Verstappen’s father dismisses criticism over 2012 petrol station incident in documentary

2023 F1 season

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The story of how a young Max Verstappen was once left behind at a petrol station by his father has entered the lore of the driver who is dominating Formula 1.

However the tale has prompted concerned questions from some over whether the future champion’s schooling by his father was excessively tough.

The criticisms are addressed in a new documentary produced with the co-operation of the Verstappen family. In it the champion’s father Jos, who raced in F1 between 1994 and 2003, firmly denies claims his treatment of his son amounted to “abuse”.

The pair relate the story in the second episode of “Anatomy of a Champion”, which was produced by Viaplay as part of an exclusive, multi-year agreement between the two-times world champion and the broadcaster.

The tale of the teenage Verstappen being abandoned at a petrol station has been known for years. Although the story gained widespread attention following an interview he gave around the time of his first world championship success in 2021, his father told the story years earlier.

The incident occured in 2012 after Verstappen crashed out of a major karting championship at the Sarno circuit in Italy. Driving with the backing of the CRG factory team, Verstappen put himself in the hunt for victory by passing rival Daniel Bray to win the pre-final.

Verstappen started the 18-lap KZ2 World Final from pole position but lost the lead to Bray on the second tour. Attempting to re-take the position before the lap was over, Verstappen made a hasty move and hit his rival’s right-rear wheel with his front left.

“I stayed in the lead at the start,” Verstappen explains in the documentary. “But then I got passed. I was so upset that I got overtaken that in that same lap I tried to pass the guy back in a place which is just totally unnecessary.”

Bray recovered to finish 20th while Verstappen’s team mate Jordan Lennox-Lamb won the final. Verstappen was furious with himself – and so was his father.

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“My dad was just so upset with me doing that stupid move,” said Verstappen. “I basically threw everything away.”

The 14-year-old’s efforts to discuss the disappointment on the long journey home ended when his father told him to get out of the van the pair were sharing.

“Of course, I was very sad and upset with myself making that mistake,” Verstappen explained. “I then started to try to talk to him afterwards in the van, trying to travel home for 17 hours.

“He didn’t want to talk to me. And at one point, he was just so fed up with it. He said ‘get out’. He stopped at the fuel station, he was like ‘you get out’. And then he drove off.”

Jos Verstappen responded to criticism of his actions in the documentary. “People say how a bad father I was to him to abuse your child,” he said. “I never abused him.”

He said the treatment was necessary for his son to learn how to become a competitive driver. “I was teaching him.

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“I was hard on him, that mistake, and that was also my plan on that to learn. To think. A lot of people have no idea what you have to do to arrive at the top of a sport.”

The documentary leaves unanswered the question of how the young Verstappen returned home after being left at the petrol station. He was previously reported to have been collected by his mother, Sophie Kumpen, herself a former title-winning kart racer.

Verstappen’s manager Raymond Vermeulen recalled how the father justified his approach to raising his son. “Sometimes I said ‘Jos, you’re from a different planet’. He said, ‘I know. But we have to do it like this to be successful. End of story.'”

The exacting regime Verstappen’s father devised for his motorsport education was “intense” and led to conflicts between the pair at times, he recalled.

“Pushing myself to the limits, the travelling, going all over the place, it was just so intense. It was a bit like, why does it need to be like this?

“But also, my dad, it didn’t matter if it was warm, cold, dry, wet, he was out there like ‘every lap you’re making a mistake in that corner, you’re just not doing it right’. These kind of things.

“Always constantly trying to improve me. Sometimes you take it a bit easier than others. And sometimes it got a bit heated.”

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Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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70 comments on “Verstappen’s father dismisses criticism over 2012 petrol station incident in documentary”

  1. Sandwhichhands
    11th April 2023, 7:55

    Yeah all these past stories like Agassi where a parent does “what is necessary to make a champion” have all turned out perfectly for the kid later in life.

    1. G (@unklegsif)
      11th April 2023, 8:51

      One doesn’t even need to know the statistics, to guarantee that there are FAR more cases of this sort of behaviour NOT resulting in success, that that which does.

      Just because one individual who has been the recipient of abusive behaviour does go on to achieve a high standard, doesn’t justify it, and by taking the “all turned out perfectly for the kid later in life” position, is to validate the abuser and the abuse

      1. Agreed. There are so many who try to justify abuse with things like “adversity makes you stronger”. This occasionally happens, but many times it breaks the victim. Even those who become successful afterwards have often been broken and had to rebuild themselves from it.

        The success stories are in spite of the abuse, not because of it.

      2. Samdwhichands
        11th April 2023, 11:55

        I think some of the sarcasm in my comment may have been lost on you here.

      3. Read sarcasm much?

        1. Whether it was there or not, if you can read sarcasm through a short internet comment, then you are far more perceptive that me

          1. I think in this case it relies on knowing about Agassi’s struggles later in life to pick up on it.

            Jos projected the disappointment with his own F1 career on his son.
            He’s raised the champion he wanted to be, also with a toxic character.

    2. It’s funny they love to focus on these stories when it’s in the background of a champion, but there are many more champions in F1 that didn’t have a Jos type dad. Anyway, I’m all over for much tougher love than what is accepted these days, but it’s Jos’ penchant for beating on women and the elderly that make him a pos IMO.

      1. Kind of agree. I’m not against tough love and pushing your child towards perfection.. heck.. if they want to achieve something incredible, they’ve got to be pushed to that limit. But as you mentioned, the fact that Jos pulled off this kind of behaviour on his kid will raise questions. He’s already a certified woman and senior citizen abuser, a drunk who’s been a nuisance on far too many occasions, so adding child abuse in there just fits his character.

  2. A very old story indeed it seems how further the time goes things with kids are way too much protected with silly things. In my younger year you get hit by the teacher and parents before the 70’s then teachers were forbidden to touch the students but parents could still smack a kid and after the 90’s that was forbidden too.

    Then after 2010 everything is abuse……
    Max got left behind but his mother picked him up there is a lesson to learn for some parents.
    Why it’s big news now is just sad….

    1. @macleod Well it depends on the context. Back in the day some boys were exited to fight for their country in the earlier 20th century. I bet many were scared. After that world has changed a lot. Overall opinion is don’t do anything or say anything bad for the kids. As we want them to have a happy childhood. The word abuse has lost it meaning. You only have to watch someone and you are abusing him. We should have a new word for that. Abuse is something you painfull. Getting to war is painfull. After 100 years there are many more of us than here has been before. World is changing and if people cannot change with it. It will cause a lot of stress.

      1. It is also very painfull to get to the top level of motorsport. Moving to europe when you are 15 is painfull. Being left at the petrol station is painfull. World is painfull. Humans are painfull. Sometimes it is like that. You can eather change to be friendly forever or change your attitude.

        1. You eather die as a hero or grow up to be an a h o l e

    2. “I was abused but I turned out fine, so others being abused is okay” is proof that no, you actually didn’t turn out okay.

    3. Smacking is abusive behaviour, as is abandoning your child (who at that age doesn’t have the emotional maturity or awareness to process what is happening correctly). Parents who hit, or abuse in other ways, lack the ability (and maturity) to effectively communicate and/or emotionally regulate and steer the child the desired outcome.

      We understand child development far better now, which is why teachers and parents can’t hit anymore, and stories like this receive far more negative attention than they would have previously. It isn’t the world going soft – we’ve just advanced in understanding the impacts of such behaviours. It has been proven time and time again that loving, supportive, and nurturing parents produce more secure, happy, and balanced individuals – I would not be surprised if Max holds some issues from how he was treated (it’s no coincidence he can be dismissive, arrogant, and blinkered given who his mentor is…).

      1. Exactly.

        Not long ago, people with mental illness were locked in asylums and given lobotomies. That was abusive, we know that now even if the intention was good. We have learned and found better ways.

        Not long ago, gay people were locked up or chemically castrated. That was abusive, we know that now, no matter the intentions. We have learned and found better ways.

        Not long ago, parents and teachers routinely used corporal punishment. That was abusive, we know that now, no matter the intentions. We have learned and found better ways.

        All that said, even in my childhood, abandoning your child in a petrol station somewhere they didn’t know with no way to get home would have been considered terrible parenting…

      2. Hold up, he was 14 years old. Plenty old enough to know what was going on and figure out how to get home. If he was 7 or 8 then yes, that’s definitely unacceptable on so many levels.

        I’m not saying it was the right thing—a good parent would’ve actually talked about it with their kid; even if it was painful for them.

        1. It’s not that Max wouldn’t understand his father was angry and was reacting to that anger by leaving him. It’s that children have a tendency reflect inwardly on what is done to them and more often than not internalise feelings that it was somehow their fault and they deserved to be treated like that, which can lead to feelings of shame and a lack of self-worth.

          It’s often about ownership. Poor parents don’t take responsibility for their poor actions, so their children grow up thinking there must be something inherently wrong. We pedastalise our parents to an insane degree, even when from an outside perspective their behaviour is abusive and abhorrent.

        2. I can only speak for myself, but at 14, I’d have been able to find my own way home, and I’d have understood that my dad had acted in anger. It would still have been immensely traumatic to be abandoned somewhere by my own father and left to fend for myself just because he was angry, as well as incredibly stressful to have to work out how to get myself home from an unknown location.

          I had to do the second part (find my way home from somewhere I didn’t know) a couple of times at that age, and that was hard. Doing so in the knowledge that my dad had purposely put me in that situation….

    4. The only abuse is on my eyes. If they had the money then to go kart racing they had the money to hire an orthodontist. He certainly has the money now.

  3. so I will go with this: …

    Jos made Max what Max now is, so, if you wait a decade or so you can probably roll out the same comments and change the names.

    I do think I would do it differently than how my father and I handled it,” he said in an interview with Dutch newspaper De Limburger.

  4. Well my mothet once left me at a gas station in the autobahn for an hour almost age 13. We hadn t even had an argument. She just pumped fuel and had forgotten her wallet home.

    Still not sure how I feel about it. Especially the fact that the gas station chap would be fine with it.

    1. I’m reading this like she left you as a guarantee, and she’d return with her wallet and pay? I sincerely hope you’re not traumatised by this. It does beg a lot of questions though, as you say ‘why would the gas station agree to this arrangement?’ I mean, if she didn’t come back, what would they do with you?

      Normally tales from our childhoods have dated badly because society has changed. But I don’t think 20th century society did allow kids to be left as guarantees. Anyway, I’m sure your mum loves you and maybe she was having an off day. Which coincided with a gas station that takes kids. I hope they at least gave you a chocolate bar or something.

      1. Honestly, no. we laugh about it now. She was a foreigner in a foreign country just learning the ropes to dealing with life away from a very different place (we are italian, were expat to germany at that time, before 911 to give a reference)

        And yes she did instinctively leave me as a “guarantee” on the idea that “a mother would never not come back for her kid”

        I can’r remember much about the clerk, on hindsight it might as well have been a 20-something as clueless and worried as my mother was. He stayed 100km from me (now I can imagine why). It was… one of those things that sound a LOT worse than they felt.

        Another kid might have not taken it as lightly and I would never do it (nor my mother again), but I guess sometimes life just finds a way to mess things up.

        In more seriousness, I’m not sure dropping your child off in anger is even remotely decent.

  5. Well, Jos can dismiss the criticism as much as he wants. I get it.

    That doesn’t change what it was though. And that he dismisses only shows where he is at – you cannot learn when you do not accept your own mistakes for what they are.

    1. you cannot learn when you do not accept your own mistakes for what they are

      100% agreed

  6. I heard about this infamous left-on-a-petrol-station incident a little while ago, but infamous nevertheless & somewhat surprising that such old matters somehow always find themselves back on topic long after they happened.

  7. Mr Hamilton trained his son. He was taught to enjoy his driving and he’s done OK. Also Jenson Button’s dad encouraged his son and they had to have fun. Jenson has done okay.

    1. Max hasn’t sacked his father yet, as far as I know. You don’t know what’s going on behind the scenes. Every family has their stories.

      1. He hasn’t sacked Jos, because they never had that kind of commercial deal in their relationship. But Red Bull did make it clear that Jos is not part “of the team” nor is he a garage regular or with Max all the time G.

      2. It’s difficult to leave an abusive relationship, there is much evidence to prove that. One could argue that Hamilton firing his dad is a sign of a more mature relationship than not. It’s also relevant to know that Jos has a history of abuse.

        1. I know he has previous and I’m not defending the man. I’m just pointing out that every family has their issues and if it really was that bad then I’m sure Max would cut ties. It’s not like he depends on his father at this stage. There just seems to be a continuous clickbait witch-hunt on here.

    2. I was reflecting on the same thing, the great difference in education between Hamilton and Verstappen. But then I thought that Lewis had his fair amount of pressure from the outside, there was no need for his dad to put more pressure on him. Max on the other hand, caucasian, son of an ex F1 driver… I don’t know, maybe without the pressure put from the inside of his family he wouldn’t have reached the level his at now.

      1. “I hadn’t had a lot of embraces from my dad. He was a very tough father, and he found it generally quite difficult, I would say, to show affection. ‘Cause he’s had to be the strong one.” Lewis Hamilton.

        People make a LOT of assumptions about Hamilton and his dad’s relationship. Lewis speaks very rarely and without much detail, unlike Max and Jos who do.

  8. Hmmmm…. definitely sounds abusive to me.

  9. Roth Man (@rdotquestionmark)
    11th April 2023, 13:31

    Compared to some of Jos’s other misdemeanours and stories, this is fairly mild. At least he didn’t turn around and run Max over on this occasion.

    Max seems very grounded and a decent human being, which is a huge credit to him, in spite of his father.

    1. And a credit to his mother who, in my opinion, doesn’t get the credit she deserves in playing the role of raising a Champion.

      1. Putting Jos’s well documented behaviour aside he was the one driving Max around Europe. He was the one tuning engines. His level of involvement was beyond any dad I’ve witnessed. Most dad’s don’t drop their kid off a service stations…but a fair few dump them with teams and bugger off.

        1. Still Alan Dove, compared that to Jensen Button and his dad who were mentioned by Dex above: similarly involved, but supportive. Sure Button might not have had the talent of Verstappen, but surely he got more or less everything out of his career. If you take Anthony Hamilton into that too: so far, that’s worked out pretty well for Lewis Hamilton.

          1. We don’t know what John and Anthony were like. People are making assumptions because Jenson and Lewis don’t talk as openly about the relationship they had with their fathers as Max does about Jos (that’s the only real difference we can measure). I don’t recall Anthony being a shrinking violet back in the day either. Either way we can’t make any assumptions because we simply do not know what Jenson and Lewis experienced. What we do know is we have three men who all have had close (and complex) relationships with their dad as adults. Lewis literally stated his dad was a ‘tough father’

            “I hadn’t had a lot of embraces from my dad. He was a very tough father, and he found it generally quite difficult, I would say, to show affection. ‘Cause he’s had to be the strong one.”

            “At the time probably was like any vulnerability is weakness. Yeah, damn, I needed that hug from my dad so bad,”


            And again, while it does not excuse any actions, Jos was far more involved in Max’s career than either Anthony and John from a purely mechanical pov. John was good with the motors but I don’t recall him tuning world level 100cc engines. Jos was tuning Max’s KZ motors and winning the World Championship. What he was doing, putting the clear issues aside, was unbelievable.

            I happen to think junior karting and the FIA need a complete restructuring. 14 year olds shouldn’t be racing for world titles and having that pressure. Daniel Bray, mentioned in the article, was 25 at the time of this race. Puts it into perspective what these children are being put into by the FIA

  10. Let him who is without sin cast the first stone. I can remember I threw my kids out of the car at a parking lot because they didn’t behave. Have to admit I was tempted to drive away without them. So I’m not the one who is trowing the first stone here. I think Max is the only one who can judge here and he is still close to his dad.

    1. Nell (@imabouttogoham)
      11th April 2023, 13:57

      Haven’t left my kids at a gas station so I’m picking up that stone…

      1. You’re too late to cast the first stone but you can always join the angry twitter mob.

  11. Well, Jos was also found guilty of beating his ex wife, and also ran over an ex-girlfriend with a car once. Plus he beat a man badly, cracking his skull at a karting event, so yeah, Jos is a pretty horrible person.

    Around the same time that he was being charged with attempted murder, he abandoned his son at a gas station. Seems like abuse to me.

    1. Seems like abuse to me.

      That’s because it is. As you highlight, this is just one of many of Jos Verstappen’s questionable acts.

  12. Bad parenting is just that. It’s hard to justify, regardless of the outcome in the end.

    How dumb do you have to be to leave your son stranded in a petrol station on purpose? he should be ashamed of himself.

    1. Agreed! In the U.S. in the area I live in he would’ve been charged with Child Neglect or Child Abandonment if someone had called the police. So in the eyes of the law what he did constitutes a form of abuse. For a prosecutor I don’t believe it would be hard to bring charges based on “the reasonable, normal and prudent actions of a parent” when compared to what he did. I don’t think his “no harm, no foul” reasoning would sit well with a judge or jury.

  13. Mark in Florida
    11th April 2023, 15:24

    Spartans were considered the best warriors during their heyday. So to be a Spartan you had to live the life and put in the effort.
    It was either thrive or die. Not everyone could make it to the top of the heap.
    Jos raised him tough and he made it.
    It’s probably not everyone’s ideal way of raising a child but the result is that it worked. Max is at the top of the heap and thriving.

    1. Not everyone could make it to the top of the heap.

      Actually, the Spartans were very keen on their egalitarian ideals – right down to common meals and lack of ostentatious homes and such. It’s just that, as so often, they conveniently left out that the society itself was run and supported by enslaved people.

      It’s probably not everyone’s ideal way of raising a child but the result is that it worked. Max is at the top of the heap and thriving.

      It ‘worked’ in the sense that Max is affording Jos a second chance at the life he wanted but failed to achieve. Unfortunately, Max’ success will inspire countless more fathers to put ridiculous pressure on their sons and daughters, which won’t ‘work’ and instead leave yet another family strained or torn apart.

      1. These dad’s don’t need any encouragement. It should be noted that most dad’s nowadays aren’t involved at the level the likes of Jos was with Max. Jos was part of the technical development and tuning of the engines. Its rare beyond belief. Most dad’s drop their kids off with a team and sit at the sides nowadays.

        1. Fun fact: Most Dads aren’t abusive ex-F1 drivers living their lives vicariously through their child.

    2. Ridiculous comment. Truly ridiculous. Hamilton 7 times world champion because of his talent. Max double world champion because of his talent. His dad is just a sad loser quite frankly living vicariously through his son. Also a guy with a clearly violent past. Let’s not normalise violence or cruelty. Max would have been world champion if his father had had no involvement. He might even be a fairer racer too and still be winning.

      1. Yep. Max is a champion despite his father, not because of him.

        1. I am afraid there is a bit of denial with regard to Max’s career. One can condemn Jos’s action but also acknowledge the level of commitment he put into Max’s career and the level of success it produced. I was around the karting scene back then and saw with my own eyes they level Jos was working at. He was tuning the engines Max raced which really is unheard of at the level they were racing at. He was driving around Europe in a van too. I know because I saw it with my own eyes. Jos is directly responsible for the success of Max because he was the one tuning the engines at a world class level and they literally won an FIA World Championship together. The level Max reached in karts I’ve not seen in my life before or since.

          Again, it’s not condoning the actions Jos took, but you can’t just remove Jos from the picture and think Max reaches F1 and wins championships. This goes for most of the grid. Remove Anthony (acknowledged as a ‘tough father’ by Lewis), and is Lewis getting to F1? Probably not.

          The actual root oft he issues in my view is the way karting has been constructed to be a feeder to F1. Lewis should never have been on mainstream TV aged 10 racing karts. Max should never have been racing for a World Cup (not world championship) at 14 against 25 years olds (Daniel Bray’s age int he video above). The level of pressure these bring to kids, and those supporting/funding, is a bit much imo.

  14. “Anatomy of a **Champion” you say? Where might this be shows so I can avoid it like the plague?

    I’m well read in the criminal history of Jos Verstappen, and the conclusions I’ve drawn are that the toxic behaviours Max was groomed with during childhood are replicated now on the track. The apple hasn’t fallen far from the tree. Mark my words.

    1. @jazz we are all (mostly) products of our upbringing. Nature or nurture, seems like Max didn’t have much hope.

  15. Jos’ reaction after the Saudi GP shows what kind of person he is. His son’s team finished 1-2, and his son’s teammate won the race, with Max on the podium in 2nd place – a higher finish than Jos ever achieved himself – and he can’t show even the smallest amount of appreciation or satisfaction. He’s a low quality person. Luckily it seems that Max is a better person than his father. It’s just a matter of time until he is banned from the paddock for assaulting someone.

    1. You do know that’s completely untrue?
      Jos was one of the first to shake hands with Perez but that was convient left out to support the narrative.
      Even Perez admitted it

  16. So there are bad parenting decisions. And there’s being Jos Verstappen and having a five-year suspended jail sentence for cracking someone’s skull. Also a suspended sentence for sending threatening messages and violating a restraining order. The charge for attempted murder (running over his then girlfriend) was withdrawn, of course. Really, I wouldn’t be looking for any kind of parenting advice from this person.

  17. I mean his dad is clearly a bit of a nut job. Violent and domineering. I actually feel bad for Max reading this and seeing how he is basically dismissing the abuse probably to try and protect the image.

    The guy clearly has the talent to drive incredibly well and fast, I honestly don’t think he needed any of this in his childhood to make him the world champion that he now is. He’s definitely got some trauma whether he ever admits that to himself or to others or not.

    I basically just hope people don’t see this and say “look, that’s how you foster a world champion”. He already had it in him, and many who will have been pushed and pushed by their parents or others simply won’t and will just be damaged irrevocably because of those people’s actions. Let’s not legitimise this crap.

    1. You don’t think Max being a FIA karting world champion (on engines his dad literally tuned) has no bearing on his route to F1 which included just 1 season in F3? I wouldn’t say ‘this is how you foster a world champion’ but removing Jos from the picture and Max’s career changes quite a fair bit. I am not sure people really understand how this sport works. Max, and his dad, reached a level in karting I’ve not witnessed before or since, and this includes the professional ranks of Ardigo, Fore etc… This doesn’t condone the instances we often hear about, but we can’t also remove what Jos did very well from the picture. He knew how to tune engines and he knew the level of commitment required to be the best in the world.

      Also projecting trauma onto a driver is wholly inappropriate. Lewis has literally said in an interview all he wanted was a hug from his dad as a kid. Shall we start saying he is a victim of trauma? Again, this projection is not inappropriate.

  18. Yeah, only every decent therapist/psychiatrist would identify that as abuse, but let’s ignore them.

  19. Having been the victim of similar bullying by a parent in a different sport I can only say that this sort of parental treatment is not uncommon, even today.

    Did it make me better at the sport – quite possibly, but the mental scars never really went away and I left the sport as soon as I was able to make my own decisions.

    I still get chills when I see domineering parents looking over the shoulder of young sports people.

  20. My son did a few seasons karting and I saw some parents who pushed their kids hard and several just burned out, couple turned into splif heads.
    For everyone who successfully makes it to the top in different sports there are lot who fail and some end up broken.
    We loved karting but one day my son just said that preparing the kart during the week and getting up early to drive to tracks around the country and sleeping in the back of our transit van was not for him so we sold all the gear and never looked back.

  21. The comment section was a funny read and textbook example of people not knowing what their are talking about. While amusing also worrying to see how assumptions dribble down to opinions.

  22. Funny, I was an instructor basic militairy training, I see nothing bad. Just explane them afterwards that you treated them bad because they did something stupid, make them understand not to do it again. If they can’t handle it, they must find another job. If the do it again make sure they go and find another job.

  23. The happy Verstappen family…

  24. IfImnotverymuchmistaken
    13th April 2023, 9:13

    As a father, I want my child to feel loved by her parents at all times. Joss obviously disagrees. Hope Max took this as an example how not to behave.

  25. Max would be better off if Dad would stay home during the races now. He can watch them on TV.

  26. Jos is a lovely bloke. Anyone can see that.

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