For many drivers, Formula 1 is all-consuming. But not for Max Verstappen.
“Sometimes people take F1 too seriously, like it’s a life or death situation, thinking ‘If I don’t make it to Formula 1, my life is over’ or something,” Red Bull’s Verstappen said in a response. interview.
“That was never the case for me and never will be. I’m very happy to be in Formula 1 now, but even if I wasn’t I would still be doing something else, racing related things to have fun, to have fun.”
That underlines his calm attitude towards not only his life, but also his first serious challenge for the Formula 1 driver’s title.
Ahead of the Turkish Grand Prix in October, Verstappen surprised many when he said that if he didn’t win the championship this year, finishing second would not change his life.
“I know if my car is fast enough until the end of the season I will win the championship, but if it isn’t then we probably won’t win it,” said Verstappen, who is Dutch. “In the end, it won’t change my world.
“Of course the goal, the dream is always to win the championship, but you have to be a bit lucky, you have to have the right car to drive at the right time of the season or throughout the season.”
Verstappen has maintained his philosophical, grounded approach from an early age. He doesn’t rely on a psychologist or other wellness experts to channel his energy, like some other drivers do. It comes naturally.
“I love what I do in F1 and I always try to do my best, but there is no extra pressure,” said Verstappen. “I would say if you have a good car it takes even more pressure off.
“It means you can go into a weekend knowing you can get a good result. I think that makes me very calm.”
Verstappen’s relaxed attitude to winning is aided by the fact that he drives one of the best cars for one of the best teams in Formula 1. It has helped Verstappen win eight Grands Prix and a 12-point lead over Lewis Hamilton from Mercedes to open with five races remaining. The first is next weekend in Mexico.
The season has been turbulent at times, with Verstappen involved in high profile incidents with Hamilton. The first was at the British Grand Prix where they touched the wheels causing Verstappen to run into a barrier at 180mph.
In the Italian Grand Prix they collided, with Verstappen’s car ending up on top of Hamilton’s.
“Yeah, I had to pull out of certain scenarios with Max because we crash differently, and I’m like, ‘I’ll beat him in a different way,'” Hamilton told ESPN last month.
“I know he will probably learn from the experience, as will I. I can’t expect things to change, so I’ll just try to put myself in a better position to move forward, and that’s all I can control in my space.”
After that accident, three-time champion Sir Jackie Stewart described Verstappen as the fastest man on the grid, but he is “still slightly in the puppy stage”.
This is Verstappen’s seventh season in Formula 1 and he has competed in 136 Grands Prix after becoming the youngest ever driver in the sport in 2015 at 17 years and 166 days. He is now 24.
“I always respect Sir Jackie’s opinion, but I think Max has shown great maturity this year,” said Red Bull team principal Christian Horner. “Of course you are always evolving, always learning. I’m sure Sir Jackie made a few mistakes in his day.
“That’s the journey of life, you learn from every experience, and when you see the progression from a 17-year-old, when he got into Formula 1, to the driver he is today, it’s pretty impressive.”
Toto Wolff, the team principal of Mercedes, Red Bull’s biggest competitor, also said he was impressed by Verstappen.
“Obviously Max doesn’t drive for Mercedes, so I don’t know him very well, but his trajectory is impressive, not only with his speed but also with the way he handles the weekends,” he said.
Verstappen started karts when he was 4. With his father, Jos, a former Formula 1 driver, accompanying him, he became world karting champion at the age of 15. Less than two years later he was driving in Formula 1.
Verstappen of course mentions his father as his biggest source of inspiration.
“I wouldn’t be here now without him,” said Verstappen. “What he did for me from a young age was very important for me to be as prepared as I am now.
“We had a lot of moments together in karting, of course, we traveled all over Europe. He prepared everything for me with the go-karts, adjusted my engine. It was a real father-and-son job to achieve the goal of being in Formula 1 together. ”
The goal was reached in 2014 when, a month before his 17th birthday, it was announced that he would drive for Toro Rosso next year.
There were difficult moments early on. Verstappen crashed into a barrier at his first Monaco Grand Prix in 2015 and was sometimes criticized by his fellow drivers for his aggressive driving.
Charlie Whiting, the sport’s race director at the time, met with Verstappen in 2016 to warn him that he risked getting “a bad name for himself” if he didn’t curb his aggressive driving style.
Verstappen’s talent has always overshadowed his teammates. Sergio Perez is his fourth at Red Bull.
Pérez said: “It is not easy to be Verstappen’s teammate, because he is one with the car.” Verstappen, he said, had “no obvious” weaknesses.
“He really performs at a very high level,” said Pérez. “Max is the driver of the season so far. He made the fewest mistakes of anyone, putting things together at a very high level.
“I’m surprised, in a very positive way.”
The obvious progression would have Verstappen beat Hamilton and win the championship this year. Despite Verstappen’s comment that a second-place finish wouldn’t change his world, he said he would be “disappointed” if he didn’t win with the fastest car.
Verstappen said he had to “maximize everything every weekend”, and that he “still has to be perfect” to beat Hamilton, even if the Red Bull car is the fastest.
“It’s all about the little details that can make a big difference,” said Verstappen. “It’s everyone’s overall focus, pit stops, the setup work and the prep before going into a weekend.”
If all that comes together, he will finally become Formula 1 champion.
“It’s a dream from when I was a little kid, along with my father, to get into Formula 1 in the first place and then try to fight for a title,” said Verstappen.
“It would certainly mean a lot if we could win it.”