Red Bull Motorsports
An F1 winner at 18, Verstappen took multiple race victories every year following that Barcelona breakthrough but had to content himself with being an occasional stone in the shoe of reigning world champions Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes, who won title after title despite the Dutchman's starring cameos. But that was then.
Listen to Becoming Max Verstappen on Beyond the Ordinary:
Already, there's enough evidence to suggest the 2021 Formula One season is something entirely different. For the first time in eight years, the champs have a genuine challenger snapping at their heels – and with Verstappen leading the charge, Red Bull Racing Honda is perfectly placed to scale the sport's summit.
But who is Verstappen and how did he get to this moment? The answers – courtesy of drivers, teammates, journalists, fans, those closest to him and Max himself – come in Becoming Max Verstappen, the latest instalment of Red Bull's Beyond the Ordinary podcast series.
Verstappen's rapid rise owes itself to a potent mixture of impeccable bloodlines, undeniable talent, a ferociously competitive nature, unshakeable belief and dogged work ethic.
From driving quad bikes at the age of two, go-karts at four and racing – and winning – at age seven, success in motorsport felt preordained. Now, seven seasons into his F1 career and still just 23 years of age, the ultimate prize sits within his grasp.
"We grew up racing together in karting, we had a couple of fights on track, but it was always at the top, the fast kid that you want to beat," says Gasly.
"He's just a great competitor. He's very dedicated towards the goal we all have in common."
It's that hunger for competition that has thrust Verstappen into a starring role in an F1 season that, so far, has simply fizzed with electricity.
"2021 has been a fantastic season for Formula One, it has seen two rival teams and two rival drivers at the top of their game going wheel-to-wheel," says 13-time F1 race-winner David Coulthard.
"This is a classic period of Formula One. When we've had these titanic battles in the past, they might come along once a decade or once every 20 years, but when it happens it's a wonderful thing to be able to witness two greats go toe-to-toe."
Becoming Max Verstappen details the Dutch driver's rise from karting prodigy to competing in his first F1 practice session at the 2014 Japanese Grand Prix for Scuderia Toro Rosso – just one week after his 17th birthday. Soon after, things really took off, with top-three finishing positions in the world championship coming in 2019 and 2020. Already, 2021 has been his most successful season to date and Max is primed for the grandest prize of all.
"I'm just waiting to have a chance to fight for it. I'm just looking forward to having that shot," he says.
And when that shot comes, former Red Bull Racing Honda driver and junior rival Alex Albon says we shouldn't expect anything different in his approach.
"There are times when it's time for qualifying, I was getting ready looking at data and he's playing FIFA or playing Call of Duty," Albon laughs.
"I admire it! I wish I could be that relaxed."
Becoming Max Verstappen is detailing what Verstappen has achieved and how he's achieved it – and, for excited F1 fans the world over, it provides an insight into what he might do next.
"There's no doubt that it's just a question of when Max becomes world champion," says Coulthard.
"He's a driver that you don't want to take your eyes off when he goes out on track, because you know he's going to do something special."