Damon Hill casts doubt on Max Verstappen future: ‘He’s not having fun’

Thomas Maher
Max Verstappen arrives at the Jeddah Corniche circuit. March 2023

Red Bull driver Max Verstappen arrives at the Jeddah Corniche circuit. March 2023

1996 F1 World Champion Damon Hill suspects Max Verstappen is no longer having fun as a Formula 1 driver, deeming his retirement threats as “very unusual”.

Two-time F1 World Champion Max Verstappen may be just 25-years-old, but the Dutch driver already appears to be thinking about life after leaving the paddock.

After 2021, Verstappen made it clear that he had achieved his goal of winning the F1 World Championship, with everything coming afterward deemed “a bonus”.

Red Bull’s cars have been the pace-setters in the sport ever since, with Verstappen winning race after race to clinch the ’22 title and establish an early lead in the ’23 tables.

But Verstappen, who has a contract with Red Bull until the end of 2028, has hinted at not staying in the sport for long as F1 pushes to add on more Sprint races and Grand Prix weekends to an ever-expanding calendar.

Speaking over the Australian Grand Prix weekend after claiming pole position, Verstappen made it clear that he isn’t a fan of the direction the sport is taking.

“I hope there won’t be too many changes, otherwise I won’t be around for too long,” he said.

“I am not a fan of it at all. When we do all that kind of stuff, the weekend becomes very intense and we already do a lot of races.

“I understand they want to make every day exciting but they should reduce the weekend, and only qualify and race on Saturday and Sunday and make those two days exciting.

“We’re heading into seasons where you have at one point 24, 25 races, because that’s where we’re going to head into and if we start adding even more stuff, it’s not worth it for me anyway. I’m not enjoying that.

“And for me, a sprint race is all about surviving. It’s not about racing. For me, when you have a quick car, there’s nothing to risk.

“I prefer to just keep my car alive and make sure that you have a good race car for Sunday, and even if you change the format, I just don’t find it’s the DNA of Formula 1 to do these kinds of sprint races.

“F1 is about getting the most out of it in qualifying and then have an amazing Sunday, a good long race distance, and that’s the DNA of the sport – and I don’t understand or I don’t know why we should change that, because I think action has been good.”

Damon Hill: Max Verstappen doesn’t want to waste his time

Appearing on the Sky Sports F1 podcast this week, Hill joined fellow guests Simon Lazenby and Jess McFadyen to discuss the Sprint format and Verstappen’s comments.

Lazenby believes that Verstappen’s stance on Sprints is being moulded by the fact he’s currently in a dominant car.

“I think it’s just his way of saying ‘We don’t like Sprint races, because we are winning, and we are winning comfortably. And why would we bring in more risk if we don’t need to? I object, Your Honour!'” Lazenby joked.

“Maybe I’m being cynical. He’s an old-school racer, isn’t he? Max is one of these people that believes in the sanctity of the Grand Prix and that’s definitely a case you could argue.

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“But I do think that there is an element of ‘we’ve got the best car, why would you bring it in any more jeopardy?’ I think, if they were coming fourth or fifth, they’d be like, ‘OK, well, it adds an extra dimension whereby we can challenge those that have the dominant car.'”

Hill, not agreeing with Lazenby’s take on the situation, said Verstappen’s stance is in keeping with his no-nonsense personality.

“I think there’s an element of this with Max with him wanting not to waste his time on superfluous things that really are just invented for novelty reasons,” he said.

“I think he’s that kind of person. So I can imagine him just saying it because he just thinks ‘well, I just come here and want to win Grand Prix. I just want one race to mean something. I don’t want to have a half-value race, what’s the point of that on your CV? People aren’t gonna go ‘how many Grand Prix have you won? Now how many Sprints have you won?'”

Damon Hill: I sometimes think Max Verstappen isn’t having fun

McFadyen made the point that Verstappen is likely to stick around while Red Bull enjoy the advantage of having the fastest car in F1, allowing the Dutch driver to rack up the wins and titles with relative ease while other teams struggle to close the gap.

“This is the guy who said he’s completed Formula 1 after winning his first championship,” she said.

“He’s like an old-school racer, but he’s like ‘What else do I need to prove? I’ve done it.’ He’s having fun, and I think his point is that he’ll keep doing it while he’s having fun.”

But Hill, who called time on his own career in 1999 after figuring out that he no longer enjoyed the sport despite a recent win at the 1998 Belgian Grand Prix, said he suspects Verstappen isn’t enjoying Formula 1 as much as one might imagine for a driver in his position.

“Max’s retirement threat is very unusual,” Hill said. “It is kind of strange to hear, isn’t it? I mean, what’s he gonna do with himself?

“He should stop now, really. Stop now – he’s done it! You mentioned fun – I think that’s a very important point. Is he having fun, because I sometimes think he’s not having fun. I think you have to love what you’re doing, otherwise it’s a grind.”

McFadyen agreed with Hill, saying that the ever-increasing burden on the drivers during a Grand Prix season is likely making Verstappen rethink his future.

“That’s what he’s saying – if we’re adding more races, putting more strain on drivers, more travel, and then you’re adding these mini races into that mix, I think that’s what he was upset about,” she commented.

“He’s saying that, what I’m being paid for, what we are agreeing, is my base rate. You’re now asking me to do more and more and more.

“With that, and with all the added interest, doing more media stuff and everything that comes with that, I think what he’s saying is there’s gonna come a point where he doesn’t want to do any of it.”