Currently reading: Autocar meets... Max Verstappen
Max Verstappen was only 17 when he debuted in Formula 1. Now he’s ready to win a world championship. We sit down with the Dutchman
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10 mins read
11 December 2019

It’s a hectic time for Max Verstappen, the brightest emerging superstar in Formula 1. He has just completed his first century of grands prix – almost unbelievably, given that he only recently turned 22 – and when we meet is preparing to fly out to Brazil, where he will deliver an unexpected and impressive pole-to-victory performance. All this while assisting the experts working away at the ultra-modern, super-slick Red Bull Racing factory in Milton Keynes on plans for the 2020 season, when the de facto Honda works squad will look to take its first championship since the end of the V8 era back in 2013.

Speaking to Autocar to announce a sponsorship deal with CarNext, a Europe-wide digital marketplace for used cars (there’s no better marketing tool for any Dutch company right now than the country’s first-ever F1 race winner), could understandably be seen by Verstappen as a distraction. But he strolls in right on time and immediately starts laughing and joking. As seriously as he takes motorsport (he quickly confesses that he’s never bought a car online, instead mostly placing orders for additions to his simulator set-up at home), Verstappen is very amicable away from the track and more than happy to answer questions with a wry smile or a wisecrack – and is open and honest (maybe) in sharing his opinions his ambitions.

Have you achieved what you wanted to this year?

“I want to win championships, of course, so in that respect, probably no. But you also have to look at the circumstances, and I think it has been a good, exciting season. Especially at the beginning, when we had a really good run, with consistent results – top fives for a long time, some nice victories, some nice podiums. So I’m definitely happy. Every year so far, I can say to myself that I improved and became better. I always want to set the bar high, so I always want to improve; even a victory can be done in a better way. A lot of people would celebrate a victory, like it cannot be better than this, but I always try to find things that I can do better. My dad has been a big part of that; he would say: ‘Yeah, we won, but we could have won better, there were a few mistakes.’ He’s always been quite hard on me, and now because of that, I do it myself. Back in the day, I would disagree with it, but I now I think that it’s a big help.”

Where do you draw the line between respect for other drivers and achieving results?

“Sometimes you have to be aggressive, sometimes not. You have to adapt to the situation, so over time you make mistakes; everybody makes mistakes, otherwise it’s better to put a robot in the car. It’s good to make mistakes as well, because you learn from it. And in racing especially, when you’re on the limit, on the edge, it’s easy to make a mistake.”

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Are you honest when you speak to the media?

“I’m probably too honest and too straightforward. I’m not a robot outside the car, and I’m happy about that; it’s just the way I was brought up. Sometimes it can work against you, but I see the positives of it.”

How deep is your rivalry with Charles Leclerc?

“It’s no different to anyone else. I’ve known him longer than other people, and I’ve raced him for a longer time. He’s a great driver, a big talent, and for him it’s a big opportunity to be in Ferrari, and I expect to fight him still for a very long time, because we are still very young. It’s good for the sport as well to have the young guys coming up and hopefully taking over, because it’s getting a bit boring seeing Lewis win; we have to try and change that with all the young guys!”

Do you get the sense of being at the end of an era? That you and Charles Leclerc are at the right point in history, and that Lewis Hamilton’s reign could end quite soon?

“I mean, Lewis is getting older; he’s [approaching] 35 now, so [his reign] will stop at one point. But it’s just going to depend on the team, to be honest. It’s not going to depend on Lewis. Because if Mercedes keeps building really dominant cars, then for sure he’s going to win. So we have to just make sure as a team that we can beat them. In Formula 1, you’re very dependent on your car.”

There are rumours that you could replace Valtteri Bottas at Mercedes, and that Sebastian Vettel could rejoin Red Bull in the future. Would you like to drive with Sebastian, or are you tempted by Mercedes?

“I’m really happy where I am at the moment, and I really want to win with Red Bull. They brought me into Formula 1, so there was this kind of loyalty to them. I think we’re over that phase, but still I’m really happy where I am. I really enjoy working with them; it’s a great group of people. I feel at home, which is also really important for a driver, that you feel appreciated. Everybody is really motivated so, for me, I don’t want to change.”

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What are your opinions on the new rules that have been announced for 2021?

“Probably the cars will be quite a lot slower – four or five seconds [per lap]. For me, it’s probably a bit too slow, because at the moment I think the cars are great to drive. But if it will help overtaking and excitement in general, for us it’s a lot better, because some races are just not great; you’re just following. Also, the looks [of the cars] I don’t really care about, as long as we have good racing.”

And it’s an opportunity for Red Bull to leapfrog Mercedes and Ferrari?

“First we’ll try to do that with these regulations for the final year [in 2020], and of course then you set your sights to the new rules. Hopefully things will change.”

What’s your opinion on the future possibility of having 25 races per season?

“Too busy. I love racing, but it’s just too much. I think it’s much better to focus on the best races out there, to have 20 really good races rather than 25, with perhaps 18 really good ones and seven that are not so popular.”

How about your home grand prix at Zandvoort, which returns to the calendar next year for the first time since 1985? Do you think it will be too cramped for F1?

“I think there will be a lot of orange! It will be a very busy weekend, but in a way it’s great. Some Dutch people have never really had a chance to go to Formula 1, so when it’s that close by, it’s a great opportunity. And Formula 1 has been away for a really long time in the Netherlands, so hopefully it’ll also help others to come along, so that in maybe 10 or 15 years’ time there’s another Dutch driver, when I’m getting old, so that I can retire and somebody else can take over.”

What do you think about the absence of Hockenheim from the calendar next year now that the German GP has been dropped?

“I do miss it. I think it would have been really nice to have a race in Germany; there’s so much history there as well, and so many car brands. I have good memories from racing there as a junior as well. It’s a really big loss for Formula 1.”

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Last year, you said that Lewis is nothing special…

“No, I didn’t say it like that. He is special. For sure.”

…Okay, but how do you see in general Lewis, Charles and Sebastian Vettel?

“All three are great drivers, but in a different way. Everybody has their own style, and I didn’t say that Lewis is nothing special. He’s definitely one of the best drivers ever in Formula 1. But, like I said before, you are very dependent on your car, so for example if Fernando [Alonso] was in that car, he also would have won championships. Sometimes, you’re lucky in a way, because you join a team and then suddenly they become so dominant, and you win your championships. But sometimes, like unfortunately with Fernando, you go to teams at the wrong time and you don’t win, but that doesn’t mean you aren’t a good driver. With Fernando, I feel he is one of the best also.”

Have you made peace with Lewis [they collided at Turn 1 in Mexico]?

“Well, I never really had problems. We talked on the grid [at the following US Grand Prix]. I respect Lewis, of course, but we’re hard racers, and sometimes it can be a bit tough. But yeah, we talked and it’s all good.”

Do you have a lot of confidence for 2020?

“We are very confident, but of course we have to work hard, and we know that we have to improve. That’s why you see me here in the factory; I have my simulator day, but I was also going over a lot of things to bring new ideas to the team.”

And what do you expect next year from Red Bull’s engine partner, Honda?

“More power! The reliability has been really good this year, we’ve never retired because of a problem from their side. So for them, I think this season has been a breakthrough. Of course we had some victories already; they were really happy with that, I think it was a big boost for the whole company, and they’re very motivated. I think we’re on the right path, and when you see the engine power compared to Mercedes and Renault, we’re very close to Mercedes now, so that’s of course very promising for next year.”

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Your career has progressed so quickly…

“Yes, looking back at my debut with Toro Rosso, it’s almost as if I don’t really remember those first test days, you know? It has all been really quick, but luckily in a positive way; I’m still 22 and in my fifth year in Formula 1, on 100 races, so I can’t complain. But of course you get used to the situation, and now I just want more, to do more races, but also I want to win, and I want to win championships. Honestly, I don’t really think about [the past] any more. But when you look back on it, there are nice memories. I’m almost an old-timer at 22!”

What’s the best advice you ever received from your father [ex-F1 driver Jos Verstappen]?

“He gave me a lot of tips – good and bad! Always stay with two feet on the ground, be yourself. Yeah, that is the most important: be yourself, don’t change. Obviously you get older and naturally do change a little bit, but always remember who your real friends are. That was good advice. Be careful, too. But we love racing, you know, and racing can still be a lot safer than driving through the city.”

Casualties of Red Bull

Max Verstappen, Sebastian Vettel, Daniel Ricciardo, Mark Webber… they all soared on Red Bull’s Formula 1 wings. But the roster of those who plummeted after racing for the energy drinks brand is longer. Remember these names?

Christian Klien: The Austrian drove for Jaguar before Red Bull bought and renamed the team. Scored 11 points in two seasons (2005-06) before losing his seat.

Vitantonio Liuzzi: Highly rated Formula 3000 champion who raced for both Red Bull in 2005 and sister Toro Rosso team in 2006-07, but shone more for Force India in 2010.

Scott Speed: A rare American in F1, but he failed to live up to his great name in 2006 and ’07 at Toro Rosso. Replaced mid-season by some chap called Vettel.

Sebastien Bourdais: Four-time Indycar champion who deserves to be better remembered in F1 terms. The trouble was he found himself teamed with that man Vettel at Toro Rosso.

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Jaime Alguersuari: Replaced Bourdais mid-2009 to become F1’s youngest GP starter (until Max Verstappen came along). Lasted three seasons at Toro Rosso, then left motor racing to become a DJ…

Sebastien Buemi: Team-mate to Alguersuari and another to fall through the cracks. Has since turned his significant talents to Le Mans success with Toyota and Formula E in which he won the title in 2015-16.

Jean-Eric Vergne: Like Buemi, deserved better from F1. After Toro Rosso, he’s reinvented himself in sports car racing and is Formula E’s current double champion with DS Techeetah.

READ MORE

Has Max Verstappen grown too big for his boots?

New power generation: The young drivers making their mark on motorsport

Why Leclerc must be prioritised at Ferrari

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Comments
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11 December 2019

Looking forward to him competing in the same car as GOAT Lewis 'The King' Hamilton!  Be amazed if he doesn't join in 2021!

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