Max Verstappen is in his fifth season in F1 already and is still only 21 years old! The father of Max Verstappen is Jos Verstappen who was an ex-F1 driver. Jos Verstappen not only provided some critical connections but also utilised his past F1 and racing experience to help guide Max. In addition, Max Verstappen benefited from both his parents having successful racing careers. If you are, know someone or parent of a young age, there some key takeaways from his Motorsports journey that can not only inspire but enable a clearer path to becoming a future F1 driver or a top-level professional racing driver. Check out our full guide to becoming an F1 driver.
Max Verstappen became a professional F1 driver through hard work, natural talent and having an ex – F1 driving father that knew the right connections. He started through karting, before a short stint in the USA and then a season in F3 before going straight into F1 at 17 years old via the Red Bull driving academy.
Max Verstappen began karting at 4.5 years old, where his father Jos Verstappen, was eager to get him acquainted to the mechanics of driving as quickly as possible. A key reason in getting Max into karting as soon as he was physically able was to take advantage of the ability to absorb information quickly at a young age. The main goal of Jos was to teach his son the basic understanding of the key concepts behind racing. Such as understanding the racing line, learning how breaking and accelerating affect the balance of the kart and how to control the kart. At 6 years old, Max Verstappen was karting regularly in Gent, Belgium. He quickly mastered balance, traction and braking of his cadet kart. Karting at these ages was more of understanding the fundamentals than really doing anything competitive.
“Ever since I was seven years old, Formula One has been my career goal” – Max Verstappen
Many children have this aspiration as Max Verstappen had, but what was different in his case was the gritted determination and ability to dedicate his life towards achieving that goal. Analogous to Lewis Hamiton’s father, Jos Verstappen also did all he could in his power to support his son. Max was different than most other drivers in the fact that his father could be his racing coach and teach him things at a younger age that other’s wouldn’t learn until they were older.
Max Verstappen's Karting Career
It wasn’t until he was 8 years old when he competed in his first championship. He won the Belgium Mini Junior championship by winning all the 21 races! At 9 years old, he began to compete at a national level in Belgium. Not only did he compete, but he won the Belgium championship. Note, that at 9 years old Verstappen was already driving in the Rotax Max Minimax class which is usually open to drivers from 11-15 years old. His dad knew that his son had the ability and understanding to race in quicker karting categories than recommended for his age. So he didn’t hesitate to progress him to the most powerful karts as soon as possible.
His taste for success did not stop as he grew older. At 10 years old Max Verstappen won the Dutch Minimax championship. At 10 years old, Jos Verstappen tied Max into a partnership with one of the most competitive karting companies at the time (CRG). This partnership with CRG would be a telling one, as Max Verstappen raced CRG karts throughout his whole karting career. At 11 years old, he won the Belgium Cadet Championship. Max Verstappen would go on to win the Flemish Minimax championship and the Belgian KF5 championship at only 12 years old.
As Max Verstappen was progressing further into competitions, his dad Jos made sure that they would immediately address any driving flaws there and then. He spent hours with Max, going over incidents and where he was losing time. This is what Jos Verstappen said:
“Every manoeuvre he made, or every mistake he made, we were talking about it, not shouting: but talking and explaining. That’s why I think he is so fast for his age. – Jos Verstappen
Verstappen began international karting at 13 years old. His dad knew that to attract future seats in the F1 junior categories and also gain future sponsors even lifetime sponsors, international karting was critical. He went to the KF3 World Cup which is a kart racing class for top drivers usually aged between 12 to 17 and finished second to an older and more experienced Alex Albon (who is his current F1 team mate). Max put the loss aside and actually beat Albon in WSK Euro Series and the WSK World Series also.
At 14 years old, Verstappen won the WSK Euro Series for the second time. He also began racing the KF2 and KZ2 classes which have more horsepower and have a 6-speed gearbox operated via a gear selector. These karts really mean business, you can see them race by clicking here. Verstappen won the WSK Master Series in the KF2 class, beating Tiene. Verstappen also won the South Garda Winter Cup in the KF2 class, beating Dennis Olsen and Antonio Fuoco.
At 15 years old Max Verstappen entered the SKUSA karting SuperNationals in the KZ2 class and finished 21st. Max also won the European KF and KZ championships. At the age of 15, Verstappen won the 2013 World KZ championship in France. This championship (KZ1) is the pinnacle of karting and after winning the championship Max really announced himself to the world of Motorsport.
Single Seater Career
Max Verstappen’s first experience in a single-seater racing car began when he was 16 years old. He drove an impressive 160 laps in a Formula Renault car. Max Verstappen was given time to test for various Formula Renault times, his speed was extremely impressive. It was evident that he had the natural ability that was developed through his extensive karting career. Verstappen produced quicker lap times than established Formula Renault drivers like Schothorst and Matthew Parry.
Max Verstappen got himself involved in the inaugural Florida Winter Series when he was 16. This series was organised by Ferrari Driver Academy. At the second racing event, Max won his first victory in a single-seater racing car. He won another race in the series before moving onto the F3 championship.
As he approached 17 years old, Verstappen drove in the Formula 3 series driving for Dutch team Van Amersfoort. He took the F3 championship by storm at just 16 years old. He won six consequent races in a row, before finishing the season in third place behind Ocon who won the championship. Winning the championship wasn’t the most important thing, as many champions of F3 or GP2 haven’t had the best F1 careers or didn’t even get a seat. What was important was the talent he showed through winning 10 races and outperforming vastly more experienced drivers. He also proved himself winning the F3 Masters and finishing seventh at Macau. Winning wasn’t the only important factor, but showing great race craft and ability to overtake while producing ultra-consistent lap times.
Getting Into F1
At the tender age of 17 years old, Max Verstappen entered into F1. Both Red Bull and Mercedes fought over getting Verstappen into their driver academy programs. It was Red Bull that Max decided to choose and joined their academy program in 2014 after testing a Formula Renault 3.5 car for them. Less than a week later, his seat was confirmed at Toro Rosso (the sister Red Bull F1 team) for the 2015 season. He became the youngest ever full-time driver to enter into F1, shattering the previous record by almost 2 years. It is unlikely his record will be broken any time soon as in 2016, the FIA (the F1 management authority) raised the age limit for a super license to 18 years old.