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‘I am still surprising myself’ - exclusive Max Verstappen Q&A

21 Jul 2016

He was last season’s star rookie; midway through this year he got that unexpected ‘promotion’ to Red Bull Racing; and now he’s the youngest F1 winner in history, regularly beating highly-rated team mate Daniel Ricciardo. So what now for Max Verstappen? We caught up with him in Hungary to find out…

Q: Since joining Red Bull Racing you must feel like ‘Max in Wonderland’! In the last 10 years only two other drivers have had a similar impact at such an early stage of their career - Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel. And they now have seven titles between them. Is that your destiny too?

Max Verstappen: Ha, I hope I can take those seven titles that they have together for myself! (laughs) But to be serious, it is running super right now. I am massively enjoying myself and I am super happy with the team. They give me a lot of confidence - and that in return gives me the results that I am getting. I am always trying to do my best.

Q: Everybody does their best - but obviously you are doing something a bit better…

MV: Yeah, but actually I don’t know what. I am trying to do the best possible job that I can - and yes, at the moment it’s a good job!

Q: There are a number of other young drivers on the grid, some of whom will struggle to keep their seats for 2017. Where did you do things differently to them? What is the secret? Sheer talent - or is there more to it?

MV: You need good management around you. And I have that. Without that I probably wouldn’t be where I am now - with a good contract. That basis gives me the freedom to fully concentrate on the driving - to get results and not being distracted by worries about the future. And when you’re delivering good results everything becomes much easier. But the key still is you have to be fast on track - otherwise nothing helps!

Q: Did it help to come from a racing family?

MV: Yes, it did. I grew up in a paddock - I learned how to behave in this environment. I had the chance from early on to watch the key players in action and see how they handle things - and probably something rubbed off! (laughs) The other thing is that you have somebody around who already has lived through all that and immediately knows what you are talking about. It’s much about shared experiences.

Q: Most drivers arrive in F1 having got used to winning in junior series. Then that winning stops - and for some the experience never returns, or at least not for several years. Not so with you. You never ‘unlearnt’ how to win. How important is that to your self-confidence?

MV: In general as a driver you never forget how to win - that stays always within you. But, of course, the major ingredient for winning is the right car - and fortunately I’ve laid hands on it already in my second season, so there was no real gap between my last victory. I still had a pretty fresh podium memory! (laughs)

Q: What has been the biggest learning curve for you in moving from the relatively small Toro Rosso team to the F1 giant that is Red Bull Racing?

MV: I am learning every weekend, bringing all the pieces of the puzzle together - like, for example, in Silverstone where everything was coming together. These are not big things, but small important details that make the difference. Yes, Barcelona was sensational - but I didn’t have the experience then that I have now. I had very little idea about the car. Imagine: my mechanic had only buckled me in four or five times. So when I think back, that Silverstone race was definitely one of my best.

Q: When you threw things away by crashing in Monaco your Dad was pretty furious. You were much more relaxed about it. Who is the more ambitious of the two of you?

MV: Both of us. Yes, he was always very hard on me, but in a fair way. And yes, I was also very disappointed by what happened in Monaco - but even from a disappointment you can distil positives. The speed was there: to come from P21 to P9 - and that in Monaco - was quite something. We’d been the fastest on the track with the intermediate tyres - or let’s say in the wet - so even without finishing it was a good race for me.

Q: Lately you’ve outperformed your team mate Daniel Ricciardo. Has the pecking order in the team become more volatile under these circumstances?

MV: No, we don’t have these kinds of discussions. Red Bull Racing treats us both equally. The relationship between me and Daniel is very good. He is a great guy and I can - and he lets me - learn a lot from him. We really do help each other - that might sound funny, but it’s true. We both push the team - and each other - forward. It’s a good combination - hopefully one for the next couple of years!

Q: Team mate rivalry is always biggest in successful teams - when podiums or titles are at stake. We all follow with fascination the Hamilton/Rosberg clashes. How is it with Daniel and you? Has envy grown over the last couple of weeks?

MV: No. Not at all. We work great together. True, if you fight for a world championship things can be a little different – tenser. But right now we both have a huge respect for each other - and that is important.

Q: Where do you want to see your journey go for the rest of the season? And what’s the next chapter of the fairy tale ‘Max in Wonderland’?

MV: You want to hear the truth? I am still surprising myself! Sounds funny, yes. I do not set goals. All the time I say to myself: ‘Well, that went faster than I thought’. And that’s super positive and I want it to stay that way. Right now I have no idea when it will stop - hopefully not for a long time! I want to keep it going - forever?

Q: You could well finish fourth or fifth in the standings this season. What’s next? When are you looking at the big prize?

MV: Hopefully next year, when the package is back to the usual Red Bull level. We all hope that it will be.

Q: To achieve that fourth or fifth this year you will need some more excellent results, probably starting here in Budapest? Last year you finished in P4…

MV: …so a podium would make a classy Sunday, wouldn’t it?