Max Verstappen biography
Birthplace: Hasselt, Belgium
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Max Verstappen caused a stir by gaining a place in Formula One just eight months after starting his first car race.
The son of Jos Verstappen, who was the first Dutchman to stand on a Formula One podium, and kart racer Sophie-Marie Kumpen, Max used a hugely successful karting campaign in 2013 as a springboard to start his single-seater racing career.
The elder Verstappen bowed out of F1 in 2003, and two years later seven-year-old Max scored his first karting victories in Belgium. This began a remarkable unbeaten streak running across three seasons, first in the Belgian ‘mini’ championship for two years, then after moving up to the ‘mini max’ category.
In 2012 he continued to compete across a variety of karting categories and enjoyed mixed success. But he came of age the following season, amassing a daunting collection of trophies. Among them were the CIK-FIA KZ world championship title, won against several highly-rated rivals including former F1 driver Jaime Alguersuari
Verstappen added the KF and KZ European titles as well, lifted the WSK Euro Series KZ1 and WSK Master Series KZ2 crowns, and added the KF2 Winter Cup too. On the back of one of the most impressive karting campaigns of recent years Verstappen, who turned 16 that September, prepared to move up to slicks-and-wings racing.
His first stop was the 2014 Florida Winter Series, which comprised a dozen races run over four weeks at the beginning of the year. He made an inauspicious start when he crashed into Antonio Fuoco in the pits shortly after the first session started. But Verstappen won twice in a field which included drivers who had raced in Formula Renault 2.0 and Formula Three. Unusually, the series did not produce an overall champion, having no ranking system.
Those two categories were potential destinations for his 2014 campaign. Verstappen tested both machines, but following a highly promising run in a German Formula Three Cup car he chose to take the plunge in the most competitive Formula Three championship – the Europe-wide series.
Driving for the same Van Amersfoort team his father once raced for, the younger Verstappen won in his second F3 weekend. Soon after he hit a rich vein of form, reeling off six consecutive victories, all scored at Spa-Francorchamps and the Norisring.
A seventh straight win followed in the prestigious Masters of F3 on home ground at Zandvoort, though it didn’t count towards the championship. Verstappen’s Lotus-backed rival Esteban Ocon retained a 74-point lead in the drivers’ standings, partly thanks to superior reliability from his car. Ocon pulled over 100 points clear with a hat-trick of his own the following weekend in Moscow.
Verstappen failed to capitalise when Ocon endured a point-less weekend at the Red Bull Ring, due in part to a controversial penalty following contact with Antonio Fuoco. Red Bull, however, had seen enough of his potential to make their move.
Mercedes were also showing an interest in the young driver, but on August 12th Verstappen was announced as the latest addition to Red Bull’s junior driver programme. That roster already included two drivers who were leading their championships – Carlos Sainz Jnr in Formula Renault 3.5 and Alex Lynn in GP3 – plus promising Formula Renault 3.5 rookie Pierre Gasly.
But just six days after Red Bull revealed Verstappen had joined their ranks came the surprise announcement that he would race for their junior team Toro Rosso in 2015, replacing Jean-Eric Vergne. By the end of the year he had made three appearances in F1 practice sessions in preparation for his debut at the record-breaking age of 17.
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The speed of Verstappen’s ascent into Formula One prompted the sport’s governing body to introduce a swathe of new rules intended to prevent anyone as young or inexperienced from reaching the top so quickly. But he quickly dispelled such concerns with a largely mature first season in F1 which included a few eye-catching results.
The Toro Rosso STR10 was an aerodynamically effective chassis hobbled by a weak and unreliable Renault engine. This meant some of Verstappen’s better performances were denied the results they deserved – notably in China where his car came to a halt on the pit straight with a few laps to go.
However he peaked with a pair of fourth-place finishes at the Hungaroring – where he capitalised on the mistakes of others – and at the Circuit of the Americas where he shone in mixed conditions.
Arguably his most dazzling performance came not in a race but in first practice for the Monaco Grand Prix on his first visit to the demanding Monte-Carlo street track. He ended the opening 90 minutes of running with the second-fastest time. But in the race he made his most conspicuous error of the year, slamming into Romain Grosjean while trying to overtake the Lotus driver.
Over the second half of the year he finished in the points more often than not and had developed a reputation for gutsy overtaking moves as he improvised to move his underpowered car forwards. Red Bull kept him on board for a second season amid speculation that Ferrari were preparing to offer him a contract.
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Verstappen was only a Toro Rosso driver for four more races. Eager to see what he could do in the top team, Red Bull promoted him at the expense of Daniil Kvyat in time for the Spanish Grand Prix.
Verstappen repaid their faith first time out with an extraordinary debut win. It was achieved partly thanks to the two Mercedes drivers taking each other out on the first lap. He also benefitted from new team mate Daniel Ricciardo, who led the opening stages, ending up on a less favourable strategy. But he delivered his first F1 victory under serious pressure from Kimi Raikkonen.
The pair locked horns again in subsequent races, much to Raikkonen’s frustration. He took exception to Verstappen’s firm defensive driving tactics at the Hungaroring and Spa, but Verstappen batted the complaints away.
In Brazil he produced a virtuoso performance in dire conditions. On a soaked track he pounced on Nico Rosberg to run second, flirted with disaster when his RB12 snapped sideways at speed, and recovered from a late pit stop to scythe through the field on his way to a podium finish.
A spate of ill-timed technical failures spoiled Verstappen’s first full season in a Red Bull. Strong runs in Canada and Azerbaijan (the latter ultimately won by his team mate) were lost this way.
However he added a pair of wins to his career tally in Malaysia and Mexico. He won the latter after elbowing his way past title contenders Vettel ad Hamilton at the start.
He also posted great recovery drives in China and Austin. The latter was nearly rewarded with a podium finish, but a five-second penalty for leaving the track while passing Raikkonen left him fourth.
Red Bull also took the opportunity to extend Verstappen’s contract. This was telling, as they did so before doing the same to Ricciardo, who was already on a shorter deal.
The opening races of 2018 handed much ammunition to Verstappen’s critics. He wasted points with a series of collisions, including a messy performance in China, a collision with his team mate in Azerbaijan, and a weekend-ruining crash in Monaco.
He bounced back superbly, taking 11 podium finishes over the season to Ricciardo’s two. Among these were wins in Austria, earned thanks to a robust first-lap pass on Raikkonen, and a repeat of his 2017 victory in Mexico. A third should have followed in Brazil, but he tripped over the lapped Ocon and spun, finishing second. He confronted and shoved his rival in the pits after the race, earning a sanction from the FIA.
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