Max Emilian Verstappen. The Flying Dutchman. The Unstoppable Force.
A legacy driver some might say, but me? Max now owns the Verstappen name. Jos Verstappen is a distant memory on the grid, compared to his son who drives more like Ayrton Senna than his father. But I wasn’t always a fan…
As a child, I was immersed into the world of Formula 1 through my mother; a huge Senna fan who sat me and my older brother down in front of the TV to watch history unfold. Young, curious eyes revelled in the fast cars going around a high-speed track not dissimilar to the elaborate Scalextric course setup nearby. As time went on, as Senna passed, as new drivers emerged, I lost that wonderment of the sport. It wasn’t until my early 20s that it started to resurface, with the likes of Sebastian Vettel, Fernando Alonso, Jenson Button and Lewis Hamilton captivating my interest.
2014 brought someone new to the forefront of my attention. Daniel Ricciardo, the Aussie talent, the Honey Badger. Something about his bravado on-track and his charisma off-track had me watching more regularly. Then of course, in 2015 I saw Max Verstappen for the first time, racing for Scuderia Toro Rosso. I didn’t know much about the teenager, only that he had a fight in him that was worth keeping an eye on.
2016 was the year I was watching every practice, every qualification, every race, every bit of information I could digest. When Verstappen was promoted to Red Bull, trading with Daniil Kyvat after a controversial first-lap incident in Sochi that year, I had the instinct that something magical was about to unfold. The camaraderie between Verstappen and Ricciardo was almost instantaneous and boy, it was infectious. We as fans could see their friendship develop over the year, into the next and the next… but it soon soured.
I was, and still am, a huge Ricciardo fan, so was initially bias toward him over Verstappen. When the two started to come to blows in 2018, fighting intently to be the best Red Bull on the grid, the cracks started to show. Baku was a pained moment for any Red Bull fan, seeing the two collide and inevitably both retire from the race. Then at the Hungaroring, on an exciting first-lap opener, Max shunted into Daniel, forcing him off track, with Daniel communicating to his engineer just what a “sore loser” Max was. Despite Max’s undeniable raw talent and skill, I couldn’t bring myself to support him at the time.
Alas, Daniel Ricciardo left Red Bull to join Renault, a relatively mid-field team. As Red Bull were the main competitor of Mercedes at this point, my attention shifted from being just a Ricciardo fan, to being a Red Bull fan. Now Max was at the helm of the Red Bull garage, it became a true thrill to watch him push the car to the limits every week, to battle Hamilton and Bottas at any given opportunity in 2019. I began to see the talent, the tenacity of ‘Mad Max’, the sensation that had the British media in a frenzy. I began to understand just who Max Verstappen was.
It isn’t doubted by many that Sky Sports F1 are extremely predisposed towards British drivers, as I’m sure Ziggo Sports favourite Max. It also isn’t questioned that Netflix’s Drive to Survive pushed a narrative onto both old and new viewers that paints quite a different picture to what was actually happening. We as fans were told Max was a ‘dangerous’ driver, we were told he was ‘aggressive’ and ‘invites criticism’ because of it, we were told he was ‘cold’ with ‘no personality’ and ‘no likability’. Fans of the sport were fed this narrative, believing it.
I wasn’t listening to them anymore.
I became fascinated by Max, by his driving style, his persistence, his off-track persona that portrayed a young man that enjoyed video games, his friends and family, his cats. He has been criticised once too often for his driving technique and what some would call ‘bullish’ battle methods. The question is, when do we hear the same for ‘dangerous moves’ by other drivers on the grid? It’s not a common theme. Fernando Alonso does receive reproach for his gutsy, ruthless defence, but it is not detrimental to the man himself and can often be praised. Is that because the British media are not concerned that he isn’t in contention for the championship? Or is it because he isn’t Max Verstappen?