AlphaTauri team manager Graham Watson says that Red Bull had to tell Max Verstappen’s father, Jos, to step back and let the team do their job in the early part of the young Dutchman’s F1 career.
Jos Verstappen raced for seven teams over his 206 F1 grand prix starts, and his son, Max, was brought into the Formula 1 paddock at the tender age of 16, when he completed several practice sessions for Toro Rosso.
Such was his talent that he was fast-tracked straight from Formula 3 to Formula 1, partnering fellow rookie Carlos Sainz at Toro Rosso.
Sainz’s father, Carlos Sainz Sr, won 26 rally events over his career, claiming two championships in 1990 and 1992.
Rumours circulated that there were some personal issues between the two team-mates but Watson dismisses these, instead saying he was given the most earache by their dads.
“To be quite honest, I didn’t experience it that way, although both were very driven and the fathers actually much more,” he said.
Watson, a former rally driver himself, already had dealings with Sainz Sr in the past, and affirmed that the 59-year-old would sometimes appear dissatisfied, feeling that Toro Rosso’s actions were advantageous to Verstappen.
“Funnily enough, I already knew Carlos Sainz Senior from my time in rallying, so I knew both fathers well.
“He was extremely driven and always looked a little suspicious if the other driver in the team was getting something his own son didn’t.”
He recalls an incident in 2016 in which he had to cool Sainz Sr down, insisting that Verstappen was not being given special treatment.
“I remember well that I had a clash with him in Barcelona, which must have been during the winter test of 2016.
“He learned about the way our men worked with the car and [felt] that it wouldn’t be fair at all. Then I was like: ‘hang on a minute,’ and I made it very clear to him that both drivers were getting the exact same treatment.”
The New Zealander reckons that Jos Verstappen’s insecurities stem from the fact that he himself felt unfairly treated while at Benetton.
“Jos also felt disadvantaged in his own career and certainly thought with Benetton that he was being treated unfairly. I’m not telling any secrets with that, that’s publicly known,” he explained.
Watson went on to describe Max’s mentality, and said it was clear to see Jos’ influence on him.
“Max definitely didn’t want that to happen and most of all wanted to beat his teammate. He really has the mentality: I will not allow the team to be built around my teammate, the team will be built around me.
“Because of my years in the pit box, it may strike me more than others, but I clearly see Jos’s hand in that.
“Jos was of course also used to having full control over Max’s career from the karting days,” he added.
Watson concedes that Jos had reason to be concerned in the early days of his son’s career with the team, as it was not structured quite as well as it is now.
“When Max came to us, the team looked different than it does now, less professional. Jos perhaps doubted whether our team was of the level to help his son further in F1.”
However, he recalls coming close to losing his temper with Jos’ persistent interference.
“I noticed this especially in the fact that Jos tapped my shoulder every day and asked: ‘Graham, what about this and what about that?’ At one point I had to be a bit blunt and say, ‘For f*ck’s sake, just let the team members do their job.’
“Only when Max came to Red Bull did they tell Jos that he really had to take a step back,” he explained.
While the 54-year-old grew slightly impatient with Verstappen’s inputs, he admits it must be hard to have to stand back and watch his son compete.
“I don’t have children myself, but I can well imagine that letting go of your own son is quite difficult,” he concluded.
Max Verstappen has won 20 races in Formula 1 with Red Bull, including 10 in the 2021 season.
The 24-year-old beat Sir Lewis Hamilton to the title on the very last lap of the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, following a highly controversial late Safety Car restart.
He will sport the Number 1 on his car in 2022 – the number reserved for the reigning champion.