If there’s one thing I have learned after many years in motor sports, it’s that you can never predict which talent will rise to the top and which one won’t. A few years back for instance, Formula 3 driver Paul di Resta pretty much dominated his teammate Sebastian Vettel. And yet, in 2014 di Resta finds himself without a seat in F1, whereas Vettel has strung together 4 consecutive world titles.
Through racing history, there are many more examples of unfulfilled super talents. In ’79 and ’80 Ayrton Senna was beaten to the karting world title by Dutchmen Peter Koene and Peter de Bruijn respectively. Yet only Senna became a racing legend. So predictions are unwise, but I will make one anyway:
Max Verstappen is a future F1 superstar
Max is the 16-year-old son of Jos Verstappen, who raced in Formula 1 from 1994-2003. Jos is the most successful Dutch F1 driver ever, but he’s investing most of his time and money in losing this crown a.s.a.p, because he’s grooming his son for Formula 1 stardom.
Max has clearly inherited his father’s talents, but his mother contributed too. Mom is Belgium’s Sophy Kumpen, who was a world class kart racer herself, giving Max an even deeper gene pool to tap from. On top of this, Max started karting 12 years ago, so he has been developing his reflexes, hand-eye coordination, necessary muscles and racing instincts since he was 4 years old.
Most F1 champs like Schumacher, Vettel, Alonso, Hamilton or Senna all credit their success to karting. It may sound strange that those “toys” are so important for shaping future world champs. But you have to realize that the rental kart that you may have driven at a company outing is as close to a full-race kart as a Fiat Panda is to a Ferrari. Karting is the best training ground for talent, and in the last years nobody has been better at it than Max.
Over the last few years, young Verstappen has strung together an unrivaled number of European and World Championships. So at 16-years-old, it’s time for Max to move to cars. Huge karting talents like father Jos, Michael Schumacher and Ayrton Senna switched to cars when they were 19 or 20 and spent 1 or 2 years in lighter series before switching to the fast and serious Formula 3 class. Max on the other hand got four races in the Florida Winter Series to prepare, and has already been thrown in at the deep end. At age 16 he has entered the European Formula Three Championship.
Jos’ choice to start off Max’ auto racing career in this highly competitive series is actually a lot smarter than it may seem. A European F3 weekend includes 2 practice sessions, 2 qualifying sessions and 3 races, so lots of opportunities to learn and gain experience.
Of course mistakes are an important part of the learning process. And yes, being the youngest and least experienced in the field, Max is bound to make mistakes. In his first three F3 weekends (so in 9 races) he has crashed out 3 times by mistakes of his own, but he has also already scored 3 podiums, including a win. And he’s only getting better….
Like father, like son?
As I’m writing, the first race of weekend 4 is on its way. Unfortunately his car just quit on him while he was again in podium position. This sucks, but on the other hand, this is the first year in race cars for the 16-year-old. More than anything 2014 is a learning-year. And today for instance he showed that he has mastered the rocket-start. In his first races, he still made a few not-too-impressive starts, but the kid is a quick learner. Just like has father was.
Jos has a bit of a reputation, because his temperament has sometimes landed him in trouble, but luckily Max is more even-tempered. Verstappen 2.0 really seems to be the new and improved model. Of course time will only tell, but Jos already told me a few years ago: “Max is better than I ever was.” And from what I’ve seen so far, he’s right. Jos was very good, but Max seems to be exceptional.
The F1 teams have already taken notice. There have been some really good offers, but for now Jos prefers to go their own way. “I don’t want to hand over the control over my son yet, it’s too early. Right now we’re doing our own thing and we like it that way.”
Jos knows that at some point he will have to step back, and he says he’s fine with that. But for now, their own route is scoring impressive results, so let’s trust that father knows best.
For more information and updates on Max’s further career, please check the Verstappen website www.verstappen.nl.