FIA press conference host Tom Clarkson has described Max Verstappen as more “ruthless” than his great rival Lewis Hamilton, claiming the Red Bull driver competes with the intention of destroying the opposition.
Verstappen has gone from strength to strength since winning his maiden World Championship in 2021, with his victory at the recent Australian Grand Prix his 17th victory in the last 25 races stretching back to the start of last season.
The Dutch driver is the overwhelming favourite to make it three titles in a row and currently holds a lead of 15 points over Red Bull team-mate Sergio Perez after the opening three races of 2023.
In conversation with 1996 World Champion Damon Hill on the F1 Nation podcast, Clarkson – host of the formal FIA press conferences on grand prix weekends – has revealed that he has never come across another driver with a will to win like Verstappen.
Asked to identify Verstappen’s qualities, Clarkson said: “Well, obviously he’s bloody quick, right? That is a given.
“But I have never met a racing driver who is so hungry for success as Max Verstappen.”
Hill likened Verstappen’s mindset to those of F1 legends Ayrton Senna and Michael Schumacher, claiming the influence of his father Jos – who made 106 grand prix appearances between 1994 and 2003 – is clear to see.
“I think that’s an important component, the hunger for success,” he said. “In other words, we call [it] competitiveness or desire a burning desire to win.
“That’s a mindset [that], I think, is probably key. Similar to Senna, similar to Schumacher, similar to many of the guys who’ve won in our sport or win in any sport.
“But there’s kind of ruthlessness to it as well.
“I think most people find it difficult to relate to that, because in normal life that is regarded as being selfish and it’s regarded as being unattractive, but then it’s a totally appropriate mindset for competing in a sport where the objective is to win.
“The objective is not to do well, is not to play nicely – it’s to win.
“That is what he has. And where did he get that from?
“I’m sure it’s [from] his mother who’s also competitive and a very successful karting lady but Jos, who raced in Formula 1, has made sure that that Max, as he was growing up, was left in no uncertain terms [and] aware that this is not worth doing just for a bit of fun.
“If you’re going to go to Formula 1, you have to want to win. Or have to win.”
Clarkson – who feels Verstappen is “much calmer” now than when he made his F1 debut in 2015 – pointed to his unhappiness after last month’s Saudi Arabian GP, where he recovered to second place after suffering a driveshaft failure in qualifying, as evidence of his unusual desire to win.
He said: “He doesn’t just want to win.
“He wants to destroy the people around him, his closest competitors, and a classic case was Saudi.
“He started the race 15th, he drove a brilliant grand prix to finish second and yet he was really disappointed after the race and came out with the line, ‘I’m not here to finish second’.
“So many other people would have thought that’s a great weekend.
“Look at Perez last weekend in Melbourne. He starts in the pit lane, he comes through to fifth and he was really happy.
“I can’t imagine Max Verstappen being happy with fifth, even from a pit lane start.
“His mentality is unique.
“Yes, Lewis Hamilton is hugely competitive, of course he is – ditto Charles Leclerc – but there’s a ruthlessness about Max that I don’t see in the other guys.
“Just a serial winner.
“For as long as that Red Bull is competitive, Max is just going to keep winning. He’s one of those guys.
“He won’t get bored of winning. The more he wins, the more he wants it.
“When I look at Max, I don’t see a weakness. I think he’s strong everywhere.
“He’s quick over one lap, I think his racecraft is really good, I think the way he looks after his tyres is brilliant, I think he’s able to read a race brilliantly.
“In fact, the more I look at Max, the more he reminds me of Fernando Alonso.
“Is he the fastest guy over one lap? He’s brilliantly fast. He’s certainly in the top three on the grid. But is he the fastest guy? Same car, Charles Leclerc or him? Not sure.
“But who is the fastest over a race? I can’t actually think there is no one better than Max Verstappen
“I think he’s like a metronome. Lap after lap, he just bangs it in and he’s combined that with a ruthless attitude towards overtaking and you’ve got yourself a serial winner.
“He’s incredibly impressive and I think his mentality is very similar to Fernando Alonso and it doesn’t surprise me when they each come out praising the other in the media, which they do quite a lot now because I think they can see a little bit of the other in themselves.
“Max is Fernando Alonso of 2005/06, that’s where we’re at right now with him.
“And how good can he get? How can he chip away at just making himself better? And I think he does have that desire to get better as well.
“It’s quite frightening, actually, to think how good he could become.”
Hamilton was infamously denied a record-breaking eighth title in controversial circumstances at the 2021 title decider in Abu Dhabi, where the race director’s mishandling of a late-race Safety Car saw Verstappen overtake him on the final lap.
And Hill believes Verstappen could now go on to surpass Hamilton and Schumacher to become the most statistically successful driver in grand prix history.
He added: “I’m sure he’ll get better.
“I think he has shown more maturity and measuredness [sic] in his application of his formidable talents in races.
“He knows when to twist and when to stick. He can push when he needs to.
“There’s no need to go flat out the whole time everywhere. He’s always got it in his back pocket if he needs it on.
“A very accomplished [driver] the sky is the limit.
“It could be eight World titles.”