Jos Verstappen: The F1 racer turned ruthless mentor behind Max Verstappen’s supreme F1 talent

Thomas Maher
Jos and Max Verstappen arriving at the track. Jeddah, March 2022.

Jos and Max Verstappen arrived at the track for the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix. Jeddah, March 2022.

Jos Verstappen is a well-known figure in the F1 paddock. As the father of two-time World Champion Max, Jos also boasted a long F1 career of his own.

Johannes Franciscus Verstappen, better known as Jos, hails from the Dutch city of Montfort, located in the south of the Netherlands. Born on the 4th of March 1972, Verstappen turned 51 years old on his last birthday.

While now best known for being the father of two-time Formula 1 World Champion Max Verstappen, Verstappen senior made his name in motorsport during the 1990s. Picking up the nickname ‘Jos the Boss’, Verstappen was teammates with the likes of Michael Schumacher, Rubens Barrichello, Pedro de la Rosa, and Mika Salo during his time in the sport.

With 107 Grand Prix entries, Verstappen’s best qualifying position was sixth place at the 1994 Belgian Grand Prix. He scored two podium finishes, with two third-places in 1994 and, to this day, is the Netherlands’ second-most successful driver in Formula 1, beaten only by his son Max.

Jos Verstappen: The early parallels to Max Verstappen’s start

Just like his son would do two decades later, Verstappen initially made his mark in motorsport in the world of karting. However, unlike Max, Jos’ time in the category wouldn’t be quite as short.

Getting started in karting in 1980 while eight years old, Verstappen would spend the next 12 years racing karts, winning national championships in 1984 and 1986, two European titles in 1989, and the Belgian national trophy in 1991.

It was at Zandvoort that Verstappen would get his chance to try out a racing car for the first time, being entrusted with a 1985 Formula Ford Crossle by Dutch team owner Frits van Amersfoort. Showing immense promise and speed, he was then given a run in a Formula Opel Lotus car, with Van Amersfoort signing him as a driver – Verstappen also being signed up by new manager Huub Rothengatter.

In 1992, having landed sponsorship from Marlboro and Philips, Verstappen competed in Formula Opel Lotus Benelux and won eight of the nine races. Van Amersfoort also placed him in the Euroseries for the same category, finishing seventh overall despite joining the series mid-way through the championship.

Verstappen would be awarded Dutch driver of the year and, in December of ’92, signed up for Opel WTS Racing in Formula 3.

Verstappen’s precociousness continued on into 1993, dominating the German F3 championship with eight wins from 20 races, and five second-place finishes. He also won the Masters of F3 race, held at Zandvoort that season. His exploits led him to be crowned Dutch driver of the year for a second successive season.

Jos Verstappen: A long but unfulfilled F1 career

Footwork granted Verstappen an F1 test in late 1993, testing at Estoril alongside Gil de Ferran and Christian Fittipaldi – the Dutch driver would set a time that would have placed him 10th on the grid at the weekend’s Portuguese Grand Prix. A second test would see Verstappen crash the car.

Reportedly contacted by every F1 team apart from Williams and Ferrari after the test, Verstappen signed as a test driver for the Benetton-Ford F1 team for the 1994 season.

His meteoric rise from Formula 3 into F1 didn’t stop there, though, with Verstappen swiftly helicoptered in for his Grand Prix debut at Interlagos 1994 after JJ Lehto fractured two vertebrae in a testing crash.

Verstappen would fill in for the first two races, being involved in a dramatic crash in Brazil when Eddie Irvine triggered a four-car pile-up, before making a mistake while on course for fourth place at the Pacific Grand Prix.

While Lehto returned for the next race, the Finn’s disappointing form meant Verstappen would get more chances over the course of the season. One of these was the German Grand Prix, when the Dutch driver’s Benetton infamously caught fire in the pits – Verstappen was fortunate to escape serious injury in the blaze.

With Schumacher serving a two-race ban later in the season, Verstappen would be paired up with Lehto in Italy and Portugal. Comprehensively beating Lehto in Portugal, it wasn’t enough to keep his seat full-time, as Johnny Herbert was called up to partner Schumacher for Jerez.

Benetton retained Verstappen’s services as a test driver for 1995 but, feeling he lacked experience with fewer than 10 Grands Prix, he was placed at Simtek in exchange for the use of the Benetton gearbox from 1994. Putting in great performances alongside Domenico Schiattarella, Verstappen was touted to replace the underwhelming Herbert, only for the British driver to then win his home race at Silverstone and ensure Verstappen would have to wait until 1996 for another opportunity.

Footwork Arrows came calling and, when Benetton opted to release Verstappen, he put pen to paper for that season. Argentina would prove the highlight of his year, finishing sixth to score his and the team’s only point in 1996.

The arrival of Tom Walkinshaw at Footwork, after buying a controlling share, resulted in a changing of the guard at Verstappen’s team – the Dutch driver’s position starting to look shaky as he had developed a reputation for crashing and spinning. Losing control while running fifth at the rain-soaked Spanish Grand Prix didn’t help, with further mistakes in Germany and Hungary.

Negotiations for 1997 fell apart, meaning Verstappen was a free agent once again – he found refuge with Tyrrell alongside Mika Salo. But the team were a pale shadow of what they once were, with their underpowered Ford V8s leaving them mired at the back of the grid. He would score no points, although a top-six finish went begging at the Canadian Grand Prix until a gearbox issue struck.

Tyrrell sold up to British American Racing at the end of 1997, with sponsors BAT making changes immediately for 1998. With Salo moving to Arrows, Verstappen seemed an obvious choice to line up alongside the inexperienced Toranosuke Takagi, only for BAR to choose Ricardo Rosset. With Ken Tyrrell as unhappy as Verstappen about this choice, he walked away from his eponymous team after 30 years. Verstappen was now jobless, although he did carry out some testing with Jordan and Benetton.

Verstappen would be called up to replace Jan Magnussen after the 1998 Canadian Grand Prix, with the young Stewart team unhappy with the Dane’s performance. But Verstappen fared little better in the uncompetitive and unreliable Stewart, with any potential strong showings inevitably ruined by technical failures.

With a major personality clash between Verstappen and team owner Jackie Stewart, not helped by Stewart’s offer of racing driver lessons to the experienced Dutchman, Verstappen found himself unemployed once again in 1999. Test driving for BMW-Williams was one option, using a ’98 chassis, while Honda were looking to develop a chassis and engine for a possible entry in 2000.

Signing up with Honda and technical director Harvey Postlethwaite, Verstappen looked to have hit the goldmine as the package proved quick and compliant in his hands during testing. But Honda would drag their heels on entry, with a deal struck instead for Honda to supply engines to BAR. While there had been internal bickering at Honda about the best approach to take to F1, any chance of an independent entry disappeared when Postlethwaite suffered a heart attack while at testing in Barcelona.

During 1999, Verstappen was kept on stand-by by Jordan as Damon Hill hummed and hawed about his future, with the 1996 F1 World Champion choosing to see out the season – leaving Verstappen out in the cold once again.

Verstappen would get one more chance in F1, with Walkinshaw calling him up once again to join the revitalised Arrows team. With financial stability under team sponsors Orange, the 2000 Arrows-Supertec proved reasonably competitive from the off. Finishing with five points on the board, Verstappen finished 12th overall, but slipped again to 18th in 2001. Supertec had been bought by Renault, meaning the team had to buy the cheap but poor Asiatech (rebadged Peugeots), and lost designer Eghbal Hamidy in the process.

Under contract for 2002, Verstappen was nonetheless replaced by Heinz-Harald Frentzen – giving the Dutch driver the opportunity to successfully sue for breach of contract.

A swansong season would come his way in 2003, with Minardi calling upon his services, but there was no fairytale ending for Verstappen as the car proved slow and unreliable. Worse, Verstappen failed to beat inexperienced teammate Justin Wilson. No seats came up for 2004 and, after attempting a seat fitting with Jordan for a possible test role that season, Verstappen’s time in F1 came to a close.

Jos Verstappen: Mentoring Max Verstappen to F1 greatness

Marrying Sophie Kumpen, a former karting champion, in 1996, the couple welcomed son Max into the world in 1997.

With Verstappen junior showing a keen interest in motorsport and karting from an early age, Jos took a hands-on role in raising Max and mentoring him to become a racing driver.

While the approach to raising Max to become a world-class racing driver has unquestionably paid dividends, Verstappen has drawn criticism for the hard-nosed approach he took with his son.

Jos was known to be particularly ruthless in punishing Max for falling short of expectation, with a particularly famous example being Jos driving off and leaving his 15-year-old son behind at a petrol station in Italy after a careless crash cost him a karting title. Jos did circle back to collect his son shortly after, with Jos himself revealing they drove the 1800 kilometres home in complete silence.

On another occasion, Jos also gave Max a thump on the crash helmet in front of others after ‘driving like a potato’, while another story was of Jos forcing Max to test in freezing cold conditions as the barely-teenage Max struggled to grip the steering wheel in the icy conditions.

Verstappen senior was putting his heart and soul into Max’s career – while Max was at school, Jos would stay at home working on his son’s karting chassis and engines and helping him carry out two to three tests a week. Jos would also drive Max around Europe – up to 100,000 kilometres of driving a year – in order to get to all the karting events he was entered into.

With Jos imparting years of knowledge onto his son, he says Max has taken the advice on board and, combined with his own talents and Red Bull’s influence, has managed to become a far more rounded driver than he was capable of.

“I think Max is just a little bit better in everything,” he told his website five years ago.

“Max is much further along than I was at the same age. This of course also is the result of the coaching he received. I think Max has a more refined awareness. He is able to pace himself. At the moments that I should have stayed behind someone, I just went for it. Max does have that self-control. However, I also had his smarts. I don’t know if he is more talented than I was, I find that very difficult to judge, but he did have a much better training.”

“Of course, I was working with him intensively on a daily basis. I recognised every mistake and every good thing I noticed as well. It is not only the mistakes you learn from, but you also have to acknowledge the good things. Overtaking is not always necessarily good.

“If you overtake someone where you lose a lot of time, it’s just a crappy action. I have been working on that with him since the age of five. Every day we went driving he learned something. He attended every interview I did. Actually, everything that I was doing in relation to motorsport, he was there with me. As a little boy, he received all this information. He did not always say something, but he listened. He memorised it and thought about it in his own way. I think that has influenced him tremendously.

“Max is consciously and unconsciously just very well prepared. That’s how I look at it.”

Jos Verstappen: Max Verstappen’s words on his father’s influence

Max himself has always been very positive about his father’s influence on him becoming the successful racing driver he has developed into.

“For me, he is the coach of the year,” Verstappen said after arriving into Formula 1.

“For many years in succession actually. His presence is very important to me. When I am in the car in the garage and I look in the mirror, I see him. That is how it always has been, actually, ever since I was a boy first stepping into a kart. He is my father and friend but also my sounding board, mentor, and release valve.”

Max himself admits that, if the time comes his own children want to race, he’s unlikely to take quite the same approach that Jos took towards raising him.

“I definitely want children and if they want to race, that’s fine,” he told Dutch newspaper De Limburger last year.

“I do think I would do it differently than how my father and I handled it.

“I don’t really see that at the moment. But for me, it’s easy talk because I don’t have kids. Maybe I will think very differently when the time comes. But, the passion he had went a long way.

“He did everything for me. Tuning engines, preparing karts. I don’t see myself doing that. Anyway, I’m not going to push my kids to race. They have to want it themselves. And if you do go for it with your son or daughter, I don’t think you can drive Formula 1 yourself anymore. You have to start laying the groundwork from the age of four. I want to be there myself.”

Is Jos Verstappen still involved in Max Verstappen’s F1 career?

In the years since Max arrived into Formula 1 and almost immediately set about winning races, Verstappen senior has taken a slight step backward – preferring to leave his son in the capable hands of Red Bull’s Helmut Marko and Christian Horner, as well as manager Raymond Vermeulen.

But Jos is far from a stranger in the paddock, retaining a co-manager role with Vermeulen, and still attends plenty of races throughout the season.

With Jos embarking on a return to motorsport with outings in the World Rally Championship, expect him to be on the ground at most of the European races throughout the season as his schedule allows.

So far in 2023, Verstappen senior attended the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix, standing by in the paddock to greet Max after finishing second on the day.

Jos Verstappen: Estimated net worth and family

With Sophie Kumpen, Jos had two children: Max and daughter Victoria, born in 1999.

Verstappen and ex-wife Sophie Kumpen separated in 2008, with Max moving in with his father to continue concentrating on karting. The separation was followed by Verstappen being summoned to court in Belgium charged with assaulting Kumpen.

He was found not guilty, but guilty of sending threatening text messages to his ex-wife, and of violating a previous restraining order. He was sentenced to a three-month suspended prison sentence.

Verstappen welcomed daughter Blue Jaye in 2014, with second wife Kelly van der Waal. He then welcomed second son, Jason Maxx in 2019, and another daughter, Mila Faye, in 2020, both with third wife Sandy Sijtsma.

Having enjoyed a long career in Formula 1 before switching to concentrating on the career of his son, Jos Verstappen’s net worth is estimated at $8-10 million dollars.