Max Verstappen: 'The older I get, the more I think I look like my father'
Published on 19 December 2023 by FORMULE 1 Magazine
The 2023 Formula 1 season has drawn to a close, and Max Verstappen has secured his third consecutive world champion title. The winter-break has just begun, but in the meantime, the sport’s leading man is casting his thoughts to things in the future: to ideas for his own future racing team in the GT3 class, and to a more relaxed life.
Max, do you think about the life you lead? You’re 26 years old, three times world champion of Formula 1, and have conquered one record after another. You’re living the dream. Are you ever worried that everything after Formula 1 won’t give you the same sense of fulfillment or adrenaline kick?
“It will be different, I’m aware of that, but maybe that’ll also be nice. There is a lot of pressure on you during these race weekends, year after year. Maybe it’s nice to start finally doing things you like, at your own pace.”
“A lot of people tell me that I’ll miss this life and the pressure that comes with it. My father says that too. But personally, I don’t think so. If you’ve been doing it for so long and so often, you’re tired of it after a while. Not yet, of course, but there will come a time when you’ve had enough. Don’t forget, I’ve been karting since I was four years old. At one point, you'll start to wonder when you can stop pushing yourself to the limits to get the best results.”
I understand that, but it’s become your second nature. You don’t just turn that off.
“Right, I don’t know any better. And I’ll probably go on to want to perform to the best of my ability in other things. But if something I try isn’t successful later, that won’t be the end of the world. It’ll be more relaxed.”
You have often been critical of the packed F1 calendar with 24 races, the travelling, and the negative sides of being famous. At a certain point…
“It’s enough, yes. I have always said 24 race weekends is too much. It’s not just the races either - everything around the races makes it difficult. All the marketing activities, the days in the simulator, and the personal sponsorship obligations. I don’t really have days to myself anymore.”
It often feels like a sacrifice.
“Yes, and I talk about this often with the people around me. It all factors into the decision of how long you’re willing to carry on. Of course, I’m happy to be in the position I am in and that I can make these choices for myself. The goal has always been to become world champion and to win races. That’s all been accomplished. I’ve said it before: Everything that happens afterwards is a bonus.”
As if you’re not swamped enough, you recently also started Verstappen.com Racing, which you’ve invested a lot of time into.
“It is extra work, but it’s something that gives me energy.”
Explain the Verstappen.com Racing project, what does it entail?
“Right now, it’s early phases. Using Verstappen.com Racing, we sponsor and support the racing activities of various people close to me via consultations and advice. It all started with the sim racing of Team Redline. Many people still think that sim racing is not professional, but it’s a serious sport, and I invest a lot of hours into it, to prepare and defeat everybody else. We’re also busy right now at Verstappen.com Racing with Thierry Vermeulen in DTM and GTWC Sprint, and with my father in the rally races, but the goal is to eventually start our own race team. We’ll begin in the GT3-class, and see which way the wind blows.”
“If I do something, I want to do it right. I always want to win: at this as well. The focus is on making the step from sim racing to GT3, so that not only you can enter racing via karting, because that’s ridiculously expensive at the moment. Sim racing, in comparison, is a lot cheaper. Such a switch is possible. It’s happened before, of course, but never really well, for a number of reasons. If you do everything professionally, I believe you can build a great racing career out of sim racing.”
How do you see this happening? Will Team Redline be renamed to Team Verstappen.com Racing?
“No, not that, but in the end those two are related. It’s also true not everyone in the sim team can step into a real racecar, but the boys that I do see potential in, I want to help by setting up my own GT3-team. I think GT3 is a beautiful class, where you can drive in great endurance-races. A junior class for the Formula cars doesn’t appeal to me. Formula 3, Formula 2… you have too little time in the car and it costs too much money. In the GT3 class you drive in more races, but it also has a different atmosphere. It’s more relaxed.”
And what are your other ambitions for the future, of which your own GT3-team is the first step?
“Well, you never know how these things will go, but there is always ambition. It depends on how many good people we will have in the team, and how much knowhow there is, but it would be wonderful if we could continue growing to the highest level of endurance racing.”
You once said that you’d like to try the 24 Hour of Le Mans. You’ll be doing this in a car from your own team?
“That would be cool, no? Who knows.”
With Verstappen.com Racing, you’re involved in every decision, even the design of the logo. There especially you can see the link with Red Bull.
“I think those two brands go well together. Do I imagine that I’ll race in Formula 1 for a different team? At the moment, no.”
Do you have a timeframe in mind for the development of Verstappen.com Racing?
“We’re very busy with that at the moment. The next step is our own GT3-team. 2024 is too tight, but I want to get it off the ground as soon as possible. A GT3-team in 2025 should be doable. With two cars.”
2025, that’s very soon.
“We’re in full swing. The planning stage is over, we’re already making moves and taking action.”
That must be something to look forward to, your own team. But what role will you have? Team Principal? Team manager?
“I don’t see myself as a Christian Horner. But I do want to know everything and be involved in all the decisions, give advice, and be at the races physically from time to time, if that fits in my calendar. It’s mostly very important to put the right people in the right positions. I see myself in an advisory role, where I’ll get to be very critical.”
“If as a team principal I’d be more like Christian Horner or like Günther Steiner? Haha, I think neither. I think I’m like my father. When I was little, I always thought ‘I’m not like my father’. But the older I get, the more I think I look like him. In how much energy I put in to get it right, how serious I am about it, and how much time I spend on it; that constant drive towards perfection I have from him. In the end those are good qualities, I think. There are many talented people in this world, but a lot of very lazy people as well. It’s almost always the hardest workers that reap the rewards. Those content with second and third place fall off, meanwhile the people who hate to be third or second, who always continue to push and never give up, those will make it.”
Let me guess, its that category of people that you want in your team?
“Of course. That’s already the case with Team Redline. You always want people who fight for things harder than others. You see this in Red Bull as well.”
Are you already scouting the right people?
“We’re looking of course. Not just me, but also my father is looking. It’s nice that we can also involve him in this. And he thinks it’s a great project. He is already driving rallies under the Verstappen.com Racing banner, but it’s logical that his role will go further than that. We’re still working out the details, but a mentor role would fit him well and he’s open to the position.”
What do you think about your dad driving rallies?
“I think it’s great. He needs the adrenaline rush and that’s good, but rally races are also dangerous. He’s already been in a couple of accidents. But I like how serious he is about it. I wouldn’t like to do it myself. Driving over terrain in a rally car is fun, but the stages that are through trees and houses… no, that’s not for me. I also haven’t gotten into a car with him yet. I trust my father with many things, but that mental picture doesn’t appeal to me.”
Since we’re on the topic of risks and safety: the fatal accident of Dilano van ‘t Hoff at Spa hit everyone hard, you included. These events prompt moments of reflection. How do you deal with the risks compared to when you were younger?
“I don’t know, but the thinking process is different. I know how I was when I was in Formula 3. There was no fear. I’m still not afraid, but I think deeper about the possible consequences of my actions. What would happen if… Back then you never thought about that, you drove on pure instinct. I don’t mean Dilano by the way, because he was hit by someone else, but in general as a junior driver you take wilder risks than when you’re older.”
The accident has posed the question to many parents: should you put your child into a kart or a car?
“Those thoughts are very logical, but your child can also get hit on a bike driving around in Amsterdam. Risks are a part of life, otherwise you should swaddle yourself in bubble wrap and bunker up at home. But of course, I still think about it. When the news about Dilano broke, I sent a message via social media. I saw later that Dilano’s sister had responded: ‘Max, you were his role model. Thank you for this message.’ That hit me. I immediately thought about my family. You think, ‘Shit, if that had happened to me, then they….’ And you think: F*ck.”
Do you talk about the risks of racing at home, for example with your girlfriend Kelly?
“No, we don't. She comes from a racing family, and she knows what goes on in the sport. She has experienced enough of that in her own family. Her father [Nelson Piquet] had a horrible crash in Indy 500 after his Formula 1 career, which caused severe damage to his feet and legs. That danger is always there. She knows it, I know it. But you can also slip in the shower and break your neck. These things happen, also on the track, unfortunately.”
Let’s circle back to racing. You’ve conquered one record after the other. Helmut Marko said in England that couldn't keep up with tracking your records, and that you say you don’t care about the records, but he also said that you knew them all. How is that?
“Of course I know where most drivers rank and which records there are, but really, I’m not too busy with records. Records also have to do with luck and if you’ve got a good car. If I have a good car for seven or eight years, then I know logically I will break a number of records. But in the end I don’t care about records. It doesn’t matter to me if I break many or a couple of records. I didn’t get into Formula 1 to break records, I got into Formula 1 to drive and to win. Breaking records usually happens if you do the latter enough.”
Breaking a record does mean a new milestone is reached each time. That you’ve surpassed a legend like Aryton Senna in terms of Grands Prix wins, doesn’t that mean something to you?
“Yes, but also that record…. Now there are more races per year than there were back then. And like I said, you’re dependent on the type of car you have. I consciously relativize these things. For me other things are more important. For example, always beating my teammate. That’s the most important. And that’s going alright, yes.”
Your success is making you hugely popular in certain parts of the world, especially in the Netherlands. How famous are you in Monaco, where you live?
“I get approached pretty often in Monaco on the street, usually by tourists. But it’s more relaxed there than in the Netherlands. I can walk for two minutes before I get approached.”
After your F1-career, do you ever see yourself moving back home to Belgium or the Netherlands, to Maaseik for example?
“No, I’m really enjoying myself in the south of France. Of course, there are things I miss. ‘Frites speciaal’, the local cuisine, haha. And of course my family and friends. But at the same time, when I’m done with racing, I have more time for weekends and holidays with friends and other nice activities. I look forward to that free time.”