Portrait of Max Verstappen – he dropped out of school for the World Cup dream

Do you know what Michael Schumacher means in Dutch? Max Verstappen!

The Formula 1 driver is currently leading the championship standings after nine races and is on his way to not only interrupting Lewis Hamilton (36 )’s title series after four consecutive championships, but perhaps even ending it completely . The 23-year-old Verstappen not only triggers fan euphoria in his home country of Holland, which is reminiscent of the beginning of the Schumacher era in Germany in the nineties.

No wonder: Verstappen is already revered in the Netherlands like football legend Johan Cruyff († 68). Both stand for a lot of feeling in the foot, but for the first time Verstappen can make possible what the whole of Holland has been waiting for, both in football and in Formula 1: to bring a World Cup title to the country!

Legends: Franz Beckenbauer (center) and Hollands Johan Cruyff (right). Left Berti VogtsPhoto: picture alliance / ASSOCIATED PRESS

The great Cruyff and the soon-to-be-great Verstappen met personally in 2016, just under three weeks before the icon’s death. It was Cruyff’s wish, at that time already badly marked by lung cancer, to get another meeting with Max. Both got along wonderfully. Jos Verstappen (49): “We knew that Johan was already seriously ill. But we were all positive, laughed. When he left, he wished Max a great career. “Verstappen afterwards about Cruyff:” He doesn’t make things so complicated, I like that. I also try to just be straightforward. I’ve always been like that. “

Sure, direct – and damn fast. The logical consequence of a childhood in the Formula 1 paddock.

Already at the age of three, little Max was on the move between team trucks and garages, accompanied Papa Jos, who started in 107 races from 1994 to 2003, to many Grand Prix races. Max remembers: “For me the paddock was just a huge playground …”

Jos Verstappen (r.) In conversation with Honda's Masashi Yamamoto

Jos Verstappen (r.) In conversation with Honda’s Masashi YamamotoPhoto: Getty Images

Everything that drives inspires him. No matter whether on two or four wheels. If he falls down, he immediately climbs back on the seat and races on. If he plays with his game console, then, of course, only racing games.

Father Jos and mother Sophie, who used to be involved in karting too, recognized the talent early on and began to promote it professionally. Father Jos screwed Max together his first go-kart, he had sucked the feeling for speed in his head and blood from the adventure in the garden at home. Papa Jos went to races all over Europe.

There are many anecdotes about this time in the Formula 1 paddock. Only a few of them are officially confirmed. What both Jos and Max would admit: The father was strict with his son, sometimes very strict. Little Max quickly understood that hard work and tears are the cobblestones on the way to the goal.

The goal was SUCCESS. In 2013, at the age of 16, Max won seven karting titles around the world. Also the kart world championship. The moment to put everything on one card. Verstappen dropped out of school and signed a professional contract with Red Bull six weeks before his 17th birthday in August 2014.

Champagne shower!  Max Verstappen (left) with Dr.  Helmut Marko on the Spielberg podium

Champagne shower! Max Verstappen (left) with Dr. Helmut Marko on the Spielberg podiumPhoto: Georg Hochmuth / dpa

Red Bull advisor Dr. Helmut Marko (78) says about his first Verstappen memory: “That must have been at the Norisring when he outclassed all of the competition in a race with changing conditions.”

In 2014, Verstappen won six races in a row in Formula 3, and his talent became too great for young talent. Red Bull is giving its jewel its Formula 1 debut as early as October 2014, and at the Japanese Grand Prix it is free practice (twelfth place).

He made it to the top, but still cheeky and straightforward.

Verstappen gave BILD his first interview, revealing at the time: “I like older women.” At this point in time, he didn’t even have a car driver’s license, but was already racing through Formula 1 at 300 km / h. The BILD headline for the interview reads: “ Verstappen still drives without a cloth. “

Formula 1 and boxing connoisseur: Kai Ebel

Formula 1 and boxing connoisseur: Kai EbelPhoto: picture alliance / press photo Baumann

RTL cult reporter Kai Ebel (56) has been friends with Max since his debut and conducted countless interviews with him. He says: “At the beginning of his career Max was a bully, but it had to be like that. The really big ones, whether Schumacher or Senna, all started out as bullies. “

And yet it is this brisk attitude that made it difficult for Verstappen to spend his first years in Formula 1. In 2015 he made his debut as a regular driver at Toro Rosso, was promoted to Red Bull in 2016 and won his first race in Barcelona in May. But while the uncompromising overtaking and the determined driving style are celebrated, Max also repeatedly offends with elbow maneuvers and constantly receives fines from the race management. This is what Mercedes boss Toto Wolff (49) etched about Verstappen in 2017: “He should let this tough driving style against title candidates stay …”

It will take two third places in the World Championship (2019, 2020) and nine more race victories until the start of the 2021 season before the troublemaker of the title candidates turns into a title candidate himself. Also because in 2021 the car will be strong enough to fight against subscription champion Mercedes for the first time. Expert Christian Danner (63) says: “For the first time, Max now has a car that doesn’t need to get more out of what is in it.”

Curious: Verstappen is only 23, still young for a Formula 1 driver, but can already look back on 127 starts in the premier class. Enough to learn that you can’t win every race – and that second places at the end can also bring you a title. The crowbar that the Dutchman often took out in previous races in order to somehow get past the very last groove during overtaking maneuvers has now disappeared in the driver’s toolbox.

What has remained is the soulful accelerator – and the uncompromising attitude.

When Verstappen was criticized for his victory celebration after the first Austrian success (he braked sharply in front of his pit and let the tires spin), he dryly reports: “Maybe next time I’ll make a donut in the car …”

Verstappen races resolutely to the title. There were never any other plans in his life anyway. Even today, when asked about his hobbies, he simply mentions “karting” and “sim racing”. He has hardly any interests outside of sports, even with his girlfriend Kelly (32) Formula 1 blood is throbbing.

She is the daughter of three-time world champion Nelson Piquet (68) …


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