. During his first F1 win, he gave his dad a nosebleed
Max recounts the time he made history by winning his F1 debut race, in Spain aged just 18. “I started cramping with five laps to go, just with the excitement and the focus,” he says, recalling the final moments in the car. “It was crazy. There was a lot of pressure. My dad’s nose started bleeding. I can’t even imagine how it was sitting in the driver’s room watching the final laps unfold."
7. His Dutch supporters are hardcore
Dutch pro BMXer and Red Bull athlete Twan van Gendt is a huge Verstappen fan and reveals that most of his country feels the same way. “If you go to the local gas station you will definitely see something with Max on in every single place in the Netherlands. And if you’re watching TV and there’s a commercial, 70% of the time you’ll see Max. I think 95% of the people in Holland know who he is.”
McFadyen adds that the Dutch fans have been waiting for a long time to have a driver that they could get behind. “They turn up at races in HGVs with jacuzzis and double beds. They’re there to party. As soon as Max arrived, the Dutch army now have a hero to get behind."
“It’s the Dutch way of supporting,” says Van Gendt. “It’s like coming together to watch the soccer or watch Max Verstappen – it’s the same level.”
8. He can switch off his brain to distractions
Albon says that he admires the way Max appears to not be able to feel things that make most drivers uncomfortable during races. “For instance, the wind or instability when driving the car. Max seems to be able to switch off his brain when it comes to that side of racing.”
Coulthard agrees. “When we hear Max laughing and joking on the radio [during races], that can confuse some people. The fact you’re doing 200mph is not where your mind is focused. It’s focused on a series of decisions. If you’re on a circuit with 15 corners, you have 15 decisions to make each minute and a half. It’s actually not that much. The bits in between that’s the time to hang out and enjoy the scenery. That’s when Max can compartmentalise what’s happening, what he’s doing and what he’d like to share with his engineer.”
9. He has made Lewis Hamilton up his game
This is the first season the pair are going properly wheel to wheel, creating a tense head-to-head battle that hasn’t been seen for years. As Verstappen seemingly improves with every GP, Mercedes’ Hamilton is clearly upping his game. “Lewis has a proper title fight on his hands, which he hasn’t had before,” says Albon. "You see him going to the simulator much more now. Mercedes has had to go into second gear and focus on the championship more than they’ve had to before. It’s Lewis who has had to look for the bit extra rather than Max. There’s a lot of respect between them, but Max is unfazed by whole the situation.”
10. There's no ceiling to what he can achieve
Most experts are clear in one point: Max’s future is bright, and he’s nowhere near the pinnacle. “Max will be remembered as one of the best Formula One drivers of his age,” says McFadyen. “He’s such a magic talent.”
“There’s no doubt he will win a world title,” adds Coulthard. “Only the racing gods can get in the way of Max being crowned world champion.”
Listen in full to Becoming Max Verstappen by clicking below