Jacques Villeneuve exclusive: ‘If all F1 drivers focused like Max Verstappen, they’d be on his level’

Thomas Maher
Jacques Villeneuve, 1997 F1 World Champion, in the paddock at the Italian Grand Prix.

Jacques Villeneuve believes Max Verstappen's focus and commitment exceeds that of the rest of the F1 field.

1997 F1 World Champion Jacques Villeneuve believes Max Verstappen’s work ethic is a cut above anyone else’s driving in Formula 1.

Verstappen has just wrapped up his third consecutive F1 World Championship, putting in a dominant season like no other driver has ever managed in the sport as he claimed a record-breaking 19 wins en route to the title.

The 26-year-old is already starting to close in on some of the record figures held by legendary drivers at the top of the statistics tables, with the potential to eye them up as he has a long-term Red Bull contract stretching out in front of him.

Jacques Villeneuve: If other F1 drivers focused like Max Verstappen, maybe they’d be at his level

Speaking in an exclusive interview with PlanetF1.com, Jacques Villeneuve said he believes Red Bull’s RB19 is being flattered by Verstappen’s talents and, while the car is unquestionably competitive, it’s the Dutch driver who is making the key difference to turning it into a dominant machine.

“Red Bull is not that far ahead,” he said.

“When they got all their poles, it was a tenth, half a tenth… super close! So that’s not domination.

“That’s not the years of Mercedes when they were a second ahead of everyone, and everybody was OK with that – there was not an issue.

“Max makes the difference because he’s at it 24 hours a day. He’s never getting tired. He gets out for the race car, and he’s still thinking about racing. That’s all that exists.

“On the simulator, go-karts, whatever. I don’t see the other drivers doing that. Maybe [Fernando] Alonso a bit but, all the other ones, they’re busy doing other things. They get out of the car and they do a bunch of other things.

“If they all focused like Max, then maybe they would be at Max’s level.”

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One facet of Verstappen’s personality that has shone through in 2023 is the sheer unwavering mental ability he has to remain completely focused on his goal, while also not having any off-days whatsoever.

It’s in this unrelenting drive for perfection and to be at the front of the field that Verstappen is a step above the rest of the field, according to Villeneuve, who said it’s obvious from seeing how Verstappen pushes the same on the last day of the championship as on the first.

“It completely makes the big difference between him and [Sergio] Perez, and the rest of the field as well,” he said.

“At the last race, you could see it in free practice, it was the first day of the season and he was fighting for the championship.

“It doesn’t make a difference – he’s at the racetrack, and he’s giving it full.”

An example of this was in Verstappen not wanting to hang around behind other cars in the red flag-shortened FP2 session in Abu Dhabi, when the Dutch driver forced a rule change for Saturday as he sliced past other cars in the pitlane as they dawdled around trying to create gaps for themselves.

Villeneuve said he found the moment amusing, and indicative of Verstappen’s desire to find every advantage and maximise every opportunity.

“That was funny! I understand him,” he said.

“There’s little time left, you’re supposed to get used to going out at speed in the pitlane, because that’s how it will be in the race. And they’re all going super slowly. You’re allowed to overtake so why not? It was fun!

“That focus makes a difference.”

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