You have been so dominant this year and have shaped a global sport to your will. Do you sometimes need a kick in the ass?
Max Verstappen: “No, I do not think so. As a team we are also in a very good and nice rhythm this season. Such a fast car just makes it easier to motivate myself every weekend. That has actually always been the case. I also won a lot in karting, but it was always very close. Then in the run-up to a race I really couldn’t think: we’re going to pick one up again this weekend. A small mistake was already crucial. At that time, I sometimes needed a kick in the ass, you know. Then, for example, I was not fully awake during a workout. But over the years I have learned how to do it better.”
The third world title in a row seems like a formality. Yet you are often enough critical of the current state of affairs in Formula 1.
“Yes, because I am concerned about the sport that I have always loved. And still like it, but to a certain extent. It’s not that I’m completely against change, as is sometimes said. But they must be adjustments that benefit Formula 1. Why do you have to change certain things when things are going well? I think a traditional qualifying session is well set up in that form. It shouldn’t just be about money.”
But Formula 1 is also a business and you also benefit financially.
“Yes, but in the end it’s not about that. People may think: he earns a lot of money, what is that guy complaining about? But it’s about well-being, how you experience things and not how much you earn. Sometimes I think I have to do too many things, and not do them. Then I sometimes think: is this still worth it?”
And then you’re talking about the bulging calendar and travelling?
“That’s not the biggest problem. I’m more concerned with what to do with it. A Thursday before a race weekend is sometimes a long time, although it depends a bit on where we are. Besides the Grand Prix there is also simulator work. But I spend more than a month a year on marketing, for example. At a certain point you don’t feel like it anymore.”
How do you make sure you still have a private life?
“My girlfriend (Kelly, daughter of three-time world champion Nelson Piquet, ed.) understands the world I live in. That makes a difference. And when I’m home, I try to combine it as well as possible. By doing fun things together, or with family and friends. An evening or weekend away, things like that.”
Your contract runs through 2028 and you’ve already said you might stop after that. But what if the new Red Bull engine in 2026 is not as good as expected and the team falls back. Is there a chance that you will give up sooner?
“Then it must be very bad and dramatic, I think. I also don’t expect a team to fall back that far, with all those good people walking around with us. It can always be the case in this sport that you are not doing well as a team. Then it’s about what the outlook is and what the perspective is. But indeed, I don’t see myself touring around in midfield for three years. Then I would rather stay at home or do something else. But again: I don’t see that happening.”
Speaking of perspective: in lesser years, did you ever think it was better to leave Red Bull?
“Not that. But I did think: will it still work here? But we always got back together in the end. A lot has happened within the team over the years. Just look at the switch of engine supplier, from Renault to Honda, and the way in which it is now working on its own engine. There was always something to look forward to. That was the deciding factor to extend my contract.”
Red Bull and you, that fits. Could you actually work in a more ‘corporate’ environment such as at Mercedes?
“That is indeed a very different environment. It’s always important to be yourself and keep telling it like it is. Then it doesn’t matter to me where that is. If a team really wants me in such a situation, they will also go for you and I think you can also slightly adjust certain things. Then you come together, so to speak. At the moment, of course, this is not the case at all. In the past I never could have imagined that I would achieve this success. I dreamed of reaching Formula 1 and maybe one day driving for a top team. This is what I’ve always worked for. If people now start shouting that it’s boring, so be it. I also know the other side of the coin. I don’t think it’s boring at all.”
What is fascinating: actually on every circuit your first lap is immediately good and fast, wherever it may be. How did you develop it like that?
“Ever since I was little, I have always practiced with my father that you immediately, on feeling, go fast. That you don’t need much time to perfect things or to brake twenty meters too early, for example. That’s just not possible. I really don’t drive such a first lap during a training so close to the limit that I’m close to a crash. But it’s the feeling I’ve developed. And experience over the years in Formula 1 also helps, of course. That I got to know certain circuits well. But on the other hand, the first time we raced in Jeddah, my opening lap was also fast. Then I prepare myself as well as possible in the simulator and I think about it a lot.”
You also always seem completely convinced of your own abilities. That was also the case in the years that Lewis Hamilton was dominant.
“As a driver you should always think like that, I think. Otherwise you will never be successful. Even if you are not the best driver, you still have to radiate that and think of yourself. For example, I would never admit that I am not the best in the paddock.”
You never doubted yourself?
“I never asked myself the question: am I as good as I think I am? Sometimes it doesn’t quite come out, there are some unfortunate moments and you might force a little more. That was the case at the beginning of 2018. I remember well when I pressed the reset button after the Monaco Grand Prix. Then I thought: ignore everything and just start over. Since the race after, in Canada, things have also gone well. Those stupid questions at the time about my riding style and form drove me crazy. Then you get a stupid answer back.”