Max Verstappen: F1 driver on shifting focus from Hamilton and Derrida

Written by Staff Writer

Max Verstappen, the teenage racing star with whom all Formula One fans crave a confrontation, has conceded that his meteoric rise in motorsport has given him unrealistic expectations.

The 20-year-old’s introduction to F1 has overshadowed the story of Lewis Hamilton, who is now the favorite to be crowned this year’s world champion.

But Verstappen, whose surprise win at last month’s Singapore Grand Prix has restored order to the title race, believes he needs to go back to his roots to cope with the weight of expectation.

While he enjoys a close bond with his family and his life on the road is punctuated by social activities including motorcross and skateboarding, he has struggled to adjust to life in Europe and the pressures of the limelight.

“(It’s) not an issue for me that I’m the new Michael Schumacher,” he told Reuters, referring to the seven-time world champion who, aged 41, last drove at the Silverstone circuit in Britain.

Verstappen has a much different game to Schumacher, who is no longer competing in Formula One but who was admired and applauded for his ability on the circuit.

He is also hampered by another difference to Schumacher, the teenager acknowledges.

“He is physically stronger,” Verstappen said. “He still is, I guess at the minute still has the edge (over me). But since the Silverstone (to Singapore) race the difference (in terms of) physical strength is a big step for me now.”

Verstappen won his first race for Dutch team Toro Rosso at the age of 17 years and 217 days in Spain in 2016 but failed to score for another 17 months. He broke his leg that summer but the setback ultimately proved pivotal in his life.

“I got injured so I started to change my life a little bit, which was a bit like a crash in the car to a crash in the life,” he said.

After leaving hospital, Verstappen shed the trappings of wealth from his billionaire father’s property company to create his own project centered around his motorsport ambitions.

Now studying his A Levels at the same school as his older sister Laura, a British world champion in BMX cycling, he gave up on many of the trappings of professional sport.

First he moved from the Netherlands to Spain, changed his name to Max and took up motorcross.

Then, as soon as he finished college in 2017, he joined his father’s team, continuing in motorcross, wearing a helmet that said “Maxster” at the front instead of Verstappen.

After two seasons on the development Formula One team Toro Rosso, he has notched up eight victories in the junior series and a podium (fifth in Monaco and Belgium).

If he is beaten, Verstappen will face a gruelling examination in the final round in Italy next month before the final race in Abu Dhabi on Nov. 25.

The current race leader, Hamilton of Mercedes, has two wins in five races to Hamilton’s two in 12 — give or take two points — and trails by just 16.

The Englishman, who has 39 career victories, told Reuters last month that he wanted a head-to-head race for the championship to be decided on the track rather than decided by a points-based penalty.

Hamilton is enjoying a perfect start to the new season — and Verstappen wants to do likewise.

“I think I feel like I’m racing in the right way and I feel like I’m performing well and I like what I’m doing, so why not,” he said.

“I’m really ready to fight now…but to be honest (if he was denied it) I think I’d be pretty annoyed with myself.”

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