Max Verstappen, Red Bull, Suzuka, 2023

Max Verstappen

Max Verstappen caused a stir by gaining a place in Formula 1 just eight months after starting his first car race.

The son of Jos Verstappen, who was the first Dutchman to stand on an F1 podium, and kart racer Sophie-Marie Kumpen, Max used a hugely successful karting campaign in 2013 as a springboard to start his single-seater racing career.

Max Verstappen’s route to F1


Born: 30th September 1997
Birthplace: Hasselt, Belgium
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The elder Verstappen bowed out of F1 in 2003, and two years later seven-year-old Max scored his first karting victories in Belgium. This began a remarkable unbeaten streak running across three seasons, first in the Belgian ‘mini’ championship for two years, then after moving up to the ‘mini max’ category.

Further titles followed in 2008 including the Belgian Cadet Championship as Verstappen, now 11, began to ascend the karting ladder. A move up to the international level did little to put him off his stride, as he won the WSK World Series KF3 and the Euro title as well – the latter crown he retained the following year.

In 2012 he continued to compete across a variety of karting categories and enjoyed mixed success. But he came of age the following season, amassing a daunting collection of trophies. Among them were the CIK-FIA KZ world championship title, won against several highly-rated rivals including former F1 driver Jaime Alguersuari

Verstappen added the KF and KZ European titles as well, lifted the WSK Euro Series KZ1 and WSK Master Series KZ2 crowns, and added the KF2 Winter Cup too. On the back of one of the most impressive karting campaigns of recent years Verstappen, who turned 16 that September, prepared to move up to slicks-and-wings racing.

2014: Formula 3

His first stop was the 2014 Florida Winter Series, which comprised a dozen races run over four weeks at the beginning of the year. He made an inauspicious start when he crashed into Antonio Fuoco in the pits shortly after the first session started. But Verstappen won twice in a field which included drivers who had raced in Formula Renault 2.0 and Formula Three. Unusually, the series did not produce an overall champion, having no ranking system.

Those two categories were potential destinations for his 2014 campaign. Verstappen tested both machines, but following a highly promising run in a German Formula Three Cup car he chose to take the plunge in the most competitive Formula Three championship – the Europe-wide series.

Driving for the same Van Amersfoort team his father once raced for, the younger Verstappen won in his second F3 weekend. Soon after he hit a rich vein of form, reeling off six consecutive victories, all scored at Spa-Francorchamps and the Norisring.

A seventh straight win followed in the prestigious Masters of F3 on home ground at Zandvoort, though it didn’t count towards the championship. Verstappen’s Lotus-backed rival Esteban Ocon retained a 74-point lead in the drivers’ standings, partly thanks to superior reliability from his car. Ocon pulled over 100 points clear with a hat-trick of his own the following weekend in Moscow.

Toro Rosso gave Verstappen his first F1 practice run in 2014
Verstappen failed to capitalise when Ocon endured a point-less weekend at the Red Bull Ring, due in part to a controversial penalty following contact with Antonio Fuoco. Red Bull, however, had seen enough of his potential to make their move.

Mercedes were also showing an interest in the young driver, but on August 12th Verstappen was announced as the latest addition to Red Bull’s junior driver programme. That roster already included two drivers who were leading their championships – Carlos Sainz Jnr in Formula Renault 3.5 and Alex Lynn in GP3 – plus promising Formula Renault 3.5 rookie Pierre Gasly.

But just six days after Red Bull revealed Verstappen had joined their ranks came the surprise announcement that he would race for their junior team Toro Rosso in 2015, replacing Jean-Eric Vergne. By the end of the year he had made three appearances in F1 practice sessions in preparation for his debut at the record-breaking age of 17.

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Max Verstappen’s F1 career

2015: Toro Rosso

The speed of Verstappen’s ascent into Formula One prompted the sport’s governing body to introduce a swathe of new rules intended to prevent anyone as young or inexperienced from reaching the top so quickly. But he quickly dispelled such concerns with a largely mature first season in F1 which included a few eye-catching results.

Potential was clear to see in Verstappen’s 2015 season
The Toro Rosso STR10 was an aerodynamically effective chassis hobbled by a weak and unreliable Renault engine. This meant some of Verstappen’s better performances were denied the results they deserved – notably in China where his car came to a halt on the pit straight with a few laps to go.

However he peaked with a pair of fourth-place finishes at the Hungaroring – where he capitalised on the mistakes of others – and at the Circuit of the Americas where he shone in mixed conditions.

Arguably his most dazzling performance came not in a race but in first practice for the Monaco Grand Prix on his first visit to the demanding Monte-Carlo street track. He ended the opening 90 minutes of running with the second-fastest time. But in the race he made his most conspicuous error of the year, slamming into Romain Grosjean while trying to overtake the Lotus driver.

Over the second half of the year he finished in the points more often than not and had developed a reputation for gutsy overtaking moves as he improvised to move his underpowered car forwards. Red Bull kept him on board for a second season amid speculation that Ferrari were preparing to offer him a contract.

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2016: Toro Rosso and Red Bull

Verstappen was only a Toro Rosso driver for four more races. Eager to see what he could do in the top team, Red Bull promoted him at the expense of Daniil Kvyat in time for the Spanish Grand Prix.

Verstappen repaid their faith first time out with an extraordinary debut win. It was achieved partly thanks to the two Mercedes drivers taking each other out on the first lap. He also benefitted from new team mate Daniel Ricciardo, who led the opening stages, ending up on a less favourable strategy. But he delivered his first F1 victory under serious pressure from Kimi Raikkonen.

The pair locked horns again in subsequent races, much to Raikkonen’s frustration. He took exception to Verstappen’s firm defensive driving tactics at the Hungaroring and Spa, but Verstappen batted the complaints away.

In Brazil he produced a virtuoso performance in dire conditions. On a soaked track he pounced on Nico Rosberg to run second, flirted with disaster when his RB12 snapped sideways at speed, and recovered from a late pit stop to scythe through the field on his way to a podium finish.

2017: Red Bull

A spate of ill-timed technical failures spoiled Verstappen’s first full season in a Red Bull. Strong runs in Canada and Azerbaijan (the latter ultimately won by his team mate) were lost this way.

However he added a pair of wins to his career tally in Malaysia and Mexico. He won the latter after elbowing his way past title contenders Vettel and Hamilton at the start.

He also posted great recovery drives in China and Austin. The latter was nearly rewarded with a podium finish, but a five-second penalty for leaving the track while passing Raikkonen left him fourth.

Red Bull also took the opportunity to extend Verstappen’s contract. This was telling, as they did so before doing the same to Ricciardo, who was already on a shorter deal.

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2018: Red Bull

The opening races of 2018 handed much ammunition to Verstappen’s critics. He wasted points with a series of collisions, including a messy performance in China, a collision with his team mate in Azerbaijan, and a weekend-ruining crash in Monaco.

He bounced back superbly, taking 11 podium finishes over the season to Ricciardo’s two. Among these were wins in Austria, earned thanks to a robust first-lap pass on Raikkonen, and a repeat of his 2017 victory in Mexico. A third should have followed in Brazil, but he tripped over the lapped Ocon and spun, finishing second. He confronted and shoved his rival in the pits after the race, earning a sanction from the FIA.

2019: Red Bull

Max Verstappen, Red Bull, Interlagos, 2019
Brazil was one of Verstappen’s three wins in 2019
Verstappen’s position as Red Bull’s de facto team leader was cemented in 2019 as Ricciardo left the team. His new team mate Pierre Gasly only lasted 12 races before being replaced, largely due to his inability to get on competitive terms with Verstappen. Alexander Albon, who made his F1 debut with Toro Rosso earlier that year, became Verstappen’s third different team mate in the space of nine months.

It was the most consistent start to a season yet for Verstappen, who finished in the top five in each of the first 12 races. He picked up two wins, underlining the potential of their new Honda power units, and went into the summer break having finally claimed his first pole position at the Hungaroring.

The second half of the season wasn’t quite as strong for Red Bull, with development of the car now split between Verstappen and an inexperienced team mate still learning the demands of an F1 car. However Verstappen’s year did end with three consecutive podium finishes, a win from pole position and third place in the final standings.

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2020: Red Bull

The Covid-19 pandemic shortened and delayed the next season, but it was Verstappen’s statistically most impressive year to date as he made the podium in 11 races out of 17, two more wins and a third career pole position.

But there were also several weekends of woe that cost Verstappen second place in the standings. He retired from the first race at the Red Bull Ring and at Monza with power unit failures, was eliminated in lap one crashes at Mugello and in the second Bahrain race, and crashed out due a puncture at Imola.

He was in a podium position at the Red Bull Ring and Imola, costing him more than the eight points by which he lost out on the championship runner-up spot. But the following year brought the opportunity to finish even higher than that.

2021: Red Bull

Albon was shown the door at the end of 2020, so Verstappen had another new team mate. He was largely unchallenged by the more experienced Sergio Perez, but would them but would be thankful for his assistance in a bruising, year-long struggle for the championship with Hamilton. Verstappen ultimately prevailed, albeit in deeply controversial circumstances which were out of his control.

Max Verstappen beat Lewis Hamilton to 2021 F1 title
A hugely controversial finale decided the 2021 championship
The season started with a wheel-to-wheel battle between Hamilton and Verstappen at Bahrain that set the scene for how intense the title battle would be. After three second places and a win at Imola, victory in Monaco earned Verstappen the championship lead for the first time in his career, and after a run of three wins in a row he held it until the 11th grand prix in Hungary where an opening lap clash left him finishing ninth. Verstappen reclaimed the points lead by winning the first two races after the summer break. Then the series arrived at Monza.

The title contenders had already tangled while disputing the lead at Silverstone, the contact sending Verstappen into the barrier. Despite a 10-second time penalty, Hamilton recovered to win the race, following which the furious Red Bull team made an unsuccessful attempt to increase his sanction.

At Monza they collided again, at much lower speed, Verstappen landing on top of Hamilton’s car. This time the Red Bull driver was found to blame. He carried a grid penalty into the next round at Sochi. There Hamilton won, retaking the points lead, only for Verstappen to reclaim it next time out in Turkey.

Wins in the next two races shored up Verstappen’s advantage. But Hamilton swept the next three and the pair went into the final race in Abu Dhabi level on points. The winner-takes-all contest looked to be going his rival’s way until an infamous final-lap Safety Car restart in which Verstappen passed Hamilton and become world champion. Afterwards the FIA deemed race director Michael Masi had failed to follow the rules in the restart and replaced him in a package of changes.

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2022: Red Bull

Max Verstappen won his second world championship in 2022
Leclerc couldn’t keep Verstappen from second title in 2022
The controversy over the 2021 season rumbled into the following year and resurfaced when it emerged Red Bull had also exceeded F1’s new budget cap that year. By the time that was officially confirmed, Verstappen had already clinched his second title.

He comfortably beat his tally of 10 race victories from his first title-winning season by topping the podium a record-breaking 15 times in 2022. Seven of those races were won by margins of more than 10 seconds.

His second world championship title was claimed by 146 points, and his domination was helped by Red Bull becoming the leading force once again under F1’s new technical regulations.

Only six of Verstappen’s wins came from pole position as Ferrari often had the advantage on one-lap pace, but he was still able to be crowned champion with four races to spare, albeit in confusing circumstances at Suzuka as it was initially unclear whether the shortened Japanese Grand Prix would count for full points.

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