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Max Verstappen: Dutchman about refusing to dream, deal with pressure and learn from his father

Verstappen is 32 points ahead of Mercedes-Lewis Hamilton in the drivers’ standings

Max Verstappen should be feeling the pressure by now, but the Red Bull driver is cool personified as he prepares for the British Grand Prix this weekend.

Seven years after his Formula 1 career, the 23-year-old Dutchman finally has a real chance for the world title, and his rival is the most successful driver of all time, Lewis Hamilton. But at least for the time being, Verstappen takes everything easy.

It has been clear from the first race that Red Bull could keep up with Mercedes at eye level this season. But Verstappen’s approach has not wavered. From the start, his mantra has been that it’s a long season and he’s just trying to do his best every weekend. “I just live in the moment,” he says in an interview with BBC Sport. “One race at a time.”

This is the public manifestation of what every athlete is told about success – don’t think too far, focus on the now, on what you can control, the rest will take care of itself.

It’s easy to say; harder to make. And at Verstappen it’s more than just cliché and self-affirmation. This is really how he deals with the greatest year of his life.

“That’s how I worked all the time,” he says. “I don’t like to dream or to think ahead. I want to work to be the best I can be and then see you again the week after.”

Suggest that this year it might be more difficult to approach weekends this way, considering what’s at stake, and the answer will come straight away.

“No,” he says, “it was easier because I know I have a good car, so I’m always looking forward to the next race.”

That’s Verstappen. “Indeed” is a phrase that may have been invented to describe it. There’s no fuss or frills. Everything is just as it is.

He is in Formula One to win and now he has a chance to do it on a regular basis. The championship has been a goal for as long as he can remember and it is now clear that he has a real chance. To Verstappen, it feels like life is supposed to be.

“My father sometimes worried that I wouldn’t be disturbed”

Max Verstappen celebrates his first victory in Formula 1 with his father Jos in 2016Verstappen’s father Jos drove in Formula 1 between 1994 and 2003 for teams like Benetton, Arrows, Tyrrell and Minardi

Verstappen was born for Formula 1 in many ways. His father is ex-F1 driver Jos Verstappen and his mother is former champion go-karterer Sophie Kumpen.

When Jos’ F1 career ended in 2003, he devoted his life to preparing young Max to follow in his footsteps. The two toured Europe together and tore open the continent’s go-kart tracks. But parental guardianship only goes so far. Max’s talent seems to be a distillation and focus from his parents’, but his calm approach to his job comes from elsewhere.

“I’ve always been like that,” says Verstappen. “My dad was sometimes a little worried that I wouldn’t be disturbed or I was too relaxed. But I said, ‘Dad, don’t worry, this is how I like it and how I approach a race.” Weekend or, like, my zone. ‘

“He was still worried until Formula 1, but he could also see that he couldn’t influence my preparation. My father is still looking forward to the start of the Formula 1 weekend more than I am. I get sent so often. ” Things, my dad is asking questions about the weekend and I think, ‘I’ll find out when I’m on the track.’

“At the end of the day it is. I can tell you a 10-minute story about what I think, but 70% of the time it turns out differently. So I’d rather save the energy and just say we.” I’ll find out and see what happens. At least that’s how I go about it. I’m pretty relaxed about it. “

So far in 2021 it has worked out quite well. Verstappen goes 32 points ahead of Hamilton in the British Grand Prix this weekend – an advantage so great that he will still leave Silverstone at the top of the championship on Sunday, even if the Mercedes driver wins the Grand Prix and the new one Short race “Sprint Qualifying” on Saturday afternoon, in which the top 3 also score, Verstappen also scores here without points.

Hamilton said on Thursday that he saw the win over Verstappen this year as a “high task”. But Verstappen himself doesn’t take anything for granted.

“I always try to be as consistent as possible, not make too many mistakes and get the most points available every weekend,” he says. “Mostly [in my career] that was the third, occasionally the second. But this year you will of course fight for the top positions with a more competitive car. “

And he says the higher stakes haven’t changed anything for him.

“No, I always know that I cannot afford any mistakes or zero points. That is the most important thing.”

“You focus on yourself; everything else does not matter ‘

Lewis Hamilton and Max VerstappenIf Verstappen wins the title this season, it would be his first F1 championship

There were a few mistakes this year – Verstappen missed pole at both Imola and Portimao at the beginning of the season with minor driving errors. At the time, it looked like the new expectations that come with a title challenge would overwhelm him.

In fact, Hamilton did so himself, albeit weirdly, when he pointed out that Mercedes couldn’t rely on Red Bull mistakes to maintain their title challenge.

Since then, Hamilton has increased the pressure a little. He said he believed Verstappen “felt that he might have a lot to prove” – something that Verstappen soberly denied.

He drew attention to the Red Bull’s “bendy wing”, a remark that led to a clarification of the regulations by the umbrella organization of the FIA, which reinforces the stress tests that cars are subjected to.

Verstappen and Hamilton even quarreled behind closed doors at the drivers briefing at the French Grand Prix when Hamilton cited “cheating” by the teams after Pirelli revealed that Red Bull was running tires at lower pressures than expected, for failures , which concerned Verstappen and Lance Stroll’s Aston Martin in Azerbaijan.

Hamilton has denied playing mind games. But if he thought he was going to Verstappen with all of this, he apparently miscalculated.

“Everyone can deal with it how they want,” says Verstappen. “Ultimately, we don’t care. We just have to look at ourselves and try to improve every single race weekend and not be distracted by others, or at least we try. Everyone in the team.”

Does Verstappen think Hamilton is trying to get inside his head?

“If so, I don’t really pay attention to it,” he says. “We just concentrate a lot on the team work and try to do that every weekend.”

How does he maintain such uniqueness of intent?

“Because that counts. This is how my father taught me life, you have to concentrate on yourself and work with your team. Everything else does not matter.”

It’s easy to say, but is it easy to do too?

“After spending many years with my father, yes.”

how did he do that?

“In many different ways. Nice way. A little madder. No it works for me. I needed it. He hardened me up, which is good. “

The intensive training program that Verstappen senior gave his boy meant that Max made his F1 debut at a very young age. The result was that he had to go from boy to man in the face of the whole world.

“It was okay,” says Max. “People always ask me, ‘Are you missing something?’ And I say, ‘No, I don’t think so because my whole life is about racing and I love being on a racetrack instead of being in a club like other 17-18 year olds go out all the time or to go study.

“I never wanted to do something like that, especially not to study. I just wanted to concentrate on the race and the win. I’m very happy with how the last few years have gone.”

Is he ready for the new attention that would come with the world title?

“It doesn’t matter whether I’m ready or not,” says Verstappen. “I know what to focus on. If you get more famous or whatever, it doesn’t matter. I have to perform here on the weekend and then I go back home and hang out with family and friends and you don’t see me that often. “

And what about the future, whatever happens this year?

“My ambition is to win every single race, to be on pole every weekend and to win 20 world championships,” says Verstappen. “But that is unrealistic. You need luck in life and a very dominant car and a team will not always be dominant for so long.”

“I’m trying to do my best this year and then we’ll see what happens next year.”

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