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How Max Verstappen became one of Formula 1’s most infallible champions

The secret of the rise of Max Verstappen, two-time F1 world champion and current title holder, from a young boy with a supernatural talent for racing to one of the strongest drivers in motor racing history.

Max Verstappen, towards the end of his first season in Formula 1 in which he became, at the age of 17, the youngest driver to compete in the top motor racing championship, returned home to northern Belgium to take the practical test required to obtain his driving licence. From the age of seven onwards he had triumphed in every racing category, yet he was in no hurry to get behind the wheel of a normal car. A paradoxical situation bordering on the ridiculous. He took advantage of a short break in the 2015 calendar to take the test before flying back to a series of races in Asia. 'The driving instructor was really very strict,' he told me recently. "Nothing wrong with that, because that's how it should be!" he clarifies. "I wasn't nervous, but I was thinking, 'I absolutely must pass this test'. I felt a bit of pressure."

In the end, Verstappen passed the driving test but risked failing because of an offence that could have been fatal to him: he did not respect the right of way. "Yeah, I didn't give right of way twice," he confesses with a hearty laugh.

Since his beginnings on the track, Max has become renowned for an aggressiveness that is always taken to the limit, in a charming or exasperating way, depending on which side of the paddock you belong to. "Max's best form of defence is attack," Red Bull Racing team manager Christian Horner likes to point out. His main opponent of recent seasons, seven-time world champion Lewis Hamilton, gave a slightly different definition: 'For Max it's do or die. You either crash or you don't overtake him'. In other words: Max does not give way. Never. "I think he always pushes himself to the limit and maybe beyond," the British champion added.

'I don't think it's possible to go fast if you have fear inside,' Verstappen confided last year. And it is precisely the lack of fear that explains his tactical advantage and his recent dominance that includes two world championships in 2021 and 2022.

At 25 years of age, he is the driver who has won more Grands Prix than any other but five sacred monsters in Formula 1 history. So we can comfortably say that he is already one of the best six ever behind Hamilton, Schumacher, Vettel, Prost and Senna. He can win starting from any position on the grid and not only when he is in the lead group or in pole position. It is precisely in those moments when he is forced to chase his rivals that his ability to calculate the most opportune trajectories is enhanced to spectacular levels.

The feeling that he is inevitably destined to overtake those in front of him, almost by decree of fate, has contributed to the paroxysmal idea of being faced with an invincible driver. It may even lead one to believe that Verstappen, Horner and Red Bull have in this alleged divine design the referees on their side to exploit even the slightest advantage. Hence, motoring fans can indulge in speculation that in 2015, despite the offences committed during the driver's licence test, Max managed to get away with it thanks to his small talk. "I argued that the other cars were still quite far away and there was no point in stopping," he explains with a smile. "The instructor replied, 'OK, I'll give you that one!'"

Max Verstappen Net Worth

Recently, Max and I met in person in the midst of another dizzying series of sporting engagements, across continents and oceans. Max understandably needed something to cheer him up. We were at Red Bull Racing's headquarters in Milton Keynes, England, where there are Red Bulls available by the dozen at all cardinal points. Something obvious or perhaps absurd, but someone offered Max one and he accepted on the condition that it was 'very cold'. Seeing Max Verstappen drink Red Bull answers the first question pinned to my notebook.

Up close, he is taller than most drivers and stands almost six feet tall. He stands up straight with a composed, stern and serious facial expression. Two icy blue eyes and naturally tight lips contribute to his reputation as a cold-blooded killer. Very cold. In fact, he also has a ready laugh, provided there is time. A rare circumstance. The F1 2022 season lasted from February to November, spanning 22 races and around 240 hours of air travel for everyone involved in the international championship. Max, who grew up across the border in the Netherlands, has always raced under the Dutch flag like his father before him, but since turning 18, the day after passing the aforementioned driving licence test, he has been living in Monte Carlo. I spent most of the year following the routes of his private jet on the map, from Monte Carlo to Milton Keynes for weekend races and back. The pace is insane.

On the track and in the pits, being interviewed by a throng of race journalists or reacting to those crowding around him as he strolls through the paddock of any Grand Prix, Max often appears unflappable to outside events. It doesn't matter if he has just won a race, crashed his car, or is in the midst of some controversy. He knows how to deal with moments of difficulty and battle without generally showing excessive enthusiasm, as if he had been instructed to behave as if he cared about something more important. This is another obvious aspect of his competitive edge. In sport, there is great enthusiasm and at the same time a surprising coldness. There are those who reach the summit in disbelief of their victory and those who consider it a predetermined destiny not worth emphasising.

Max's arrival at the summit was validated at the 2021 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, the last race of last season, a sporting event for which 108 million people around the world tuned in. The season had been characterised by a hard-fought duel of rare tension in F1 history. The rival line-ups, Red Bull/Horner/Verstappen versus Mercedes/Toto Wolff/Hamilton, had been violently attacking each other throughout the entire year. Verstappen and Hamilton clashed on three different occasions. In the second half of the season, Horner and Wolff spent seemingly every waking moment of every press conference fighting a public relations war against each other, intent on weaving the public narrative and generally complaining non-stop. The amount of grievances and grumbling produced was not particularly sporting on either side. This is precisely the context in which the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix was contested. During the race there was no shortage of little moments between Max and Lewis that led to one or the other exclaiming over the radio how, once again, the stewards were always refereeing in favour of their opponent.

Earlier that summer, about a third of the way through the season, I had asked Max what he expected from the rest of the year. He was optimistic. Despite being the youngest driver ever to win a Grand Prix, specifically at the age of 18 in his debut race with Red Bull, 2021 was the first time he had a car capable of winning a championship. Formula 1 is much more a team sport than an individual one because much of the performance is determined by the design, tuning and maintenance of the car on which designers and mechanics work continuously between races.

"To have the certainty of being able to go into a race weekend with a probability of victory that gets higher and higher from week to week is a fulfilling feeling," Max told me in June 2021. "Hopefully from this conversation onwards, you win a lot more until you finish the season on top."

Max Verstappen Net Worth

"To have the certainty of being able to go into a race weekend with a probability of victory that gets higher and higher from week to week is a fulfilling feeling," Max told me in June 2021. "Hopefully from this conversation onwards, you win a lot more until you finish the season on top."

During the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, Hamilton and Mercedes were gaining a significant lead and were practically within one step of clinching yet another title. It could have been Hamilton's eighth world championship that would have set a new record. Recently, I asked Max if there was ever a moment in Abu Dhabi, with 10, 8, 7… laps to go, when he allowed himself to accept defeat. "Yes, I thought I might not win," he replied. "I kept pushing until the end though, you know how it is. Even if it hadn't worked out, it would still have been a great season."

What happened next is familiar to motor racing fans and probably also to sports fans who have never seen an F1 Grand Prix. With five laps to go, another car crashed and the yellow flag came out. The drivers were obliged to slow down behind the safety car, so all the cars approached and even though overtaking is forbidden they occupied the empty spaces. Without going into the puzzling and controversial complexities of what did and did not happen, the race director only allowed the race to resume for one lap with Verstappen stuck behind Hamilton. The Dutchman of Red Bull had new tyres: a huge advantage in view of a sprint. When the race resumed, he had only one overtake before the finish line.

Like Max, I don't show much enthusiasm during tense sporting moments. However, I will never forget leaping to my feet and screaming at the television set because of what I was witnessing. The situation of extreme tension that preceded that moment was something never seen in sport.

Suddenly, the teams, drivers, announcers and fans realised that the duel that had lasted an entire season would end in only one way. Then, in about 99 seconds, it was over! It was an amazing feeling. There is no doubt that Hamilton managed to verbalise the thoughts of many of the hundreds of millions of spectators stunned by the final outcome when he radioed his team: "This race has been manipulated!" Verstappen, meanwhile, let out a scream that resonated as a pure exorcism of the ruthless 24 years of total commitment, dedication, torment and pleasure that had brought him to the instant of that incredible victory.

"It was a great emotion," he told me recently. "You review like in a flashback a lot of things that happened in the past years. I'm not the type to get too excited, but the comeback lap was really exciting."

After stopping the car, turning off the engine, unbuckling the seatbelts and taking off the steering wheel, Max went straight to one person in particular. I asked him if he remembered what his father said to him as he banged his forehead against his son's helmet and shouted in his ear. "Yes," he replied. "He told me, 'We did it!'"

Max Verstappen Net Worth

That implied 'we' is in many ways the basis of most of the relationships between father and son, particularly in this story. A bond that was established from the very beginning and for them was inextricably welded the moment Max climbed aboard a racing car.

Jos Verstappen, Formula 1 driver between 1994 and 2003, was known as an aggressive driver who made too many mistakes and was often unlucky. In his career he achieved two podiums and no wins. When the turn came for his eldest son, the plan from day one was to build a driver with all the positives of that fearless style without the smears, inaccuracies and the possibility of allowing fate to take a negative turn. Jos can be compared to someone who learns a second language at an advanced age but wants his child to speak it perfectly. "As soon as he was done with Formula 1," Max tells me, "he basically dedicated the rest of his career to making me a better and faster person than him.

At the age of two, little Verstappen was driving a quad bike, at four a go-kart and at seven he was racing on the track. Between the ages of seven and 11, he says, he won 68 or 69 of the 70 races he entered. It is a record linked to a very intense parental relationship, which is not uncommon in the racing world, as many former drivers get their children into the same sport as them and help them to have brilliant results right away. As I suggest to Max, many former drivers try to replicate their success through their children and none of them become Max Verstappen. Why is that? "I think it's pretty simple," Max reflects. 'Yes, a lot of drivers have tried, but I think my dad went much further than that.'

Normally, he explains, a father would entrust most of the real work on the kart to a team, sticking around to give encouragement and offer advice. After retiring, Jos devoted himself full-time to Max's go-kart racing. He was the mechanic, the expert who tuned his engine, the driver and his coach. "A lot of drivers, although they are very good professionals, don't have a lot of knowledge on how to assemble a go-kart or build an engine," he explains. "They all do what they can, based on their own experience, to try to support their children, and of course they will always try to drive them as best they can. Our approach was much more extreme than the others. We did everything ourselves… We were not dependent on anyone."

When Max was 12, his parents separated: his younger sister went to live with his mother and he stayed with his father. An optimal situation had been created to focus on the one thing that was worth polarising their lives on. Max went to school Monday to Friday, meanwhile Jos worked in the home workshop from the time he dropped his son off at school until the time they spent at the track in the afternoons and often, again, after dinner, extending the hours to nine or ten o'clock at night, says Verstappen. On weekends, they would load a customised Sprinter van with space for four go-karts, toolboxes and a bed in the back. This is how they would make the long journey from northern Belgium to southern Europe, most often to Italy. Max remembers that on Fridays, just an hour after school let out, they would be in the van where he would spend hours playing PSP, admiring the scenery or asphyxiating his dad, 'asking him a million questions until he told me to shut up'. Sometimes all he did was sleep in the back seat. After a 10-hour drive through the night, he would wake up in the morning, an hour early, ready to race. Max estimates that during those karting seasons in Europe he travelled at least 80,000 kilometres per year.

Max Verstappen Net Worth

In preparation for the track races, Jos and Max prepared a little differently. While the other kids did their practice laps and then went off to play, Jos would call Max back to the garage: "I still played and had a lot of fun, but I also needed to understand the seriousness of what we were doing, because we were working together to achieve a goal. Of course, from the age of 7 to 11 the collaboration intensified a lot and he also wanted me to be there to see what he was doing. Do you notice a break somewhere? Is there a problem with the go-kart? I used to watch him take it apart and put it back together so that I could understand the mechanics of the vehicle. He tried to explain every technical detail to me because he wanted me to understand that this was not a joke and we were not there just to have fun. We were committed to the task of getting to the top. That kind of attitude marked the difference, Max points out, between him and his opponents. "I was simply very focused, in the sense that there was a very professional attitude about it. It's a mentality that undoubtedly comes from my father, because if it wasn't for him, I would also have been running around here and there playing and having fun. I needed that kind of push."

When Max first started attracting the attention of Formula One teams, managers in the industry were attracted by the determination, commitment and great maturity he had developed from a very young age. Helmut Marko, head of the Red Bull driver development programme, says that when he meets young drivers, he often only needs 20 or 30 minutes to assess them. With Verstappen, whom he met at the age of 16, he spoke for roughly a couple of hours. When I ask Max about that first meeting, he still remembers it. "I'm a real motor racing fan. I know all kinds of races perfectly and that helps a lot when answering questions,' he says. "Dad had instilled in me that I should also know my sponsors well: what they do, what they are involved in, how many employees they have, the number of their workshops."

The story reminds me of an anecdote that 23-year-old McLaren driver Lando Norris told about his first meeting with Marko in 2016. Norris had just won a pole position in a junior championship in Monte Carlo and Marko invited him on the Red Bull boat in Monte Carlo harbour. After fooling around for a while, the manager asked the driver if he knew how much his single-seater weighed. Norris, frankly, had no idea. "Well, Max would know," Marko replied, according to Norris. "Max knows everything about the car."

The build-from-scratch approach of Formula One's greatest driver is not without its complications, of course. Emmanuel Agassi, Earl Woods, Richard Williams and LaVar Ball are fathers who set out to create champions and have succeeded magnificently. Although they are loved by their children, they are regarded with a certain distrust by those outside their family shell, due to the rigour of so many of their educational choices and the boldness with which they decided to pursue their dreams.

In this sense, Jos Verstappen is no different. Through extraordinary commitment and total devotion, he has given his son the opportunity to reportedly earn $50 million a year, drive the most extraordinary racing cars on earth and ascend to the top of an international sport. Yet, the protagonist of this superhuman feat left a trail of trouble behind him.

Max Verstappen Net Worth

On and off the track, reports of alleged assaults or violence have occasionally surfaced, most notably an incident in 1998 at a karting circuit in Belgium where a 45-year-old man ended up with a fractured skull. Jos and his father, Frans, were found guilty of assault and each received a five-year suspended prison sentence after reaching an out-of-court settlement with the victim.

Jos was a passionate manager and convinced about his son's real career possibilities; therefore, their relationship was marked by seriousness during the days of karting. It is in this context that some of the most peculiar and indicative stories of Max's adolescence take place.

For example, one dating back to 2012: Max was a 14-year-old during most of that year's season and had moved up to the 'shifter' category of karting, the first division with a multi-speed transmission. Jos's best friend had three children, two of whom were older than Max. He used to train them, Max told me, so that I would be better prepared when I moved up in category. 

In 2012, Jos had built the best car and the question was not so much whether Max would win the last race of the season, but by how much, says the driver. Max started slowly. He had to overtake the competitor in the lead, so he chased him too early and in a foolishly aggressive manner until he crashed. "In fact, I fucked up," he recalls thoughtfully. "I misjudged the spot on the circuit where I wanted to overtake the driver in the lead and chose one that was too risky. I could have waited another lap or two, I would have passed him no problem, I would have done it. In reality, it went badly. I crashed. That was it, no world championship."


It was a mistake that stayed with him and still influences his driving style during F1 races today. That day became memorable for Max because of what happened on the journey home. 

"My father invested every physical and mental energy over the years to get to that point. Everything had to be ready to seize the opportunity. And that's why he was so angry,' he recalls. In the van, 'I kept trying to start a conversation with him about why I had done it and what I thought about the situation. At one point he warned me: 'Max, if you don't shut up I'm going to throw you out'. Of course, I didn't think he would do that. So I kept arguing, trying to talk to him. At the next service station he stopped and said, 'Get out!'" Max chuckles. Then the father thundered again: 'Out!' The boy got out and called his mother, who had come to Italy for the race and had left the circuit after them. Eventually, however, it was Jos who came back for him. "So we drove home for 17 hours, without speaking. We ate, ignoring each other. Fortunately, he paid the bill".

At home, Max imagined himself back to the usual routine, with Jos in the workshop while he was at school. "Instead, we didn't speak for something like a whole week," he recalls. "He was so angry and at the same time refused to talk to me. I felt terrible about a situation for which I was responsible. Yet, in a way, that silence also helped me a lot, because I started to think more about the consequences of the negative outcome of a race and how it should be handled. One has to be more patient."

Jos said that Max had got used to winning easy for too long and needed to feel the pain of defeat. It had to hurt, he explained, to understand the consequences of mistakes. "Dad, of course, keeps telling me: 'It's going great, but losing will happen. It won't go great forever'," Max points out. "It actually helps you a lot later, like now in Formula 1. You learn to lose and to put that into account. Because you have to accept that you can't win every race."

From that week of silence onwards, says Max, "I really began to understand the importance of being patient in racing. I think I needed a radical reset at the end of that year to be better in the next one'. In 2013, 'we won everything. And actually we never went back.

I start to change the subject, but Max interrupts me. 'I mean, it sounds horrible. Yes, it does sound excessive. It's quite possible that others in my place wouldn't have been able to cope with an entourage.

Last autumn, during one of my days at the Red Bull factory, Christian Horner came through the door like a fury, looked around, and as soon as he realised that Max was dealing with a film crew, a look of embarrassment was painted on his face. "Sorry, am I interrupting something important?" Laughter erupted spontaneously. Ahead of another title, the atmosphere in Red Bull was electric.

Horner said of Max: 'He's still the same boy who came to the team at the age of 16. I asked Max if anything, however, had changed in him. 'The years pass and you mature a lot,' he reflected. "However, the underlying feeling remains the same. The will to win is unchanged. Even when you win a world title, it remains the same."


Verstappen's world title in 2022 proved virtually a foregone conclusion after it became apparent at the start of the season that Red Bull had produced the best car to line up on the grid under the new regulations. An October report found that Red Bull's 2021 budget, part of which was used to develop the superior 2022 car, breached the spending cap. In the end, the FIA fined RBR $7 million, corroborating competitors' rumours that Red Bull often circumvents the rules and then receives light punishment. Red Bull, for its part, accepted the fine, even though Horner claimed that he had not invested a single cent of the excess in improving the performance of his cars.

In any case, Max and Red Bull jumped back into the lead. A dominance that neither driver nor team ever took for granted. "I have achieved everything I wanted in Formula 1," Max confesses. "Now I want to try again and keep winning. You never know how long your car will be competitive or how long your moment will last.

While I was in the Red Bull Racing facilities, I had the chance to make a visit comparable to the one in the laboratories of Jurassic Park: we too observed through the glass windows scientists in white coats intent on stealthily plotting who knows what strange genetic manipulation. A new steering wheel. A carbon-fibre wing. There were engineers, mechanics and strategists. More than a thousand people in a super-technological office complex on the outskirts of a commuter town were working relentlessly hard for one goal: ultimate glory. Victory that turns into a champagne bath on the other side of the world, in Abu Dhabi last December or at Suzuka this October. 

Hundreds of the most excellent professionals were rowing in unison in the same direction. A truly suggestive and rare situation. From many points of view, the sense of belonging and pride are as much at the heart of F1's appeal as an engine roaring down a straight at high speed.

I happened to catch a glimpse of Max at the RBR as he sneaked up on Horner and the engineers for what was described to me as 'Max time'. He was on a high, in his favourite habitat. It was a vivid reminder that a title for a rider of his calibre is an event linked to the commitment of many other people. He is now the first, in the family, within the team and in his sport.

This is why his absence from F1's most important marketing vehicle, the Netflix docuseries entitled Formula 1: Drive to Survive, is so palpable. Indeed, the outright champion has been largely absent for the past two seasons from the product that is contributing more than any other type of communication to increasing the fan base of motorsport's top championship.

In Drive to Survive, most of the drivers are interviewed in a regular studio or in reconstructed scenes at the circuits or at home, where the crew follows them in almost real-life situations in which, together with a friend or spouse, they talk about the state of affairs. Max, however, called out because it seemed to him that the authors had taken too many liberties with the fictional part.

During our first chat, in 2021, he explained more about why. "I understand that they want to attract more fans to F1 and it works," he reasoned. "However, many scenes are literally done with copy and paste, even the phrases: things said that I know were not said at the time. Not to mention the filming. In the end, these are unimportant details if you want to create enthusiasm in people who don't understand so much about Formula 1. But if you're a die-hard fan, it's not realistic'. In the 2021 championship season of the series, there are in-depth interviews with everyone except the winner. Thus the creative solution of accentuating the rivalry between team managers Horner and Wolff was adopted, which appears to be a decisive battle, even if by their own admission it is the most frivolous. Both love to chat, strut and provoke, as politicians with such rhetoric and loquacity do. However, it seems that this summer relations between Max and Netflix have relaxed. When Max and I last spoke, days before he won his second world title, he had just come from a studio interview for the programme's new season.

"I feel like it's only fair to be able to understand what we both want from each other, right?" he explained. "I think the interview we did was good, so… I just wanted to keep it real. You know, no fake stuff. No too blatantly promotional stuff. Because I'm not like that. I just want it to be on topic, reflect my true opinion and point of view on things. Of course, we still have to see the final product, but the premises are comforting'.

Max had long been the chosen one. A predestined for greatness. The inevitable multiple world champion. Now he had the keys in his hand. He could do anything he wanted, but right now he also had the responsibility of being the face of the sport and promoting it. "I know it is important for Formula One. So we came to an agreement and I am very happy about that."

Despite his dissatisfaction with Drive to Survive, Max is a fan of sports documentaries on Netflix. He enjoys 'studying how other athletes work', he revealed. Not surprisingly, one of the ones he enjoyed the most was The Last Dance. "Not everything is 100 per cent true, because it's a documentary and some things are definitely a bit exaggerated," he pointed out. "I liked the spirit of Michael Jordan, the way he could push the limits, his hunger for victory."

As delightful as comparisons to Jordan's competitiveness may be, it would be a mistake to think that Max aspires to emulate anyone else. Like many children, he grew up in a room wallpapered with pictures of cars. He had a life-size cardboard cutout of his father in his F1 days. He did not, however, have posters of other drivers or driving heroes: 'I never chose a model to be inspired by. Like, 'I really want to be like this guy' or something like that. I just wanted to be myself. That's what works best. If you set out to copy people, you can only be as good as them,' he concluded. 'You can't be better'.


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