Max Verstappen is one of the greatest success stories in the modern era of F1. The Red Bull star’s incredible talent was identified at a very early age and by 17 he was driving in his first F1 race with Toro Rosso. The Dutch prodigy was so good that he skipped F2 altogether.
If anyone thought the jump would be too massive for Max, he immediately put those doubts to rest. After impressing at Toro Rosso, he was promoted to drive for Red Bull in 2016. He would go on to win his first race on debut for the Milton Keynes-based team and has not looked back since. Still only 23, Verstappen is tipped to be a multiple world champion in the future.
While the Dutchman’s story is really incredible and it’s an ode to his own talent, one must not underestimate the role his father Jos played in making Max the driver he is today. One could argue that were it not for Jos’ mentoring, Max’s story could have been different.
So, let’s dive in a bit deeper into how Jos shaped Verstappen Jr‘s career and how he put him onto the path of success.
Who is Jos Verstappen? What are his achievements?
Jos himself was an F1 driver. The Dutchman’s early story is similar to that of Max. Just like his son, Jos made his F1 debut at an early age (22) and immediately caught the eye. He had initially conducted pre-season tests for Footwork Arrows. His performances lead to the likes of Ferrari and Williams pursuing him, but Jos chose Benetton.
He signed on as a test and reserve driver but made his debut in the first race of the 1994 season thanks to an injury to JJ Lehto. Jos would go on to achieve two podium finishes that season.
However, here is where his story differs from that of his son. Jos was loaned to Simtek racing for the next year, but in a poor team with a poor car, he failed to score any points. The team itself folded after just five races. Moreover, Benetton would opt against signing Verstappen for 1996, instead preferring Jean Alesi and Gerhard Berger.
From then on, Jos’ F1 career was just a downward spiral as he never got a chance to race for even a mid-table team, let alone a championship contender; his F1 career ended in 2003.
But instead of letting that deter him, Jos dedicated his full focus on his son Max.
Jos Verstappen’s role in Max Verstappen getting to F1 and becoming a star
Jos put his son into the grind of becoming a racer ASAP. At the age of three, Max accompanied his father to races and in a few years was already appearing on the karting track. This was thanks in no small part to his mother who was also a kart racer and his grandfather who owned a karting team.
His extremely early initiation greatly benefitted him. Max’s former team boss Franz Tost said, “I think most one of the most important facts is the dedication his father, Jos did. He started karting being five, six years old. He was living on the kart track. That means he was trained in a very special manner.”
Jos was fully invested in his son’s career. He revealed, “Max was my life project. I wanted to win with him, become a champion. We had a goal together. I found the time with Max much more fun than my own career. Put it this way: I did more for Max’s career than for my own career.”
Verstappen Sr. made his son a mentally tough and aggressive character. His methods may be seen as intensive and unforgiving but that’s what has made Max as hard as nails and given him his never say never attitude.
Verstappen Sr. made his son Max strong and resilient and helped him ‘feel’ for the car
One such incident where he was hard on his son was narrated by Jos. He said, “I remember he was probably 8 or 9.
We went to the Go-Kart track and in wintertime, it was freezing. So I let the van run so that it could warm up. We did ten laps. He said Ahh!! Cold. I said, ‘Go, warm-up.’ Then three minutes later I was like, ‘where is he now?’ ‘C’mon, I’m still cold.’ I said ‘I don’t care, drive.’
“He couldn’t move his fingers. But I didn’t care because I wanted to test things because I was building engines and chassis. I wanted to have a result. I wanted to move forward.”
The 23-year-old also revealed how his dad helped him not to rely on data but instead focus on what he was doing and develop a feel for the car.
“Sometimes he would send me out, he would change something [on the kart], but he wouldn’t tell me what, and then I had to feel what it was doing. And that’s how we get a good understanding of new parts coming onto the car,” said Max.
With techniques like that, it’s little wonder why the young Dutchman has gone on to become such a good driver. At the moment, Max may well be the only one capable of ending Lewis Hamilton’s dominance over the F1 grid.
Red Bull star is forever indebted to his father
For all his father’s help, Max is very thankful. “What he did for me is, of course, unbelievable. I can never thank him enough for that. Of course there are plenty of fathers who do a lot for their child. But that intensively?
“I couldn’t possibly mention everything that he did.”
Jos continues to serve as a mentor to his son. The 48-year-old’s ultimate dream would finally be realized when he sees his son crowned as world champ. And by the looks of it, he may not have to wait very long.