Revealed: The striking similarities between Max Verstappen and Michael Schumacher

Thomas Maher
Michael Schumacher stands on the podium as a race winner for Benetton in 1995, and Max Verstappen in the paddock for Red Bull in 2023.

Michael Schumacher v Max Verstappen: Two F1 greats compared

Max Verstappen’s third World Championship, secured at 26 years old, puts him marginally ahead of Michael Schumacher’s achievements.

Verstappen recently wrapped up his third World Championship, having just celebrated his 26th birthday, meaning he’s just edged clear of what Michael Schumacher had managed at the same age – although marginally behind what Sebastian Vettel had managed as he won his third title at 25.

Verstappen has gained a lot more race experience for his age, given his start in F1 in 2015, but a seasoned veteran of F1 believes that he and Schumacher share very similar characteristics and talent levels at this point in their respective careers.

Joan Villadelprat compares Michael Schumacher and Max Verstappen

Opening up in an exclusive interview with PlanetF1.com, former Benetton team manager Joan Villadelprat – who oversaw Schumacher’s debut years with the Enstone squad under Flavio Briatore – explained how he sees the respective talents of the two World Champions at the same age.

“Michael grew up very quickly because Michael in 1994 was a disaster – from ’92 to ’94,” he said.

“It was a disaster. I spent more time in the Place de la Concorde [FIA headquarters – editor] , you know, trying to defend sometimes things that were impossible to defend. Michael made silly mistakes.

“That happens when you have talent like you have with Max or you have Michael. First of all, you need to have the natural ability and that’s Michael and Max – they have the natural ability.

“Probably because Max has been forced since very young by his father [Jos] to push – a very strict education, if you want to put it like that.

“His father was a good driver. I think, actually, we f**ked that up [in ’94]. Because we put him next to Michael, he tried to compete with Michael and, in the end, we needed to get rid of him.

“But, without any problems, I believe in Hungary, he finished third on the podium. He was quick as hell, but quick on one lap. Michael was quick but, if you needed him to do 15 quick laps, he’d do 15 quick laps and still have two to three-tenths in the pocket if he needed to push a bit more. So that was the difference between a great driver and a magic one.

“I see a lot of similarities between Michael and Max.”

Joan Villadelprat: Schumacher and Verstappen can get the best out of any car

The former Benetton leader, who was also a team manager at Tyrrell and, later, Prost, said the ability of the two drivers to stamp their authority on their team and over the field is very similar.

“Michael started older than Max. Max came from karting, Michael jumped from the Mercedes junior team to Jordan, and then from Jordan to us,” he said.

“Michael had more natural talent at that moment but made more mistakes. Max had much more education, but made a lot of mistakes as well with Toro Rosso and when he first switched to Red Bull.

“But both had the capacity to grow up very quickly. Michael in 1995, he destroyed everybody. If there was no problem with the car, we could have won more. Max has done exactly the same with a good car.

“They both work on the car, work on the car, and arrive at a point where they go to a race and, wherever the car is, they adapt themselves to the car and take the best from that car. Michael was capable of that, and that’s what Max is capable of as well.

“Certain drivers, when they have a problem, problems corrode the mind and it puts their morale down. They don’t take the problem away from the mind. They know the car has a problem, and that forces them not to do their best.

“Guys like Michael or Max, if they’ve got a problem with the car, they forget about the problem, and they get the best of whatever is there. They’ll get to the line with three wheels.

“Michael in Barcelona ’94, the gearbox failed and he got stuck in two gears, and he finished second. He was leading and had a problem and came into the pit stops with third gear and he got back out and finished second with only two gears in the car! You’ve got to be magic to do that and to overcome any problem a car has got during a race.

“That kind of ability, I think Max is got it as well. We see Max not making any mistakes, particularly this year. He is quick in rain, in the wet, semi-wet, in the snow, in the middle of a forest! He is quick everywhere.”

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“He’s brilliant, and he’s got the same mentality as Michael – he is never thinking about being second, he is always thinking about winning and, if you cannot win, take the maximum points you can with the car because the championship is long.

“Max has a good car, and no major reliability problems and he has been hammering out race wins after another one.

“In the time of Michael, we used to have a lot more mechanical problems, F1 cars have a lot fewer problems than they had before. So, mechanically, the reliability is a lot better than my time.

“The funny thing is they both have very much a similar way to work with the throttle. They don’t care too much about the rear. They put the car in and then, with the throttle, to make the corner. They are very confident with the throttle. That’s where Michael used to be tremendously good and, from what I understand from engineers and people in the paddock, Max is very much similar in that sense.

“Michael and Max have a lot of things in common. They’re both introverted, both family men. So yes, there are a lot of similarities, a lot of similarities.”

Who is more aggressive: Michael Schumacher or Max Verstappen?

Asked for who he believes to be the more aggressive of the pair at the same stage in their careers, Villadelprat said: “I think they have similar levels of aggression, same with Ayrton Senna and Lewis Hamilton.

“Michael could be an a*****e sometimes on the track and Max was a disaster in the very beginning.

“Today, Max is overtaking people and leaving loads of room. Fernando [Alonso] used to be another animal and, every time they overtake somebody, they leave enough room for other people.

“This is the experience of a good World Champion, and that grows with the business. Obviously, when you start and you need to show a lot, there aren’t many brains but the brains start working and become more powerful than the emotions. That’s what makes a good Champion or a Champion for many, many years.

“But in the past, the physical was very important.

“I say that because the cars were harder to drive than today. Only Michael took it that seriously. Michael opened a book and said ‘This is the way that we should be testing and the physical condition we should be in’.

“You used to see guys like Senna, [Nigel] Mansell, you name it, they’d win a race and they’d need help getting out of the car. Then you see guys like Michael climbing out and it was like he’d been in a coffee bar having a coffee!

“Michael opened that book on how to get fit – everybody’s a lot more fit than in the past. Because, in the past, the only thing you needed were big balls – drivers like Alesi had big balls and little brains, and that was it. But today, everybody’s fit. Physical condition is very important and Michael worked harder than anyone else at that time.

“Max, I think, works harder than anybody else at this time. He’s got nothing to prove anymore, he doesn’t have to show anything to anybody. He’s got a good feeling with the team, a good relationship, and respect between the two sides, so you’ve got a nice marriage.

“But they need to keep pushing because, one day, that disappears and dies as a part of life. Look at Hamilton, we expected him to be an eight-time World Champion, and, all of a sudden, it’s like a big hammer came along and said ‘You’re not going to be a winner anymore’ and, over the last two years, it’s not there.”

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