Max Verstappen tipped to beat Lewis Hamilton as F1’s first ‘billion-dollar’ driver

Thomas Maher
Red Bull's Max Verstappen lifts his 2022 crown.

Same time next year? Max Verstappen lifts his 2022 crown.

Might Max Verstappen’s success lead him to become Formula 1’s first-ever billion-dollar earner?

Max Verstappen’s success in Formula 1 has seen him already climb the all-time rankings to join some of the all-time legends of the sport – the Dutch driver is closing in on a third consecutive Drivers’ Championship, and recently took the record for the most consecutive Grand Prix wins with 10 in a row.

Astonishingly, Verstappen’s success belies his youth – he turned 26-years-old earlier this week and, having already nearly a decade of Grand Prix racing behind him, his earnings as a racing driver could tip him over the billion-dollar mark.

Mark Gallagher: All bets are off about Max Verstappen’s F1 career earnings

Former Jordan Grand Prix and Cosworth head Mark Gallagher, analysing Verstappen’s success for the GP Racing podcast, believes he could become the sport’s first billion-dollar driver.

Verstappen is believed to be earning in the region of $50 million annually from his Red Bull Racing contract, not including any potential bonuses for race or championship wins, and also not including any commercial sponsorship deals he is able to secure for himself, such as his expiring contract with Dutch supermarket chain Jumbo.

How much he’s ultimately able to earn will come down to his career longevity, Gallagher pointed out.

“Regarding Max being potentially the first billion-dollar Formula 1 driver in terms of his career earnings, the reason I say that is because you really don’t need to sit in front of a calculator for very long to work out that, if he’s already been in Formula 1 since the age of 17, even if you put in a sort of relatively modest trajectory in terms of his salary, he’s already well into nine figures – hundreds of millions of dollars of income during his career to date,” he said.

“He’s got a very long way to go, potentially. This is one of the interesting things about Max saying he may not stick around that long, because he certainly doesn’t need to stick around in order to make serious money. He’s already made serious money, and he will make serious money over the balance of his Red Bull contract until 2028.

“But the fact is that, if he decides, ‘okay, I’ll do a [Lewis] Hamilton or I’ll do an [Fernando] Alonso, and I’ll stay until I’m 38 or 40’, I mean, all bets are off. His career earnings will just continue to rocket.

“What you say regarding the deals that he has, the deals that he has are not stratospheric, they’re not Nike NBA-style personal endorsement deals, but they are still significant. When you start to add them up, if you’ve got 1.5 million here or 2 million there, and this is on top of your salary, you can see that he’s reached a point where, I mean, it’s no wonder he looks so relaxed about everything in his life. He’s literally in the class of his own.”

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Max Verstappen the ‘diametric opposite’ of Lewis Hamilton

With Verstappen slowly but surely rubberstamping his position as F1’s king, succeeding the long-time number one Lewis Hamilton, Gallagher said the very differing personalities of the two is fascinating to observe.

While Hamilton is known for his love of ‘show business’, clothing, fashion, music, and attending celebrity-filled events, Verstappen is a much more private individual and prefers spending his free time at home with girlfriend Kelly Piquet and her child Penelope – the Dutch driver frequently takes part in online sim-racing events on iRacing, just for fun.

“People who are not diehard Max fans will say to me, they find him not easy to engage with as a casual viewer – people see him as a little bit of an an automaton, you know, he turns up, he does the job. He says the right things. There’s not much more to it,” Gallagher said.

“That’s often given to me as kind of a criticism of Max that maybe he doesn’t have the Lewis Hamilton stardom. But, of course, the Lewis Hamilton stardom is also interesting in that some people really love it and some people really don’t like it. Some people will say, ‘oh, what’s with the Lewis Hamilton fashion show each weekend?’

“I have to say more people than the critics say to me ‘isn’t it fantastic the way Lewis has picked just being his own man?’ and how he clearly enjoys all the other things that he does beyond Formula 1, including his love of fashion and music.

“Max is much simpler. I spoke to a few people inside Red Bull, both the F1 team and the broader company. One of the people I spoke to is David Coulthard. David travels to the races with Max. They travel from Monaco together and David gave me a little bit of background on their relationship, which is really interesting.

“David tells me that what you see with Max is exactly what you get. He is totally driven by just being a racing driver. He doesn’t want to do anything else. He doesn’t want to have huge outside interests, his interests outside of Formula 1 racing is more racing, be it in driving another car somewhere else or be it with his sim racing. So he’s just interested in racing. That’s it. That’s where his interest lies.

“In some ways, he is diametrically the opposite of Lewis, his way of switching off from F1 is to immerse himself in music and fashion. Max can’t operate, and doesn’t want to operate, on that basis. He doesn’t want to switch off from racing, because he loves racing too much. That’s literally what he most enjoys doing. So it’s a much more straightforward personality in that respect. Not that multi-dimensional.

“Maybe that’s one of the reasons why some people find Max too much of an automaton, there’s not much more to him than what you see.”

Mark Gallagher: Max Verstappen isn’t worried about his marketability

While Verstappen may be absolutely swimming in money due to his success on track, Gallagher doubts the Dutch driver, nor his management, is actually overly concerned about his commercial image – they simply don’t need to be.

“I don’t think Max is worried about his marketability, globally,” he said.

“I don’t think his manager is worried about his marketability globally, because his career and things are outstanding. He’s got his endorsement contracts, there will be more, he is obviously a total superstar at home in the Netherlands.

“It’s impossible to go into almost any store of any kind and not find someone using a Max Verstappen point-of-sale display, be it Red Bull, be it Jumbo Supermarkets, or any number of other brands in the Netherlands who have somehow tapped into him through partnerships, etc.

“At home in the Netherlands, he is every bit the superstar there as Lewis Hamilton is in the UK, possibly even more so if I may say so and that’s only because Lewis has a lot of competition from a lot of other top sports stars here in the UK, plus you’ve got Premiership football here.

“Whereas in the Netherlands, Max is it. So you go into a filling station and you’ve got a giant cut-out of Max Verstappen greeting you. He is, in Max Verstappen world, achieving everything he wants to achieve, ticking every box in terms of financial reward.

“He doesn’t need more and he’s not interested in the sort of Hollywood superstardom factor – that doesn’t hold any flavour for him really.”

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