A few months after the sudden death of his father, Daniil, a legendary Formula 1 driver, Max Verstappen was racing again.
Niki Lauda was away from the sport, and no one would have blamed Max Verstappen for needing some time to grieve.
But the 18-year-old was as good as ever on the track, with four wins and eight podiums on his rookie season in Formula 1. The youngest F1 champion in history was in the starting line up when Sebastian Vettel won the season-ending season-closing race in Abu Dhabi, marking a maiden victory for Verstappen and a third of a year ago for Vettel.
On the eve of the season’s curtain call, Max Verstappen is admitting that he was deeply affected by his father’s death, and probably his previous ones.
“It’s a kind of normal thing, and when you die at a young age, it happens,” Verstappen said. “I’m not that young and I cannot die at 25 as well. But I do wonder if all my life my life I have just been worried.”
Boredom from the job. @MaxVM_39 says he has “had to fight this idea that you should be scared” when it comes to racing at his age. — Andrew Das (@AndrewDasNYT) September 4, 2018
He added: “I always thought that being a good driver is not always easy, but you just have to fight for it, and the more you try and push for it, the more you get it. And I think what has happened is that is more than paid off — and then there’s another big thing.
“I’m not talking about money or something. I’m talking about how you enjoy your job. How you have to fight all the time to succeed because sometimes you will lose. You know how much of a success you’ve had after some weeks, after some months when it’s been difficult, and you’re just thinking, well, all I need to do is be at the right level, and everything will be nice.”
“Well, it’s very different now.” @MaxVM_39 #FAHeartsUp #ChampAmerica pic.twitter.com/hUf7Qi6dDl — Formula 1 (@F1) September 4, 2018
Driving for Mercedes, the sport’s most historic and successful team, Verstappen delivered an exclamation point to his season — though he still appears unlikely to challenge Lewis Hamilton, who took the championship by taking the last pole position, and Fernando Alonso’s decision to switch teams.
Alonso could be excused for having an off year, however, as he not only missed the overall title race but also left F1’s championship for the IndyCar Series to continue his career at the highest level, instead of for a more modest career on the NASCAR circuit.
On the eve of his departure, Alonso raised concerns about Mercedes’ performance in the F1 season finale, calling it “depressing” and “useless,” and claiming that he had lost confidence.
Max Verstappen, not one to shy away from competition, insisted that Fernando Alonso’s comments would only make the rest of the Mercedes team better — even if Alonso himself will not race again.
“I heard what he said before and after the race. I didn’t watch that race in quite a long time. He is a great driver, an amazing champion,” Verstappen said, “And his opinion does matter in the team. So maybe it was a good thing for us. If he was happy, the rest of the team was happy, and if he was not, well then I didn’t hear from him anymore.”
A different challenge awaits Max Verstappen next season, when the young Dutchman tries to challenge in the new-generation of smaller, turbocharged engines.
“In the last couple of years I won for first time,” he said. “I guess it’s kind of half of what I expected. But I’m very happy with the way I’ve built my own team. So I can definitely say that I’m happy.”