Exclusive: Jos Verstappen’s wish for Max on anniversary of ‘heart attack’ 2021 Abu Dhabi race

Thomas Maher
Max Verstappen celebrates victory at the Las Vegas Grand Prix with his father Jos.

Jos Verstappen has reflected on his son Max's dominant year at the front of Formula 1.

Jos Verstappen has reflected on Max’s incredible year at the forefront of Formula 1, two years on from the controversial 2021 Abu Dhabi GP in which he won his first title.

Verstappen junior has just racked up his third consecutive Formula 1 title, coming in much more straightforward fashion than the tense and fraught circumstances under which he won his maiden title in a dramatic showdown at the 2021 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.

Looking back over the time period in which Verstappen has climbed from being a mere challenger to the crown worn by Lewis Hamilton, only to become the king himself with 19 wins in the most dominant display a driver has ever put on in F1, his father Jos opened up in an exclusive chat with PlanetF1.com.

Jos Verstappen: I can imagine how Mercedes felt that day

Sitting down with Jos Verstappen outside the Red Bull hospitality in the Abu Dhabi paddock, the pecking order in F1 has radically changed in the two years since Max showed up for that remarkable weekend at Yas Marina – the weekend that flipped the script and changed the perception of Verstappen as an aggressive, fast, but rough-around-the-edges driver who had annoyed the established drivers so much in previous years.

At the end of 2023, Verstappen has shed the roughness and honed the raw potential into tangible pace and consistency. To the point where, coming into Abu Dhabi ’23, there have only been three races since the 2022 British Grand Prix – when his RB18 was hamstrung by damage – in which the Dutch driver hasn’t been on the podium.

It’s been a simply astonishing run of form. Not only have Red Bull delivered the goods weekend in, weekend out, to give Verstappen a car with which to compete, the once-precocious talent has been refined into metronomic top-level performance to raise the ceiling of what a dominant driver/car package can be expected to achieve.

Jos Verstappen, infamous for the no-nonsense approach he took to honing the talents of his young son through his burgeoning motorsport career and imparting his own wisdom from his F1 career, shared his thoughts on how his son’s career has evolved to take him into the same conversations as all-time greats like Michael Schumacher, Lewis Hamilton, and Ayrton Senna.

Asking Verstappen senior about the incredibly dramatic race at Yas Marina in 2021, he interrupts with a smile on his face: “Fantastic race!”

Put to him that he might have had a heart attack that day, given how stressful it was to cover even as a journalist, he replies: “I sort of had! At the end of the day, I can imagine how Mercedes has felt, but it has nothing to do… we didn’t make those decisions.

“For the fans of Formula 1 and, of course, speaking as Max’s Dad, it couldn’t been better. It was so exciting until the last moment. Of course, for us, the outcome was nice. I can imagine, for Lewis and Toto, it’s not as nice. But that’s how it is, you know, you have to accept it.”

While 2021 was a non-stop, relentless slog of needing to be razor-sharp to contend with the Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes juggernaut, the two intervening years have seen Verstappen slip into a role he seems very comfortable with – one of sheer control.

But has Jos seen any changes in Max’s mentality, confidence, maturity to bring about the competitiveness on track?

“It’s not so much that he is more confident,” Jos says.

“I think, now, we have a more competitive car. That makes a difference. In 2021, I think in the last couple of races Mercedes was above us. We were still competing with a slower car against a faster one. Now, I think we have the edge over everybody else. That’s the difference.”

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In a year where it’s far easier to point to the moments – although few and far between – in which Verstappen has not come out on top, what have been the standout moments from the season for Jos?

“Well, I don’t think you can go back to one race or whatever,” he answers.

“For me, that he is, in every race, on a high level… that’s, to me, so important and nice to see.

“As well, after a race, he can really switch off. He can really focus on other things and, sometimes, I want to talk to him about something, and he’ll say ‘Please, not about Formula 1’.

“He just wants to relax at home and not talk about that.”

As a father, did he ever think that the cheeky chappy he was raising through karting would be capable of this type of performance? After all, as a contemporary and former teammate of Michael Schumacher, seeing his son being able to legitimately think about beating those once unfathomable records must be unbelievable.

“I dreamed of this, of course, but to achieve what he’s doing at the moment, his level, it’s very impressive,” Jos says.

“I know he was good from the beginning onwards, but he’s exceeded that.

“I think the cars are more level [nowadays]. I mean, when you see the McLaren when Senna was driving that won 15 out of 16 races, I think they were one second faster than anybody else at the time.

“Now, of course, we are fast, but Ferrari, maybe sometimes McLaren, they are there as well. I think, to achieve what he does, on that level – because everything is about details to make it happen – I mean, he has to be focused every time again.”

With the regulations going unchanged for 2024, is it a case of Max relaxing for a month or two and then immediately picking back up where he left off when F1 2024 gets underway in Bahrain? Should everyone be running scared?

“He has faith in the team and what they come up with,” Jos replies, revealing that he hopes to see his son have much more competition – while keeping up the wins.

“I would like to have more competition. Of course, we want to win the races but I also like him fighting and then running away with a win, or maybe just not. I think everybody wants to see that.

“I’m a fan of the sport, I’m a fan of Formula 1. Of course, it’s nice to win 18 or 19 races in the season. But, to win the championship as he did in 2021, I also enjoyed it after all so… why not?”

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