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Raising the bar - Max Verstappen Q&A

03 Mar 2016

Last season saw Max Verstappen take the F1 world by storm, his natural speed and uncanny overtaking ability justifiably earning him Rookie of the Year honours. For 2016 - with his talent now known - the weight of expectation grows. Can he use Toro Rosso’s new STR11 - with its 2015-spec Ferrari engine - to take his career to the next level? Will it lead him to Red Bull Racing? Or will team form force his destiny elsewhere? We caught up with the Dutchman at Barcelona testing for an exclusive chat…

Q: Max, you had a sensational first season - what now?

Max Verstappen: Ha, I don’t know! (laughs) Yep, it was a super season. I enjoyed lots of good results so I couldn’t have wished for better. For sure 2016 will turn out to be a bit harder because the expectations are high - but I just stay calm. Let’s see what happens. Melbourne is just around the corner and there it will show where we stand - hopefully in Q3.

Q: You have had all kinds of superlatives applied to you: wonder boy, miracle worker and so on. Is there any kind of pressure to live up to those?

MV: No, not so much. I have stayed the same person - I hope!

Q: Is that really possible? Getting constantly told how good you are and yet not changing? Surely it must change your own objectives?

MV: Well, you always want to go forward. Stepping back is not a good option. But that is not dependant just on your own abilities. You are part of a team - part of a package. And if you know that there is no more within the package, you have to deal with that. Of course I want to finish further ahead in the standings - that’s no big secret.

Q: Top teams must be lining up to secure your future services, but what about this season? However good the car is, with the 2015-spec Ferrari power unit your engine is in effect second hand. Could that be what grounds the wonder boy in 2016?

MV: Well, yes. Hopefully the engine is fast enough. It’s already a positive step forward from last year. The Italian combination is very positive for the team. It’s good fun - and on top of that the reliability is very positive. We did a lot of laps so far.

Q: The first half of the season could be good for you and Toro Rosso - but what about the second half, given that the engine will not be developed any further?

MV: Well, F1 is never easy, even with the best car or engine, so yes this will be an issue - so we have to have a better car and be smarter. We have to make super improvements on the car in the course of the season so as not to lose ground. That is the motivation for the team.

Q: So what impression do you have of the chassis?

MV: Too early to say. The conditions are pretty different at the tests. It is pretty cold in the mornings, so conditions are not one hundred percent optimal. Yes, it feels positive and I feel happy in the car. Every time we make a change it is reacting the way I want it to - and that is super positive for a start.

Q: What is your opinion on that engine situation? Good results look like they could be tough for 2016 - and for 2017 there is no guarantee the situation will improve - so at some point you will have to make your move…

MV: That is true. But I am very happy where I am now and it is looking all good for the future, so I don’t need to worry too much. Doing another year with Toro Rosso is good for learning, so I would judge my situation as being very positive.

Q: Your team principal Franz Tost has said that the normal route for you at the end of this season would be to move to Red Bull Racing. If they don’t seem to have a competitive engine, will your own career strategy have to kick in?

MV: Red Bull wants to win races again - and championships. They certainly do not want to stay where they are right now. They do have a fantastic car so let’s get the engine solved and in the future they will be winning again. No doubt about that.

Q: Tell us the good, the bad and the ugly about the STR11?

MV: Ha, I don’t have any ugly things to say. The car is nice - aggressive looking, smart, very clean lines. The bad? Missing horsepower - but that’s just the way it is. There’s no bad or ugly attributes to it. We already knew that we would be a bit down on power.

Q: How ambitious is Max Verstappen? History has shown that most world champions don’t waste a second thought on taking advantage of a given situation - even at the cost of others. They use their elbows…

MV: Ha, I don’t necessarily use my elbows - I use my car! (laughs)

Q: But don’t you sometimes have to use your elbows in the car?

MV: Yes, and I think I have done that already a bit last year. But this year we want to do it a bit further up the grid! (laughs)

Q: What was the most character-building moment for you in 2015? When did the learning curve suddenly skyrocket?

MV: It was more the general experience - to be here, to inhale everything here. That is a pretty tough task - and I am not necessarily talking about the racing, but rather everything that comes with being in F1.

Q: Who do you want to take lessons from?

MV: I think it is talking to many different people in F1 - you always learn bits and pieces. Nothing specific, more learning to understand this environment, to ‘sponge’ everything of value that I hear.

Q: Is it a comfortable feeling knowing you can beat your team mate? There will very likely be only one seat available at Red Bull Racing, so in theory it will go to you - or somebody else completely…

MV: As I said, the future is looking very good, so I can fully focus on this season. You always want to beat everybody - and that includes your team mate.

Q: But it is always better that it is you rather than somebody else?

MV: Of course. That is logical.

Q: Considering the likely handicap by an old engine, can you draw us a picture of 2016? A realistic one and not one from an ideal world…

MV: In an ideal world, of course, being first. In a realistic world? Whatever is in the car. If that is good we can have good results.

Q: Your gut feeling? Positive? Very positive? Super positive?

MV: For the moment it is positive. Hopefully we will turn it into very, or even super positive! (laughs)