In the 1st and 2nd practice sessions at the start of the Formula 1 season at the Bahrain Grand Prix, Max Verstappen was once again unstoppable. The Red Bull star confirmed his slight favorite status with the best time of 1: 30.847 minutes.
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No wonder that many people trust Verstappen to win the long-awaited world title – the 23-year-old Dutchman hinted at the potential to break Mercedes’ domination around record world champion Lewis Hamilton a few times in the preseason anyway.
In the exclusive SPORT1-Interview, Verstappen talks about goals and ambitions, personal talent, permanent rivals in the Silver Arrow – and F1 rookie Mick Schumacher.
Max Verstappen on Hamilton, Schumacher and Red Bull
SPORT1: Max Verstappen, without exaggerating, you are considered to be the greatest talent in Formula 1. As the one who has the most feeling in the butt, in the accelerator and brake foot. Did you have the talent in the cradle or is it hard work too?
Max Verstappen: Talent has to be instilled in the cradle. I was fortunate that both my mother and father competed in races. I got the genes twice. But only with talent you won’t get far. You have to work very hard. It starts with karting. In Formula 1, of course, the workload is greatest.
SPORT1: How can you best define talent in relation to Formula 1 or driving a car? (The Formula 1 racing calendar)
Verstappen: Talent is when many things are easy to do at the very beginning. That you do things right immediately, without having to think about them. I think talent is 70 percent of success. But you still have to work very hard for the rest.
SPORT1: How can you briefly describe the 30 percent hard work that ultimately makes the difference between winning and losing? (NEWS: Everything you need to know about Formula 1)
Verstappen: In karting, for example, it was about understanding how the tires work or the engine that you are practically sitting next to. My father was my teacher because he was also my engine tuner. Over time, you will understand not only why you are fast, but also why. And then it’s about improving yourself over and over again. It’s no different in Formula 1. You can always find opportunities for improvement, you just have to look for them.
SPORT1: You come across as extremely confident without appearing arrogant. Do you know something like self-doubt?
Verstappen: I do not think so. I always try to get the maximum out of myself. I succeed very well. If that’s enough to win, it’s good. If not, I just can’t help it.
World title? Verstappen targets Lewis Hamilton
SPORT1: You had two strict teachers in your career: your father and then at Red Bull, Dr. Helmut Marko. That was a tough school. Who has shaped you more? (The Formula 1 drivers)
Verstappen: My father. He started working with me when I was four and didn’t stop until I was 16 and went to Toro Rosso. I already had the perfect basic training behind me.
SPORT1: Regarding the latest: After the test drives, you are considered a favorite. Firstly, because your Red Bull was quick and caused almost no problems. Second, because the top favorite, Mercedes, was slower and had problems with the new car’s handling. How do you assess the balance of power? (Mercedes shows underbody trick)
Verstappen: I’m careful about that. It is well known that Mercedes never shows everything when testing – even if they obviously had a few problems. But I’m not kidding myself: if you win the World Cup seven times in a row like Mercedes, you are the favorite. But what I can say: We at Red Bull had an almost perfect test. We did everything. Now you have to see if that’s enough. For me, both Mercedes drivers are first and foremost the ones to beat.
SPORT1: How much can you make the difference as a driver in modern Formula 1? Did Lewis Hamilton win so many titles just because he had such a superior car?
Verstappen: If a driver has a dominant car, the opponents cannot do anything. But Lewis still had to beat his teammates and he always managed to do that with one exception. He’s already done a great job. Our goal has to be to get as close as possible to Mercedes and to be able to put them under pressure.
SPORT1: Hand on heart: How much slower can your car be compared to the best car so that you as the driver can still win?
Verstappen (thinks for a long time): Two tenths per lap. I trust myself to make up for it together with the team. In addition, it will be difficult. (The Formula 1 drivers)
Verstappen trusts Mick Schumacher to do that
SPORT1: You have a new teammate with Sergio Perez. Can he support you in the battle with Mercedes better than his predecessors did in previous years?
Verstappen: Sergio has already done a great job with Racing Point over the past two years. The feedback he gave during the test drives was also promising. But you can only finally say that after the first races.
SPORT1: How long do you have patience for the first world title?
Verstappen: Not only is it patience, but you also need a little luck with it. That means you need the team and the car with which you can achieve your goals. You have to be in the right place at the right moment. Lewis definitely has been for the past few years.
SPORT1: What do you think Mick Schumacher can do in his first season? You have known him since childhood. (EXCLUSIVE: Mick Schumacher talks to SPORT1 about his rookie season)
Verstappen: For Mick it is of course great to drive in Formula 1 now. He did a great job in Formula 2 and deserved promotion. But it is also clear that he still has a lot to learn. His Haas team is perfect for him. Because you can’t expect him to win there. There he can make mistakes without great pressure, from which he can then learn. I am sure he will do a fine job. He was always very good, especially when it came to Constance. The yardstick will of course be his teammate, as everywhere. He has to hit it.
SPORT1: Michael Schumacher and your father are friends; you used to go on vacation together with the Schumacher family. Do you still have contact?
Verstappen: We’ll run into each other more often in the paddock and then be able to talk.
This is what Verstappen thinks of Vettel at Aston Martin
SPORT1: How do you assess Sebastian Vettel’s situation at Aston Martin? (This is how Vettel wants to help the newcomer Schumacher)
Verstappen: It’s hard for me to judge from the outside. During the test in Bahrain I could tell that he was in a very good mood. If the car is as good as last year, I trust it to finish on the podium and maybe even win one or two. (Vettel railed against sprint races)
SPORT1: One of your sponsors is the online used car platform CarNext. Could it be that CarNext also had Formula 1 annual cars from Mercedes in its range and that Aston Martin bought it on a grand scale? The similarities between the two cars in 2020 and this year are striking …
Verstappen: You’d have to be Toto Wolff (Mercedes team boss and close friend of Aston Martin boss Lawrence Stroll, editor’s note) times to ask! (laughs)
SPORT1: They are coveted like no other in the motorsport scene. You can allow yourself the luxury of choosing personal sponsors. Does that mean that CarNext, for example, is a partner that suits you so well because of the automobile issue?
Verstappen: In any case. Otherwise I wouldn’t do it. A partner whose business is the car suits me well. Because of the Covid pandemic and the measures taken, it is all the more important to be able to shop seriously online. This particularly applies to the automotive market. (F1 boss Domenicali in the big SPORT1 interview)
SPORT1: You made your first attempts at driving a road car with a Mercedes. Mercedes is now dominating Formula 1. Can you give your sponsor Helmut Marko at Red Bull some hope that you won’t soon be driving a car with the three-pointed star in the premier class too?
Verstappen: If things continue as they did in the test, he doesn’t have to be afraid. You shouldn’t forget that I’ve been with Red Bull for a long time now. I know the people there, I like them all.