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Max Verstappen: “I always need to improve. And I love making a car go faster.”

Dutchman Max Verstappen, three-time reigning world champion, talks about his passion for driving and his current crushing domination of Formula 1 at the wheel of his Red Bull. It’s easy to see why he’s doing so well, after winning the first GP of the season in Bahrain and taking pole position in Saudi Arabia.



Max Verstappen gave us twenty minutes to talk about his passion for driving, with a smile, on Wednesday. The three-time Dutch world champion, who obviously won the first GP of the season in early March in Bahrain, had just come out of a press briefing where he had been subjected to a barrage of questions about his father Jos’ statements to the Daily Mail and Telegraaf, predicting “an explosion” in his team if Christian Horner, the Red Bull team boss behind a complaint for “inappropriate behavior”, didn’t leave it.


Christian Horner on the ropes


Even then, he appeared relaxed. For this interview with L’Équipe, which had been postponed twice because of the “affair,” it had been agreed to avoid all controversial subjects. No questions about the old man, and none about the boss either. So, just as he’d set the ball rolling at his press conference by talking about the magnificent car we’d built for him, this RB20 was so innovative, we got down to the subject that the Verstappens, father and son, prefer: driving.

This fascinating dive into the heart of a champion’s life, through his words, reveals the warm and endearing man described by those who know him intimately. A man of 26, different from the one we’ve become accustomed to seeing over the years, this wild, cold beast who leaves no room for improvisation or sentiment.



At your press briefing, you said that you’d rather talk about your car than extrasporting problems. So, how is the RB20?


It’s fine. I felt comfortable in it straight away. I’d say it was more of an evolution, an improvement on the previous car.


Is it really? Despite all the changes on the outside, your driving feeling is close to last year’s?


It’s even a little better, a little more natural. And that’s great.


Did you feel it as soon as you got into the car during winter testing?


You can never be sure from the first drive, but I could see straight away that it was well balanced and, above all, that I could set a good time straight away. That’s a sign that the car will be fast! After that, you have to know where the competition stands. We don’t know how the others have worked.



Did you have the same feeling with the RB19 in early 2023?


Yes, pretty much. There were a couple of things to sort out, but nothing dramatic.


Of all the Red Bulls you’ve driven since 2016, is there one you prefer?


The most fun were the ones from the previous generation (before the 2022 ground effect regulations).


The one from 2021?


Exactly (his face lights up). The car was great, it was responsive. Today, they’ve become heavy, wide and long.


But do you still like them?


When you’re driving the best car in the field, and it’s a Formula 1, of course

(he laughs).


Weren’t those 2021 cars just about the limit? Didn’t they sometimes force you to make mistakes?


(He reflects.) No, I don’t think so. We managed to get the most out of it, and then there was this philosophy, this way of making it sharper (his hand mimics the plunging single-seater the way Red Bull used to design its single-seaters). I loved it.



Are you having more trouble today?


(He smiles.) No... I don’t mind. I can adapt. But these 2021 cars, they went faster through the slow corners, they moved better. I was having more fun.


When they say you can drive any car, what would you do behind the wheel of a Haas (last year’s runner-up)?


(He smiles.) I don’t think I’d win a race.


Not even a podium?


Normally not (he reflects). Probably not. But I’d try to do a better job than anyone else, that’s for sure. After that, if the car’s slow, it’s slow.


You seem to have become unbeatable since the advent of ground effect cars. Do these single-seaters require special driving techniques and do you adapt better to them?


I don’t think so. If I’m successful, it’s because I’ve got a great team around me who have built these fabulous cars. We had a bit of trouble getting back to the top with the old generation, but by 2021, we’d figured it out. And by 2022, things had improved.


So, no change in style?


Of course. The cars have changed, and so have the tires. But we’re adapting.



In what way?


The car is heavier, so I can’t rely on it as much. The tires are wider, so visibility is lower. The suspensions are so hard that we have to work on a new way of attacking the vibrators.


Does this take time?


Yes, a little. But it’s the same for everyone.


Pierre Waché, the designer of the RB20, told us that he greatly appreciated your technical feedback, that it enabled the team to progress. What do you have to ask him today, when you crushed the first race?


Every car has its weaknesses and it takes time to overcome them. In this case, we haven’t yet driven on enough tracks to tell you. Last year, it was the city circuits. This year, I’ll tell you later, but I’d say they’re details.


You give the impression of always having had a steering wheel in your hands. What’s your earliest memory?


(Instantly.) I was three years old and rode a minimoto.


And in a car?


In August 2013, in Wales, in a Formula Renault 2-liter on the Pembrey circuit. That was my first experience of single-seater racing. Something very different from karting. It took me a while to adjust my behavior and reflexes. I had no experience with tires, especially as it was raining. It was raining hard. The first few laps were a bit hard, and I had to spin a few times, but after that I had a blast. My Michelin tires are excellent in these conditions. I just loved it.



Everything seems easy when you talk about driving.


I was lucky enough to have a father (Jos, 52, 107 F1 GPs between 1994 and 2003) who helped me a lot and gave me lots of advice. And the best thing was to let myself go and find the limit of the car.


Do you think your success can be explained by the talent or hard work you’ve put in to progress?


Some people are more gifted than others. It’s the same in soccer. The first day I drove a go-kart, I smiled (his eyes sparkled). And I haven’t stopped since. The helmet (he mimes putting it on), I didn’t take it off all day. I knew that was what I wanted to do.


This winter, you went GT racing with your father. Can’t you stop driving?


It’s my passion. I also love the simulator. It’s important because by changing cars all the time, you can adapt more quickly to the changes in F1. I need to try things out; I always need to improve. And I love making a car go faster (he smiles).



Alain Prost confided to us that his last year in F1, in 1993, was a very tense one, when he was favorite for the title with the best car in the field. Now, for your fourth title, you find yourself in a similar situation. How do you see this season?


I don’t ask myself that question. If I don’t win, I look for the reason why. Is it my fault? Then I’ll correct the mistake. It’s not my fault, so I’m going to help the team improve our performance. You can never win it all.


Is that why your duel with Lewis Hamilton in 2021 will surely go down as one of the greatest seasons in Formula 1 history?


I know you’re not going to agree with me (he smiles). But, in my eyes, the best was last year. People only saw a one-way domination, but you don’t measure the degree of involvement of each member of the team to achieve this hallucinating result (21 wins out of a possible 22 for Red Bull, 19 for Verstappen).


It’s something I’m very proud of. It must have seemed boring to some people, but I don’t care (his hands make a helpless gesture). I’m here to judge my performance and that of the team. And 2023 was the best season ever. The 2021 season doesn’t even come close.”


Story by L’Équipe/TCE | Photos: Courtesy of Red Bull | © Getty Images/Red Bull Content Poo

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