Jos Verstappen: ‘I was hard on Max, but I never abused him’

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 has denied that his behaviour towards his son Max was ever abusive, but admitted that he was hard on his son as a child.

Jos is a keen supporter of his son’s Formula 1 racing, following the two-time World Champion to many races around the world – the former F1 racer is a familiar sight in the Red Bull garage as part of ‘Team Verstappen’ alongside Max’s manager Raymond Vermeulen.

Stories have emerged over the years of some of the tactics used by Verstappen senior while raising his son, with one infamous story being that of when Jos drove off and left Max behind at a petrol station in Italy due to being unhappy with his son’s result in a karting event.

While Jos has revealed how he knew his son had a special talent for racing from as young as seven years old, he elected not to tell Max just how capable he was – instead, Verstappen senior would downplay Max’s abilities.

“My dad never said I was gonna be a champion,” Verstappen told Channel 4 last year.

“He was always the opposite, he’d tell me I was gonna be a truck driver or like a bus driver. He was always, in a good way I think, making me realise that what I was doing at the time was not enough.”

Jos Verstappen: I was hard on Max growing up

Verstappen’s ruthless approach to raising his son to be an elite racing driver has clearly paid off in terms of how talented the precocious Dutch driver has since turned out to be, but there are some who believe Jos went too far in his efforts to toughen up a growing Max.

A new documentary about Max Verstappen, called ‘Anatomy of a Champion’, has been put together by Viaplay and the first episode was broadcast earlier this week. Key people from Verstappen’s journey to F1 are interviewed, including Jos, in which the former Benetton, Simtek, Tyrrell, Footwork, Minardi, and Arrows driver denied every being overly harsh on his son.

“There are people who say I’m a bad father because I abused my child, I never abused him!” Jos said.

“I raised him, I was hard on him. That was my plan, many people cannot imagine what it takes to reach the absolute top level of a sport.

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“I’m normally not a guy who really likes to open up about these kinds of things, but I think it does give you a bit more of an insight into how everyone lived through that period.”

Verstappen senior was known to set his son tasks in overtaking, by only allowing him to overtake at certain points of the track or by going around the outside, with Max going through his training while still at karting level.

“I know I’m not the easiest person to work with and I demanded a lot from Max,” Jos admits.

“But he was able to endure it all. He has always been mentally very strong.”

Max Verstappen: I probably would do things differently to Jos

While father and son are close as adults, with Jos even returning to motorsport by taking part in rallying, Max has admitted that he will probably raise his own kids in a different fashion.

Verstappen is dating Kelly Piquet, daughter of a three-time Formula 1 World Champion, who shares a daughter with former F1 racer Daniil Kvyat – Verstappen is now directly involved in her life and the trio are frequently pictured together on Piquet’s social media channels.

“I definitely want children and if they want to race, that’s fine,” Verstappen told Dutch newspaper De Limburger after claiming his second world title.

“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 to 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.”