When Max Verstappen arrives at a track in the evening, you can usually spot him talking to his mechanic. Jeeves wouldn’t recognize him when he walked through the doors.
The 18-year-old’s first-class education in Formula 1 kicks in at 1 p.m. when he arrives at the circuit. Between 20 and 25 minutes, he is in and out of the garage, explaining a long gap-toothed brake pad with an unyielding smile. At the end of the day, he has been in the car for nearly four hours — more if the track is doing something tricky, like bumping corners.
Above all, he is a professional. He is managing to balance his pursuit of the sport with his growing responsibilities as a member of his family — his father is a manager in the Red Bull Racing team, and there is now a second daughter, Kai, born in September last year. On a recent trip home to the Netherlands, the young Verstappen took time to answer some questions with I and we are here to explain.
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Talking Formula 1 with Max Verstappen is like talking Dutch to someone from a different country. “Normally I get into F1 mode when I’m in a car,” Verstappen told me. “The feeling is that you come in, you finish the session and you’re not free anymore.” Verstappen made his debut at the Monaco Grand Prix last year and in his time behind the wheel of the Red Bull Redbull Racing cars has battled for the lead at every race — he’s scored points in every race. If anything could make him realize that he’s mastered this fast-paced world, it would be that sense of it being not quite free anymore.
“With the car settings that the team gave me, I felt a lot of pressure not to make a mistake, but not to say that I know all the secrets that other guys do,” he said.
Conversely, getting caught making a mistake in practice or a race is usually an experience that Verstappen doesn’t want to repeat again, and so — yet again — he put everything else on hold. It’s the reason his night games console game is mostly “Pokemon Go.” The “What, Me Worry?” philosophy helps him juggle his life in the driving seat and behind the scene with his daily demands at home.
Contrary to what the popular narrative might have you believe, F1 is not considered the elite game in the world of competitive sports for no reason. It has a formula that is quite simple: It’s point-to-point racing with strictly defined rules. If a car breaks down or there’s an electrical fault, then you can lose points or the victory.
Verstappen can see that this is a formula that Formula 1 has done quite well, but it’s not unique and other sports could potentially use some tweaking in the same way. Having already realized that, Verstappen has moved on to encouraging his fellow drivers to take more control in their engines and cars. But there’s no reason why F1 can’t take a cue from the NBA and have more hare-brained ideas.
This is a subject of I and we are here to discuss.