Think Max Verstappen’s F1 quit threats aren’t serious? Think again

Oliver Harden
Max Verstappen, Red Bull

Red Bull driver Max Verstappen after setting pole position for the 2023 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.

Think Max Verstappen isn’t serious when he threatens to quit F1 within the next few years? 

Think again.

It became a recurring theme over the course of his third successive title-winning season in 2023, Verstappen frequently – at almost every possible opportunity, it seemed – insisted that he would retire much sooner than most might think.

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A frustration over the sport’s direction under Liberty Media – the ever-expanding calendar, the growing number of Sprint races, the inclination to choose show over substance – has been cited as the reason behind Verstappen’s willingness to walk away.

Yet, until quite recently, it was difficult to take all these threats – no longer how much he kept repeating them before, during and after grand prix weekends – particularly seriously.


Because whatever else would he do with his time?

Every move Verstappen has made from his very earliest days, after all, was made with the purpose of making him the best racing driver he could possibly be.

He was put on this earth to win races; toughened up and trained by his father, former F1 driver Jos, in the art of winning races.

And what better stage to win races than Formula 1?

Any temptation to try something different would surely dissipate after a conversation with his kindred spirit, Fernando Alonso, who after retiring from F1 at the end of 2018 soon found that nothing – not Le Mans, not the Indy 500, not the Dakar Rally – compares.

So no, Max, not many people were buying these threats, which – if anything – felt like an attempt to play down just how much F1 means to him as if to maintain his all-consuming, business-like focus on winning ever more races.

Verstappen wasn’t the first driver in history – Kimi Raikkonen and Lewis Hamilton immediately spring to mind – to claim he’d be out of here by 40, only then to find the habit simply too addictive to kick.

And then, late last year, something happened: another driver, also put on this earth to win, went and walked Verstappen’s talk.

A day after securing a second successive World Rally Championship title in November, Kalle Rovanpera announced that he would switch to a part-time program for 2024.

Following the gradual retreats of Sebastien Loeb and Sebastien Ogier – winners of all but one WRC title between 2004 and 2021 – Rovanpera had been expected to make an entire era of rallying his own.

Yet despite only turning 23 the previous month and previously showing no signs of burnout, Rovanpera had decided he was in need of some time away from the sport.

Swap the rally reference in Rovanpera’s statement and the following words could easily be one day attributed to Verstappen, a fellow Red Bull athlete whom he met at the F1 2023 season finale in Abu Dhabi a week later.

“Next year I am only going to be driving some of the events and the biggest reason for this is that I have been driving rally cars for 15 years already, which is quite a long time,” Rovanpera said.

“And while the last seasons have been amazing, of course, they have also been really demanding mentally and physically.

“So I felt that now would be a good moment to take a year for recharging the batteries and then come back again full-time to fight for the championship once more with a full attack.” recommends

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Rovanpera’s sudden step back meant that this week, as the 2024 season began in Monte Carlo, the WRC found itself in an unusual position last experienced by F1 in 2017 following Nico Rosberg’s shock retirement – without the reigning World Champion on the start line.

There is much to link Verstappen and Rovanpera beyond the Red Bull connection with Rovanpera also the son of a former competitor, Harri, a veteran of 111 rallies and the winner of Rally Sweden in 2001.

His famous father also ensured that, like Max, Rovanpera’s development was tracked from a very early age, his rise to World Champion status so inevitable as to be a matter of destiny.

Long before he even made his top-tier WRC debut at the start of 2020, a respected rally reporter claimed a teenage Rovanpera was already the most gifted talent he had ever seen on snow.

This, remember, in a category in which drivers usually require years to build a data-useful bank of the stages and different surfaces, normally only peaking in their 30s.

In every sense he is the WRC’s answer to Verstappen – yet another case study of nature meets nurture – which made Rovanpera’s decision to step back, at the end of a long season of Max quit threats, seem so significant.

And it seemed to confirm a theory put forward by Pedro de la Rosa, the former McLaren driver now working as an Aston Martin ambassador, on F1’s Beyond The Grid podcast in March 2020.

“I’m of the opinion that all of the new generations in any sport are better than the old ones,” he said. “I know this sounds surprising but it’s true because all the new sportsmen start from an earlier age – and I think this is critical.

“They are always confronted at an earlier age by better drivers than I was facing. New generations will be stronger and more complete.

“But, on the other hand, they will also end their careers earlier.

“I don’t think the new generation that come into Formula 1 at 18 years old will be still racing in Formula 1 at 40. I think they will finish when they are 30-35.

“They will be burnt out.”

Food for thought, maybe, as Verstappen’s current Red Bull contract ticks slowly towards its 2028 expiry date.

Drivers of Max’s generation? They’re here for a good time, not a long time.

All the more reason, then, to cherish them while we still can…

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