‘I respect Lewis Hamilton as a driver, but the rest… nothing’: Max Verstappen’s father and ex-F1 driver Jos opens up on how the most thrilling title race in years turned toxic, the Red Bull star’s Mercedes links and holidaying with Michael Schumacher!
- Max Verstappen could win his first Formula One world title in Saudi Arabia
- He is up against seven-time champion Lewis Hamilton with two races to go
- But his father Jos insists there is no relationship off track between the pair
- The former F1 driver revealed his son’s past links with rivals Mercedes
- Jos now hopes his son can stay with Red Bull for the ‘rest of his career’
It is a wise father,’ said Shakespeare, ‘who knows his own child.’ And with that observation in mind, we venture to the Red Bull hospitality area in the sweaty Jeddah paddock for a chat with Jos Verstappen.
Aged 49, the gutsy Dutchman contested 107 Formula One races between 1994 and 2003, beginning at Benetton, where he witnessed at close quarters the first of Michael Schumacher’s seven world championships.
But for all his motor racing pedigree, Jos is now better known as Max Verstappen’s dad. He is also relegated to the status of second most successful grand prix driver ever to come out of Holland.
Jos Verstappen (right) poses with his son Max after his first F1 victory back in 2016 in Spain
Max is often cheered on by his father Jos at race circuits across the world during the year
His son’s Formula One career, which started in 2015 aged 17, could find its greatest fulfilment on Sunday at the inaugural Saudi Arabian Grand Prix where, if the now 24-year-old Max outscores the in-form Lewis Hamilton by 18 points, he will become the new world champion with next week’s race in Abu Dhabi to spare.
Jos flits in and out of Max’s race weekends. For example, he might join him for a bite to eat, though he tries not to intrude. But, as we were saying, he knows precisely the inner-workings of his son’s thought process and so can provide an insight on the keenest and fiercest title battle at least since Hamilton and Fernando Alonso’s mutual self-destruction as McLaren team-mates in 2007.
The Verstappen take on Lewis?
Jos was a high quality driver himself, who competed in F1 between 1994 and 2003. Above he is pictured in his final year in the sport at Minardi with team boss Paul Stoddart
His first season saw him paired up alongside Michael Schumacher at Benetton as they share a discussion in the garage at the 1994 Belgian Grand Prix with team boss Flavio Briatore
‘I never speak to Lewis,’ says Jos. ‘He doesn’t need to speak to me. I’m nothing to him. I respect him as a driver, but the rest… nothing.
‘Max and Lewis only speak on the podium, very little. When I see Max with other drivers, I think they get on very well. But with Lewis nothing. Lewis is in his own world.
‘I did F1 — compared to Max I was nowhere — but I talk to some of the drivers and they are all very friendly, or just say hello or whatever. We are on the plane together many times, always the same group of drivers and we have a lot of fun.
‘But there are “some” drivers who don’t look at you, who look at the ground.’
But wasn’t Schumacher a bit stand-offish, just as Hamilton has become? Rightly or wrongly, does detachment often accompany super-stardom?
Jos admits that while he has full respect for Lewis Hamilton as a driver, there is nothing else
Hamilton is duelling with Max to be crowned champion in a thrilling Formula One season
Jos admits that Max (left) and Hamilton (second right) have different ways of doing things as they inspect the track ahead of the inaugural Saudi Arabian Grand Prix
‘Michael and I had good contacts,’ says Jos. ‘We met personally too [the Verstappens and Schumachers holidayed together; Max remembers Michael the family man playing with the children]. He changed a little bit at the circuit, but he would still be friendly.
‘Lewis does it his own way, which you can’t say is wrong because he wins a lot. Yes, he has had team-mates, but he has been in the right environment. He made the right decision to go to Mercedes and has had the fastest car for a long time. But he is good, for sure. I respect him as a driver. The rest…
‘Max is how he is. Some people like it. Some people don’t. He says what he thinks but doesn’t get involved in political matters, such as what is happening in other countries, like Lewis does. Max sees it as a case of doing a job as a sportsman and leaving it at that. Everybody does it their way and that is Max’s way.’
Jos, who tutored his son through his barnstorming days as a go-karting starlet, admits he is nervous as the season reaches its climax, suffering the fate of the helpless bystander. Racing dads go through terrible stresses.
That was most vividly driven home to Jos at Silverstone this year — one of the two big on-track flare-ups of the mighty Verstappen-Hamilton tussle. The pair collided at 180mph and Max was taken to hospital for checks following the 51G impact.
A controversial collision between Hamilton and Verstappen at the British Grand Prix led to a breakdown in communications between Jos and the Mercedes team
With the crash putting Max briefly in hospital, Jos was left fuming at the way Hamilton and Mercedes celebrated the win at Silverstone back in July
Jos is still furious at how Hamilton and Mercedes behaved that day. Beforehand, he and Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff enjoyed a good rapport. That developed as Mercedes actively tracked Max since he was a teenager.
Indeed, their interest was a spur to Red Bull hastening his Formula One debut at their junior team Toro Rosso for fear of losing his services. Wolff and Jos kept in touch. How is their relationship now, I ask?
‘It is not there any more,’ says Jos. ‘I don’t like his attitude. I don’t like how he behaved, starting at Silverstone. One of the drivers was in hospital and they are on the podium celebrating as if they’ve won the world championship.
Jos previously had strong ties with team boss Toto Wolff though he admits those have gone
‘I didn’t think Toto was like that but I learned about a different Wolff. We didn’t have any contact from him, any message or whatever. And to think he had spoken to us in the new year: I am not saying he was trying to bring Max over at that stage, but let’s say we had a good relationship before Silverstone.’
Red Bull have decided to park their concerns over the legality of the Mercedes car — its rear wing in particular — but friction between the camps remains alive. Verstappen moving to Mercedes is out of the question, certainly for the foreseeable future.
‘Max is contracted until the end of 2023 but I hope we can stay at Red Bull for the rest of his career,’ says Jos. ‘He is happy in this environment. We have good relations with Christian [Horner, team principal] and Helmut [Marko, motorsport advisor].’
Enough of the present, for a moment. I ask Jos what shaped the championship leader and what he now sees in the matured racer that he first spotted when he was a kid, learning his trade on kart tracks as they travelled from their base in Maasbracht, half an hour’s drive from Maastricht, where their smart workshop was the focal point of Max’s young life, learning about engines and racing with his dad as mentor.
Verstappen has a narrow eight point lead in the world championship with two races to go
Jos now now hopes Max can stay with his current Red Bull team until the end of his career
‘He could feel everything,’ says Jos, who tried to produce a less gung-ho racing version of himself. ‘You could also see the quality of his driving, how much track he was using. How smartly he picks up every detail — tyres, engines etc — and translates it. He does that now but at a much higher level.’
Sometimes it took tough love to polish his gem. There was the time at the end of 2012 after Max’s self-inflicted second-lap crash in a world championship kart race in Sarno, southern Italy, when Jos decided to give his boy the silent treatment.
‘I didn’t speak to him for six or seven days,’ he says. ‘It was a big mistake he made. I was very angry, disappointed and he really needed to think about it, not just for an hour or two, but longer. I knew what I was doing. I think it helped him and shaped him. It is not my job to advise him now.
‘We talk about everyday life and I am here if he needs me. But he is his own man and all I can do is sit and watch and hope he gets a little bit of luck.’
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