Straight-talking Max Verstappen should be cherished in world full of ‘yes’ men

Sam Cooper
Max Verstappen speaks into a microphone.

Max Verstappen has proven he is unafraid to speak his mind.

There is something uniquely Dutch about Max Verstappen and it is not just his passport.

While national stereotypes are not always accurate, it seems Verstappen was cut from the same cloth that many of his compatriots are. He is straight talking, blunt and seemingly unfazed by what he would most likely describe as ‘bulls**t’.

So it came as little surprise when the freshly minted three-time World Champion became the metaphorical party pooper of the Las Vegas Grand Prix.

Verstappen’s dislike of the event is nothing new of course. In an F1-produced YouTube video of the drivers reacting to the addition of the race in March 2022, it took until 1:28 for Verstappen to make an appearance with the Red Bull driver joking some of his colleagues may not make it to the race after a night in the casinos. He also asked that it not be a double header so that was his first denied request.

But as more details emerged, Verstappen’s criticism zeroed in one area – spectacle vs sport.

In football circuses there is an oft used phrase of “against modern football” to demonstrate one’s hatred of the new influences in the sport such as VAR, state-owned clubs and multi-club ownership.

Well if there was an equivalent in F1, Verstappen would be the poster boy for it. When sprint races were introduced, Verstappen was against it.

When more street circuits were added, Verstappen was against it. When more and more commitments were being placed on his schedule, Verstappen was against it.

To understand why that is, you have to consider Verstappen’s upbringing. He is one of two drivers on the current grid whose father was an F1 driver and the young Max was shaped to do one thing – race.

For Verstappen, the cathedrals of Monza, Spa and Silverstone are holy places where history is seeped into every corner. Vegas’ F1 history on the other hand was confined to two races in a parking lot.

But this is not to say Verstappen is entirely against new circuits, he is however against circuits that have been shoehorned into cities and as a result, do not have a track that brings out the best of an F1 car.

He made this very point in Vegas, stating that street circuits do not maximise the potential of the F1 car and those comments came shortly after he had let the world know just how he really felt about the race in Nevada.

While those criticisms, which ranged from his comments from “99% show, 1% racing” to looking like a “clown” during the opening ceremony, his most eloquent answer came just a short time after he had qualified P3.

“I can go on for a long time but I like emotion and for me, when I was a little kid, it was about the emotion of the sport,” he said. “[That is] what I fell in love with and not the show of the sport around it because, as a real racer, that shouldn’t really matter.

“When you go to Spa, Monza, these kinds of places, they have a lot of emotion and passion. And for me, seeing the fans there is incredible. And when I jump in the car there, I’m fired up and I love driving around these kinds of places.

“Of course, I understand that fans, they need maybe something to do as well around the track. But I think it’s more important that you actually make them understand what we do as a sport because most of them just come to have a party, drink, see a DJ play or a performance act.

“I can do that all over the world. I can go to Ibiza and get completely shitfaced and have a good time.

“But that’s what happens and actually people… they come and they become fan of what? They want to see maybe their favourite artists and have a few drinks with their mates and then go out and have a crazy night out.

“But they don’t actually understand what we’re doing or what we’re putting on the line to perform and I think if you would actually invest more time into the actual sport, what we’re actually trying to achieve here to…

“As a little kid, we grew up wanting to be a World Champion. If the sport put more focus on to these kinds of things and also explain more what the team is doing, try to see them, what they are achieving, what they’re working for. These kinds of things I find way more important to look at than just having all these random shows all over the place.

“For me it’s not what I’m very passionate about and I like passion and emotion with these kinds of places. I love Vegas but not to drive an F1 car.

“I love to go out have a few drinks, throw everything on red or whatever, to be a bit crazy, have nice food. But like I said: emotion, passion. So there compared to some old school tracks.”

It was an excellently thought out answer that explained exactly why Verstappen took issue and what he would do to change it. Of course, that did not stop the criticism of him.

Martin Brundle, a man who more often that not gets it right, made the bizarre suggestion that Verstappen should act as a cheerleader for F1.

“If he doesn’t like it, I’m not sure he needs to say anything at all.’ Brundle said in his role as Sky Sports pundit.

‘I was a bit disappointed with that, because standing on a rostrum coming up and waving, a lot of adulation from the fans, it’s not the worst job in the world is it?

“It’s not that difficult. You’re not on shift work or down the mines or something. So I don’t understand why he feels so negative about it.”

The first part of Brundle’s critique made little sense with Verstappen one of the most interviewed sport stars in the world, making it all but impossible to avoid a question which would have been asked to him dozens of times by different outlets.

So then, could Verstappen just grit his teeth and toe the party line? Of course he could but is it not instead refreshing to have a driver say how he actually feels?

Plenty of them will be happy to stay out of the headlines and doing so would make life easier for Verstappen, so he should instead be praised for saying what he really feels, regardless of the consequences.

Jolyon Palmer, who hosts a show on F1TV, also laid into Verstappen, criticising him for being against the event and then signing Elvis songs as he crossed the finishing line.

“Honestly, some of the comments before this weekend, even during this weekend, the negativity has been embarrassing. Max has been very critical of the event and it’s been a tremendous success,” he told the BBC’s Chequered Flag podcast.

“We say the proof of the pudding is in the eating. It’s blooming delicious.

“You can’t one minute say this is a shambles, this race, if Monaco is Champions League then this is National League, and then 50 laps later you’re singing ‘Viva Las Vegas’ in an Elvis suit. Come on.”

But again, Palmer has missed the point. Ignoring the fact that Verstappen would have had zero input into Red Bull’s Elvis-inspired race suits, none of what took place on Saturday would have convinced him the ‘show’ was worth it.

It is also perfectly understandable why someone like Toto Wolff was so passionately in favour of the event. The Mercedes CEO launched into an angry tirade on Friday, dismissing claims the drain incident was a “black eye” for the sport.

Such a defence of F1’s golden apple should come as no real surprise considering as a one-third owner of the Mercedes’ F1 team, Wolff’s bank balance increases as F1 itself gets more popular.

Therefore it is also perfectly understandable why Verstappen cares more about the racing than the presentation. Verstappen too has benefited from such a rise but his pay is affected by what happens on track, not how many people are watching.

Verstappen’s willingness to call out bulls**t can also be a force for good. After the disgruntled Thursday attendees were offered a $200 voucher, Verstappen suggested he would tear the place down if that happened to him, no doubt bringing far more attention to the topic than before, something similar to what Lewis Hamilton said post Spa 2021 to which the Mercedes driver was praised.

F1 drivers, and sports stars in general, can often be media trained to the nth degree, making it almost impossible to get a human answer out of them especially when it could put you in the crosshairs of some powerful people.

Verstappen has never been that and the sport is all the better for it.

Read next: Las Vegas Grand Prix – Hit or miss? The verdict is in on F1’s huge showpiece race