Exclusive: Verstappen on racing outside F1, ‘the show’

Max Verstappen could not have hoped for better preparation for his home race, which takes place today in Zandvoort.

He entered the summer break in the wake of a stunning 10th-place win in the Hungarian Grand Prix. The series reunited again in Spa-Francorchamps last weekend for what proved to be its most dominant performance.

The extraordinary turn of speed that Verstappen’s RB18 demonstrated in practice seemed threatening to rivals Ferrari and the rest. So much so that even when it was announced that he would start the game in the lower half of the pitch due to penalties, a Verstappen victory was still widely expected.

Sure enough, Verstappen was leading at mid-distance and raced home to take not only his most emphatic win of the season so far, but Red Bull’s biggest win in a long time. Team leader Christian Horner likened it to one of their strongest performances of the 2010-13 era, when each championship went to Verstappen’s team and predecessor, Sebastian Vettel.

Max Verstappen, Red Bull, Miami International Circuit, 2022
F1 has enough street circuits, says Verstappen

After the spectacular conclusion of last year’s world championship, Verstappen’s growing dominance in the 2022 season was not what F1 was hoping to see as it introduced drastically revised technical regulations for this year. However, F1’s efforts to close the field and reduce the powerful surface aerodynamics that make it difficult for cars to follow closely have been widely welcomed.

The same cannot be said for every other change made by Liberty Media, now in its fifth year at the helm of F1, in search of an ever wider audience. Verstappen was not shy about voicing his concerns about some of their decisions, such as deviating from the traditional race weekend format or moving away from the sport’s most beloved circuits.

“It’s very commercial,” Verstappen acknowledges. “I mean, everyone wants to make money, right? I understand what’s built around nowadays because it’s more like F1 plus a festival, I understand that. “

But while Verstappen appreciates the need for F1 to visit new places and attract new audiences, he firmly believes the sport must remain true to its traditions. In particular, the format of the race weekend.

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He clarified his disgust with Liberty Media’s sprint race experiment. The extra qualifying races on Saturday were introduced last year with huge fanfare but, at best, a mixed reaction from fans. In this case, not only does Verstappen consider the change a gimmick that does not belong to F1, but he wonders if they also provide the additional entertainment that was promised.

Sprint race start, Red Bull Ring, 2022
Sprint races “are not F1”, Verstappen calculates

“As long as the core remains the same, I think it’s very important,” he points out. “I’m not a fan of sprint racing because I don’t think it’s F1, and I’ve said that many times.

Not only that, I think if you look at them, not many things have changed much because everyone is afraid of falling and because the big points are on Sunday so you don’t want to risk to the limit.

Another change affecting Verstappen is the consequences of the ever-expanding Grand Prix program. The F1 2023 calendar is expected to include 24 rounds, the maximum allowed by Liberty Media’s current agreement with the teams.

With competition for venues growing increasingly fierce, historic European road routes are finding themselves squeezed in favor of city circuits in glamorous locations. But trading the likes of Spa-Francorchamps for Las Vegas doesn’t suit the world champion well.

“We are going on new tracks and some tracks are leaving. Some I don’t mind, others I do. This is something that I think we need to find a balance at the moment [on].

“Obviously F1 is becoming more and more popular and you need to make some changes. But you have to keep proper tracks and not go to all these street circuits and just create hype and stuff like that.

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“It’s nice, some street circuits, but in the end you have to remember that F1 cars are not designed to drive on the roads.”

Verstappen will still be at Red Bull in his thirties

His Red Bull at least seems to deal with them better than others. The team has won on all four street circuits that F1 has visited this year, Verstappen has conquered Jeddah, Miami and Baku while teammate Sergio Perez has won in Monaco.

“Fortunately our car is a little more comfortable than others,” adds Verstappen, attacking rivals Mercedes whose W13 inflicted a particularly ferocious punishment on Lewis Hamilton on the bumps in Baku.

“But in general a street circuit is very bumpy and that’s something I don’t really like because I don’t feel the same thrill as when you ride here in Zandvoort, like an old school track.”

Despite the growing size of the F1 calendar, between races Verstappen can often be found tackling circuits on GT cars or honing his skills on his simulator. His appetite for racing is seemingly limitless.

After taking the title last year, Verstappen has struck a deal with Red Bull that will keep him on the team through the 2028 season, by far the longest contract of any driver on the grid. But he also aspires to sample motorsports beyond F1.

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“I want to try different types of discipline,” he says. “So probably a little more stamina.”

Other forms of interest in Verstappen motorsports

Unfortunately for American fans, Verstappen confirms that he is part of the contingent of F1 drivers who are not interested in addressing the particular demands and dangers of the Indianapolis 500.

“No ovals,” he points out. “24 hour races only. Because I also like to drive different types of cars. Like I do now, like any GT3 car and stuff like that.

But even as F1 threatens to take up nearly half of next year’s weekends, Verstappen is hoping to do some more racing while still in the series. “I really enjoy testing myself on different types of machinery because I think you can learn from it and become an even better driver,” he explains. “So that’s what I want to do in the future.

“Maybe even during my F1 career. But this is [if] even the program would allow it. At the moment it is a bit difficult to combine when we also go to more and more races ”.

He has always made it clear that winning his first world championship was his career goal, and any success that goes with it is a bonus. He is prioritizing his enjoyment in sport, and this seems to allow him to access the pinnacle of his potential, as Horner hinted after Verstappen’s landslide victory at Spa.

“What I think is also very important is that you are enjoying the moment,” says Verstappen. “Because these years go by so quickly and everyone is always thinking about the performance side.

“But are you also happy with what you are doing? I think sometimes that is also what you need to question. I am very happy with what I am doing right now and will continue to question myself.

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“As long as I’m happy to do what I’m doing, I want to continue. But at some point, if everything is becoming a bit of a problem and you don’t really like it, then you have to try and maybe find something else. “

Max Verstappen, Red Bull, Spa-Francorchamps, 2022
Red Bull beat the competition at Spa

His victory in Belgium dealt another blow to the long-vanished championship hopes of rival Charles Leclerc and his Ferrari team. He brought Verstappen to a points advantage that is certainly unassailable, even more so if he gets another win from pole position at home today.

Given his difficult start to the season, with two retirements in the first three races, and the close competition Red Bull had with Ferrari before Spa, Verstappen admits he is far ahead of what he expected.

“It’s a bit surprising because we initially had our little problems. We withdrew, it was not the best. We were massively behind and now we are massively ahead.

“I think in many races we have had a really good car, but I wouldn’t say the dominant car. But I think as a team we have really maximized most of our race results and that has given us this advantage. I would say the only race I felt like we were really dominating was last weekend in Spa. “

The rival Mercedes of Red Bull 2021 has pushed them all the way; on the contrary, the 2022 Ferrari opponents ran the full range of errors: driving errors, tactical errors, reliability errors, the lotto. Verstappen admits that “in a way” he wishes the fight had been tighter.

“We were enormously behind. Now we are massively ahead “

“And in another way, no, because obviously it’s nice to have a big advantage instead of being level on points or whatever. But I also look at myself and the team: yes, it’s nice to watch the other teams, but at the end of the day we can only control what we do ourselves ”.

Verstappen’s 2022 season to date has been an objective lesson on how not to be undone by an early setback. Barring a catastrophe, he’s definitely about to hand him a second title.

“It’s about trying not to make mistakes because at the end of the day it’s about collecting points all the time,” reflects the latest F1 world champion. “Here’s how, in the end, you win the championships.”

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