In the Spotlight: Max Verstappen

A series of F1 drivers’ profiles

By Daphne Seberich

They call him “mad” and he goes to the “max”: Max Verstappen is one of the drivers of the future generation of champions. 

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Notorious for being the youngest driver to compete, score points and win in Formula One, “Mad Max” quickly moved up the ranks of the team backing him up since 2014, Red Bull Racing

Racing runs in his blood. His father, Jos Verstappen, is a former F1 driver, known for the incident in the pit lane where he took on fire when refueling was still allowed in the circus. His mother, Sophie Kumpen, was a successful karting racer.

Being the son of a famous racing driver subsequently put him under pressure to follow in his father’s footsteps. Nevertheless, the superb Dutch driver, endowed with such rare and raw talent, climbed the latter of karting competitions, where every F1 racer starts off their careers.

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The success he had in the younger categories opened the doors to international competitions in 2010, his most notorious win being scored in France at the 2013 World KZ championships at the age of 15. 

One year after, Verstappen joined the Red Bull Junior Program, which supported him throughout his path to F1. A short-lived progression to the younger Formula categories, the Dutch made it from F3 to F1 at only 17 years old. 

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Arriving as Formula 1’s youngest ever competitor at 17, Verstappen pushed his car, his rivals and the sport’s record books to the limit. The Dutchman with the heart of a lion took the Toro Rosso – and then the Red Bull – by the horns with his instinctive racing style. 

F1’s youngest points scorer soon became its youngest race winner. At the age of 18 years and 228 days, with an opportunistic but controlled drive on debut for Red Bull in Barcelona 2016, Verstappen made it into the history of the sport. He is a true wheel-to-wheel racer and known for racing to the limit of his car and abilities. 

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Verstappen’s attitude and hard defending have sometimes stirred controversies with his colleagues and superiors. But the mistakes that initially disfigured his potential have given way to maturity, while the boldness and energy that make him a one-of-a-kind talent have remained. The victories have kept on coming.

At the age of 23, “Mad Max” has already ten victories under his belt, his most recent being the final race of the 2020 season in Abu Dhabi under the lights. He has stood 42 times on the podium since replacing mid-season the “Torpedo” Daniil Kvyat at Red Bull in 2016. An impressive number, considering that his percentage of podiums and race starts is 35.29%, meaning that approximately in one out of three races he competes in, he scores a top-three result.

Max Verstappen’s prospects are bright. The youngster, who’s only missing a Driver’s Championship in his array of achievements, has still a long career ahead of him in the sport. After the pre-season testing sessions in Bahrain, he also seems a favorite with Lewis Hamilton to win the 2021 Formula One title. He has got the right car and one of the top teams backing him. Can he make it into F1’s history as a champion?

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In the spotlight: Lewis Hamilton

A series of F1 drivers’ profiles

By Daphne Seberich

Lewis Hamilton’s record-breaking results are known. The 36-year old driver that came from humble beginnings and moved up to be the most successful driver in F1’s history in ex aequo with Michael Schumacher. Both racers have earned seven Driver’s Championship titles and after his win at the Nürburgring in 2020, Hamilton became the athlete with the most F1 wins, tallying 95. 

During the 2021 season, he will attempt to surpass the German Ferrari legend, as well as to move into the triple digits when it comes to victories. The Brit has the best car and the best team backing him, but is that necessarily the reason why he is so successful?

Lewis Hamilton had humble roots, as father Anthony worked three jobs to fund his son’s career. Lewis’s talent, along with the family’s determination and hard work, was what pushed him from obscurity into the limelight. The goal throughout his junior career was to go through the lower-tier Formula championships, winning as much as possible to gain attention from sponsors. 

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He then got offered to move up to GP2 (former comparable to Formula 2 competition) for only a single year before joining McLaren in 2007. It was maybe not the best year for McLaren (“Spygate” in 2007 ), but Lewis Hamilton almost won a Driver’s Championship in his first year in F1. Kimi Räikkönen denied the Brit the victory by one point. Someone could argue that even if Hamilton won that season it would be because of the Ferrari-copycat car. 

In 2008 Hamilton was granted his first of seven titles, beating Felipe Massa for the championship at the Interlagos GP. Massa had won his home race already, as a wet Brazilian GP complicated Hamilton’s path to victory.

“Is that Glock?”, said Martin Brundle, as the German driver lost control over his Toyota, aiding Hamilton’s McLaren to pass him in the last lap and score the sole point that would put the Brit above the Prancing Horse’s driver. This became one of the most iconic moments in Formula One’s history. 

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The future was bright for the Brit but not for the team that was backing him up. The seven-time World Champion then took the, at that time, “risky” decision to move to Mercedes in 2013. 

Hamilton’s gamble paid off. Mercedes’ partnership aided the Brit to secure his dominance in the sport since 2014. During his seven years at Mercedes, Hamilton won six Driver’s World Championships, has stood 73 times on the highest step of the podium and scored over 67 pole positions in his career with the Silver Arrows. 

In each season with the German team, his dominance was obvious. Each season he has never had a lower victory percentage than 45%, which was measured during the 2017 championship. The most dominant season Lewis Hamilton has had in his seven years at Mercedes was the past one, winning over 64.7% of the races held during the five months of competitions. 

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It is obvious that Hamilton is a talented driver, but would someone else in his car do as well as him? Teammate Nico Rosberg managed to beat him only once for the world title, Valtteri Bottas still has to manage that. So, not all of the merit goes to the car, as Max Verstappen said to Marca that “90 percent of F1 drivers could win in Hamilton’s Mercedes”, but a remarkable percentage of Mercedes’ success comes from the stellar driver that brought them to the top.

What does Lewis Hamilton’s future have to offer? The Brit is the favorite contender to earn the 2021 title as well, as the teams are mainly preparing for the revolutionizing 2022 regulation changes. After that, there’s an unknown factor, as Hamilton’s recently renewed contract with the Silver Arrows will end in 2021. Will he stay in the sport? Only time will tell…

Photo credits: H. A. Watts