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Max Verstappen’s talents | Red Bull Racing

Written by on May 1, 2024

Superstar, generational talent, GOAT-in-the-making. When you search for superlatives to describe Max Verstappen’s career to date, it’s impossible to avoid mythology. But it’s understandable. After all, what’s left for the 26-year-old Dutchman to achieve?

In 2023, he cruised to the Formula 1 drivers’ championship for the third time in a row, winning 19 of the 22 races—a record number of wins for a season, joining such legends as Ayrton Senna, Jackie Stewart and Niki Lauda with three titles. Along the way, he set a new mark for most consecutive wins, with a 10-race streak from Miami to Monza, helped his team break a 35-year-old record for consecutive team wins in a season and banked the most points ever in a single campaign.

Drill down a little more and the stats somehow get even more impressive. In Belgium, at the fearsome Spa-Francorchamps circuit, Verstappen qualified on pole, took a grid penalty for changing a gearbox, started sixth, passed his teammate, Sergio Pérez, for the lead on Lap 17—and 27 laps later won the race by 22 seconds. In Qatar, he took the season title with five rounds to go.

With such singular achievements it’s easy to buy into the notion that the Oracle Red Bull Racing driver is blessed with superhuman powers, some kind of freakish genetic superiority passed on to him by his F1-driver father, Jos, and kart-champion mother, Sophie Kumpen.

Verstappen is the first to dispute that narrative. “I don’t have a defined approach, a process I go through,” he says. “I just do my thing and move on. It’s not rocket science at the end of the day. I’ve been doing this my whole life.”

This blunt dismissal of a juicy storyline offers deep insight into what lies at the heart of Verstappen’s machine-like dominance. And that is simplicity.

There’s nothing Verstappen likes doing more than driving fast cars fast. And the fastest around are Formula 1 cars. If access to that machinery means navigating a riotous circus populated by fairground barkers, then so be it. Just don’t expect him to enter the ring.

Max Verstappen was born a winner.

© Red Bull Content Pool

That much was clear at the inaugural Las Vegas Grand Prix, where Verstappen, with brutal honesty, refused to embrace the showbiz nature of the race, insisting that while he understood the imperatives around the event, it’s not a trajectory he’s keen on. “Of course, a kind of show element is important, but I like emotion,” he said. “And for me, when I was a little kid, it was about the emotion of the sport. [That’s] what I fell in love with, not the show of the sport around it. Because as a real racer, that shouldn’t really matter.”

Daniel Ricciardo, winner of eight grand prix and former teammate of Verstappen’s at Red Bull Racing, says the Dutchman’s ability to shut out the noise that increasingly accompanies the sport and focus on the thing he does best is one of his secret weapons.

“That’s Max’s strength,” says the Visa Cash App RB driver. “It’s personal to Max, though. If you look at Lewis Hamilton, one of his strengths is dealing with a lot of the extracurricular activity. He embraces it and uses those as a way to escape and get a little bit of a mental break. But Max has the single-mindedness just to go and drive and not care about anything else.”

“I think that’s also very admirable, because there are so many distractions in Formula 1 these days,” the Australian adds. “I’m sure he has so many people knocking on his door, wanting to pay him to do deals and endorsements. And he probably tells 99 percent of them to keep their money and says ‘I just want to race my car.’ You can’t help but respect him for keeping it simple and focusing on the one and only task.”

And his untrammeled devotion to that cause means that there’s very little to get in the way of winning, something Sergio Pérez, his current teammate, knows all too well. “Max is just able to deliver, weekend in, weekend out,“ Pérez says. “It doesn’t matter what conditions he [is faced with], the level of confidence he has with the car at this stage is extremely high. And we see it with the results. He’s just able to deliver.”

Two-time F1 champion Fernando Alonso—perhaps the only driver Verstappen has admitted to feeling any competitive affinity with—agrees, pointing to last season’s schedule as evidence. “They were not easy races—they were tricky with the weather conditions,” Alonso says. “In June and July, all the races were hit by rain on Saturdays or Sundays. And when you make no mistakes and you deliver the job every Sunday, you know, it’s big respect.”

Max Verstappen after his win in Abu Dhabi in 2023.

© Getty Images

Verstappen’s drive for simplicity extends beyond the cockpit. In that vein, Ricciardo says that the public perception of Verstappen as a hyperaggressive antagonist with a short fuse and an even shorter tolerance for rules is at odds with the driver he knows so well.

“There’s definitely a bit of a misconception about him,” says Ricciardo. “For sure, when he was younger, yeah. All of us are a bit more outspoken then, but you’re just young, right? But he’s really one of the more simple, down-to-earth guys away from the track. And one thing I respect about him is he doesn’t really ever put himself above anyone. It’s not like he has this air of arrogance about him. He doesn’t go by the whole status thing. He still sees himself as Max the race car driver, not Max the multimillionaire Formula 1 champion. And I think that’s what people maybe don’t see. He treats everyone with respect.”

And again, for Ricciardo, that straightforward nature goes back to Verstappen’s formative years, his singular desire and ability to just drive. Ricciardo saw that in his first race with Verstappen as his teammate, at the Spanish Grand Prix in 2016. At the time Verstappen was just 18, with just one full season of F1 racing under his belt and had been parachuted into Red Bull Racing just 10 days before the race in Barcelona.

“I remember, first free practice, it was like he got in the car and went fast straightaway,” Ricciardo recalls. “Yes, his ability to drive fast was clear, but it was more than that. He just wasn’t fazed. He just didn’t really give a shit. He’s like, ‘yep, I’m now in a great car, I’m going to go and drive it hard and just take it one lap at a time.’ So yeah, immediately I was like, ‘OK, this kid’s got something and he clearly isn’t overwhelmed by it all.’ And that’s Max all over. All he wants to do is drive … and drive it on the ragged edge.”

And now in 2024, Verstappen’s voyage to the edge of possibility in F1 will continue. The target this time is to become just the sixth driver in the history of the sport to reach four titles. That sort of stat won’t change the Dutchman’s mindset. “I’ve never really been interested in stats,” Verstappen said after winning his second title. “I just live in the moment.”

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Max Verstappen

The son of former Formula One driver Jos Verstappen, Max Verstappen is the youngest race-winner in F1 history and a three-time world champion.

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