Red Bull’s Max Verstappen made Formula One history last week when, at the age of 18, he became the sport’s youngest ever winner with victory in the Spanish GP after the two Mercedes collided on the first lap and went out of the race.
As Monaco approaches this weekend, he spoke to Sport360 about how he feels now his fantastic achievement has had time to sink in and what he expects for the rest of the season.
Q Tell us how you feel now about being F1’s youngest grand prix winner. What sort of reaction have you had since last Sunday and were you expecting victory to come so early?
A It was of course a great achievement to win. I have had a few days now to really realise what happened and yes it feels great. It’s a great feeling and achievement for the whole team I think, we took our opportunities after the crash of the Mercedes cars so I am very happy to win.
How are you going to follow such a momentous weekend? Do you think you can win more races this season?
To be honest I will just approach every race like I always do, try to do my best and from there on see what happens. I think you have to be realistic, Mercedes is pretty fast so we just need to keep pushing and hope that’s enough to at least score some podiums.
Many have spoken about your incredible maturity but do you think being so young brings additional pressure?
I think you always have pressure but for me at the moment it’s just positive pressure. I’m enjoying what I’m doing, I like to drive the car and I think if you are a happy person and you feel well in the team, you can produce the performance.
What sort of feedback have you had from world champion Lewis Hamilton and former champions Sebastian Vettel, Fernando Alonso, Kimi Raikkonen, Jenson Button, and other drivers? What sort of things have they been saying to you?
Well from Lewis not so much, I think he was pretty disappointed after his race. From the other guys very positive and very happy for me, which is very nice to see. Especially with Seb on the podium, he told me “Max you should go back on the podium and just celebrate it on your own”, so it was very nice to see that. There is a lot of respect between all the drivers.
What did team owner Dietrich Mateschitz and Christian Horner say to you after your win? How did team-mate Daniel Ricciardo react after his unfortunate puncture on the penultimate lap which wrecked his chances?
Daniel was very happy for me, he said congratulations on your first victory. It was a great shame he was not there with me because I think he had a great chance to also get to the podium. Mr. Mateschitz was also very happy, you could see he was smiling a lot and also congratulated me and said we did a great job. Christian was also very happy, I think nobody really expected it but just a great achievement.
Were you surprised when you replaced Daniil Kvyat in the Red Bull team?
I was a bit surprised it would happen in the middle of the season, but when you get that chance you take it and we have started off in a very positive way.
Tell us a little bit about your childhood and when you realised you wanted to follow your father Jos into Formula One. There is often additional pressure on sons of former F1 drivers to do well. Did you feel any pressure as you made your way into F1?
Yes, the whole family was racing so I think it was quite obvious I would start racing. But it’s important you have to enjoy it yourself. Luckily, my parents never pushed me into it, they just let me do what I enjoyed and that was racing. It started off as a bit of fun in Go Karting and then with a lot of help from my dad we have got to Formula 1.
How difficult is it to get into Formula One and apart from being quick, what is the main characteristic you need to succeed in this sport?
All the people in Formula 1 are very talented but talent alone is not enough, you have to work hard also to achieve the best result possible. It’s not just doing a great lap but also spending time with your engineers to improve the car, to improve yourself every time.
Your dad has obviously been hugely influential in your career so far. Tell us about that and his decision to now take a step backwards from being so directly involved and let others take your career to its next level. How has the rest of your family supported you and how did they react after your win?
I don’t really see him taking a step backwards. We are now in a top team so there is not much more he can do. He is still there like he also was in Toro Rosso but its not really a step backwards. He advised me a lot in Go Karts and Formula 3 so for sure if it wasn’t for him I would not be here now.
Apart from your father, which Formula One driver has been the biggest inspiration for you?
You have a lot of respect for people and their achievements in the sport but there is not one person in particular I really look up too.
Who do you see as your main rival among the young drivers now coming into Formula One?
To be honest, I don’t really know, it depends a lot on which car they get. A lot of young drivers are very quick but you also need a good car around you to get the performance out.
Red Bull have struggled a little bit over the past couple of seasons with engine issues. They are now clearly on the way back. Do you think you can now compete with Mercedes and Ferrari on a regular basis or is the world title too big an ask this season?
I think Mercedes is still a bit far ahead but we get some updates very soon so hopefully that will bring us a bit closer. Like you can see in Barcelona, we were fighting with Ferrari so this is already very positive. We are definitely on the way back to winning more regularly.
What other sports do you enjoy and follow? Do you have any other hobbies?
Go Karting and basically anything with an engine on I pretty much enjoy.
What music do you enjoy?
All different kinds of music, 90’s, pop music, dance music, rock music so pretty much anything. It depends on what kind of mood you’re in.”
What is your favourite movie?
What road car do you drive?
Favourite holiday destination?
Milton Keynes…(laughs) No I haven’t found that one yet.
Finally, Monaco is next up. What are your chances there?
We have a good chance of a podium because our car should be pretty strong there. We haven’t driven the new car there this year so I’ll just take it easy and we’ll see what happens. You need to have good feelings on the street circuit because it’s all about confidence so from there we will keep pushing and see what happens.
The Russian was demoted back to to the Red Bull junior team ahead of the Spanish GP in a shock swap that saw Max Verstappen replace him at Milton Keynes.
Having admitted that he needed more track time to adapt to the Ferrari-powered STR11, Kvyat described his recent 116-lap day of testing at Circuit de Barcelona as “crucial”.
“I’m pretty happy about how it went, a lot of information, a lot of things I tried which hopefully we will be able to put on the car for Monaco next week and will work,” he said. “So it was a very productive day for myself and the team.”
Asked whether he felt more at ease behind the wheel heading to one of the most unforgiving street circuit in the world, the 22-year-old added: “Yeah. Obviously here and Monaco are very different tracks. But let’s see, it will be a perfect opportunity because Monaco is a confidence track so will be important to see how much confidence I have in the car. Usually I’ve been good there so should be OK this time too.”
Twelve months ago, Kvyat had also arrived in Monte Carlo on the back of a challenging first few races, but the former GP3 Series champion managed to turn a corner by qualifying a strong fifth before beating then team-mate Daniel Ricciardo to fourth in the race.
When Vettel won the 2008 Italian Grand Prix at Monza for Toro Rosso at the age of 21 years and 73 days, he scrapped Fernando Alonso from the history books.
Now himself relegated to second on the youngest winners list behind the stunning Max Verstappen, Vettel is happy to concede the record to a man whose achievement he appreciates, although the German remains relatively indifferent to the age factor in F1.
“Records are there to be broken,” said the Ferrari driver.
“I was so excited when I won my first race that I didn’t care if I was twenty or 25 or whatever age, I don’t think it matters [about age].
“If you’re quick enough you belong here and then as soon as you are you belong here and as long as you are you belong here, so I don’t think it matters whether you’re 18 or… I think Michael kept racing until he was 43?
“I met Stirling Moss a couple of weeks ago. Unfortunately he only raced until his thirties but I think he was there to race until his fifties. Obviously cars these days are a bit easier to drive than when I started but still I think there’s nothing that speaks against…
“I don’t know how old Kimi Raikkonen is actually but 35 year old to keep fit and to drive these cars if you’re still quick enough, you’re still young enough, so that’s the bottom line.”