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That’s my boy! Jos and Carlos Snr on their sons’ rookie seasons

02 Dec 2015

What’s it like watching your son make his Formula One debut - especially when you yourself have first-hand experience of motorsport at the highest level? And not only that, but when your son’s fellow rookie team mate also has a famous racing father? That’s the position Carlos Sainz Snr - a double world rally champion - and Jos Verstappen - a two-time F1 podium finisher - found themselves in at Toro Rosso this year with respective offspring Carlos and Max…

Q: How would each of you sum up your son’s debut season?

Jos Verstappen: If I think about Max then I have to say he has done an incredible job. We all know that it is damned difficult to start in Formula One. We’ve been lucky to make that start with Toro Rosso as they built a good car that gave him a real chance. I am very pleased.

Carlos Sainz Snr: Also very positive. Aside all the hiccups it’s been a positive season. The first year is a very steep learning curve. People can give you advice - and you may listen carefully - but you only really understand all these things once you have arrived and seen them for yourself. Carlos had to face some mechanical issues, so his season was probably not that easy. But I am pretty happy.

Q: Being so young, both of them have had to grow up pretty fast in the space of a season. Have you seen any changes in your sons?

JV: Oh yes. When I remember Max when he started in Melbourne and when I look at him now - his life has been completely turned upside down. He has built up a very strong character and he has built up his professionalism. In many ways he is a different person.

Q: Has anything surprised you?

JV: Not really surprised, but it was interesting to see that in some ways he has two personalities now: at the track the top professional, and at home the same Max that he has always been - just like all those years before.

Q: What about you Carlos? Have you seen any big changes in your son?

CS: He has become much more mature - and a better driver. Experience you cannot buy - you have to live it through. From Australia to Abu Dhabi I’ve seen a big evolution in his character.

Q: Not too long ago he said he’d be happy to see the ‘Jr’ disappear from after his name. Perhaps he is not quite there yet…

CS: Ha, that’s something very easy: just go to the car and remove that sticker and tell everybody, ‘Hey guys, I am no longer Carlos Sainz Jr - I am Carlos Sainz!’ I wouldn’t mind that. (laughs) But I think this ‘Jr’ always comes with father and son having the same name - and especially if the father is still active (at least a little bit!)

Q: How do their debuts compare to your own first seasons at the top of the motorsport ladder?

JV: In Max’s case much more positive. When I started I had a lot of crashes. Michael (Schumacher) was my team mate - one of the best ever drivers ever - and I had to compete against him. I was pushing all the time, making a lot of mistakes - and in a rookie season that is not really a positive. Max is doing a lot better.

CS: Well, it’s a bit difficult to compare, as rallying is slightly different to F1! But I have to say that I am a different father now: I have also learned a lot! I haven’t been at most of the circuits, I haven’t watched the whole procedure of a race weekend so closely - so it was also a steep learning curve for me. But when looking back at the start of my career, I can just confirm what Jos said: I was also making many mistakes - pushing to hard, wanting too much at one time. In my first year I flew off at the first three Rallies with Toyota! I was very fast, but pushing too much - the brain always set in too late! (laughs)

Q: What is your first memory of watching your son race?

JV: Ah, I remember very well his very first race. Max was seven. You know in practice you can give him advice, you can help him, but in the race he goes off and has to do his own thing. That was a very strange experience.

CS: In Carlos’ case it was a bit different. He was about six years old and racing at an indoor karting track. The chain broke on the kart in front of him and hit the two following karts - and one of them was Carlos. In that moment I really thought that it was probably a bit too early. I was a bit worried, but he was fine.

Q: What about you Carlos? Have you seen any big changes in your son?

CS: He has become much more mature - and a better driver. Experience you cannot buy - you have to live it through. From Australia to Abu Dhabi I’ve seen a big evolution in his character.

Q: Not too long ago he said he’d be happy to see the ‘Jr’ disappear from after his name. Perhaps he is not quite there yet…

CS: Ha, that’s something very easy: just go to the car and remove that sticker and tell everybody, ‘Hey guys, I am no longer Carlos Sainz Jr - I am Carlos Sainz!’ I wouldn’t mind that. (laughs) But I think this ‘Jr’ always comes with father and son having the same name - and especially if the father is still active (at least a little bit!)

Q: How do their debuts compare to your own first seasons at the top of the motorsport ladder?

JV: In Max’s case much more positive. When I started I had a lot of crashes. Michael (Schumacher) was my team mate - one of the best ever drivers ever - and I had to compete against him. I was pushing all the time, making a lot of mistakes - and in a rookie season that is not really a positive. Max is doing a lot better.

CS: Well, it’s a bit difficult to compare, as rallying is slightly different to F1! But I have to say that I am a different father now: I have also learned a lot! I haven’t been at most of the circuits, I haven’t watched the whole procedure of a race weekend so closely - so it was also a steep learning curve for me. But when looking back at the start of my career, I can just confirm what Jos said: I was also making many mistakes - pushing to hard, wanting too much at one time. In my first year I flew off at the first three Rallies with Toyota! I was very fast, but pushing too much - the brain always set in too late! (laughs)

Q: What is your first memory of watching your son race?

JV: Ah, I remember very well his very first race. Max was seven. You know in practice you can give him advice, you can help him, but in the race he goes off and has to do his own thing. That was a very strange experience.

CS: In Carlos’ case it was a bit different. He was about six years old and racing at an indoor karting track. The chain broke on the kart in front of him and hit the two following karts - and one of them was Carlos. In that moment I really thought that it was probably a bit too early. I was a bit worried, but he was fine.

Q: When did it become clear to you that your sons would follow in your footsteps?

JV: When Max was doing mini karts, we did 65 races in the first three years and he won 64 of them. It became very clear that his goal was winning, winning, winning! From then on it was obvious that he wanted to become a racing driver.

Q: Was it that clear for Carlos?

CS: When he did his first indoor kart races I was still very active so didn’t want to push things. I think it became really clear when he was about ten years-old. Then I somehow saw that he was serious about it and told him that it was going to be hard and that a lot of commitment is required. Of course I also wanted him to keep on studying, as it was not one hundred percent clear how serious he was - and how good. So we made certain deals and compromises. But very shortly after it became clear that he really wanted to go down that avenue.

Q: Did you both warn your sons that it’s a long and hard road they are choosing - with a lot of sacrifices required?

JV: Of course I told him how difficult the environment can be, so yes, we spoke about it. But if you see them having talent - and commitment - then you give them the chance to try it. And then we tried to do it in the most professional way. But don’t get me wrong, he’s had a super season. But it is still difficult - F1 is very unpredictable!

CS: I told him that a career in sport is always difficult. It needs professionalism, discipline and dedication - and it may not last very long. I am aware that in the case of Max and Carlos a number of people will ask, ‘Is it the dad that wants it, or the son?’ I think it is clear now for any doubter: it’s the son! (laughs)

Q: How would you sum up your emotions when you learnt that your son had secured an F1 drive?

JV: To be honest, that was the goal. When you sign the deal you are very happy, but as soon as the ink has dried you know that this is only the start - that a tough time is coming, that you need to perform all the time, to see that you don’t make too many mistakes - because once they write you off it is difficult to stay in F1.

CS: Happy - and realistic. And as Jos said, knowing that this was the start of something bigger and more difficult. It came pretty late for Carlos, so we had all that time been between hope and trepidation - and finally it happened. Son and dad were happy!

Q: How much advice and coaching do you give your sons?

JV: Less and less. They both understand what to do and what’s important. Both are very well settled in the team. And for me I have to say that I never go into details about the car with Max - he just knows better!

CS: I think Max and Carlos are very lucky as Toro Rosso is a good team to learn in - and it’s a blessing that they are there at the same time, as they are pushing each other a lot. If the other driver is very quick you’d better not relax but look at the small details and stay very focused. They are in a fantastic learning process. Max has had a really good season - and that is also good for Carlos. I think it hasn’t happened very often that a team has taken two rookies and doesn’t have a reference driver - but they have been rewarded for their guts!

Q: Would you have preferred a more experienced ‘reference driver’ as your sons’ team mate?

JV: I don’t think so. As Carlos just said, they are pushing each other hard and both get better. Both are stepping up. And the reference that we have is Red Bull Racing. If you see how close we have been at many races - and sometimes in front of them - that’s enough reference.

Q: What is the most important piece of advice you have given your son?

CS: I have given much advice, depending on the situation. I am sure it’s the same with Jos. I think the important thing is that they know that they have somebody to support them - and somebody to tell them the truth.

Q: Do you also have to pick them up when things don’t go so well?

CS: Of course. Everybody has ups and downs - and in this sport in particular!

JV: That’s what fathers are there for. But so far I have to say that neither has had a dip so far and that makes things a lot easier.

Q: Jos, Max has matched your best F1 qualifying position and has already far exceeded your career points tally. How long before he equals your two podium finishes?

JV: Ha, I think it could look like there is a big chance next year. I have a good feeling for next year.

Q: Carlos, you had the misfortune to witness your son involved in a huge accident earlier this year. How did you cope with that, and were you surprised to see him racing the following day?

CS: Fortunately for me I was not in Sochi. I followed on TV and I must say that I don’t want anybody to go through those 17 minutes we went through, as we didn’t have any information. He was inside the car and we didn’t know what was going on, so the relief was extremely high when we got the info that he was okay. So Sochi will go down in my memory as the race where thank God nothing happened to him and that he was able to recover unfazed from one day to the other - and without the brakes issues in the race he could have finished fifth. That is a fantastic achievement after such a massive crash.

Q: You were both very competitive drivers - and you never really lose that sense of competitiveness. How frustrating is it to see your sons doing something you would probably love to be doing yourself? Is there any sense of envy?

JV: Not at all. I am happy for him. Max is definitely going his own way. He has now moved into his own apartment. Yes, sometimes it is tough to watch, but it helps them for the future. We both knew that it was going to happen, so you step back a little bit more and more. It is his life and he has to develop it as he wants it.

CS: I am happy that Carlos has decided to go down this F1 road. I am happy with what I have done and still like more rallying than F1 - and after one season coming to F1 races I feel much more passionate about rallying! (laughs) It is his life and as Jos just indicated, with time we will be mere spectators.

Q: Is it satisfying that you both have been able to give your sons the chance to follow their dream?

JV: We have helped, but it is was more down to them - they were fighting for it. We did the best to bring them as high up as possible, but it was up to them to create the chance they have now. If Carlos and Max hadn’t done such a good job in the lower categories they wouldn’t be here. These boys created their own possibilities. They’ve already shown their true colours.

CS: I think a name can be a door opener, but then they have to walk on their own - and that’s exactly what they did, because there is always a moment where it only counts if you deliver.

Q: Do you think your sons ever resented, or struggled, living under the shadow of your name when they were starting out?

JV: No, not that, but I think it was harder for them if they didn’t do well.

Q: What’s your guess as proud dads: is a championship win within your sons?

JV: We of course wish them all the best. But looking back on how the season went I predict that both of them have very good chances in Formula One.

CS: I totally agree. Both have delivered a very remarkable year. Both are in a good age - F1 needs new people! There are people descending in their career and now youngsters are coming up - and Carlos and Max are among these newcomers.

Q: So what about a title?

JV: I definitely hope so! (laughs) That is what you are here for. We are not here to fill up the field. But doing that is about being in the right place at the right time - and again that’s a challenge for the dads to help to make that happen!