Ex-F1 champion reveals how Verstappen is different to Hamilton, Vettel and Ricciardo

Max Verstappen is the reigning world champion in Formula 1.

1996 world champion Damon Hill affirms it is Max Verstappen’s intense focus on racing that has made him the champion he is today.

Verstappen was born to two racing drivers – Former Formula 1 driver Jos, and former Formula A driver Sophie Kumpen.

Jos is Dutch, and Sophie Belgian, and Max chose to race with a Dutch license, bursting onto the single-seater scene in 2014 in his bid to become the first-ever driver from the Netherlands to win a race.

READ: Alpine admit they’re still baffled by Fernando Alonso

He won 10 races in Formula 3 at just 16 years old as he ended the season third in the championship, and took part in practice with Toro Rosso at the Japanese Grand Prix.

The now 24-year-old became a full-time driver for the Faenza-based squad alongside Carlos Sainz a year later, before replacing Daniil Kvyat at Red Bull just four rounds into the 2016 season – the Russian taken out of the firing line after multiple incidents with Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel.

The Dutchman won on his debut with the Austrian side in Barcelona, and has claimed another 25 wins since then, as well as the world championship following his mammoth battle with Sir Lewis Hamilton in 2021.

Plunged into the pinnacle of motorsport at such a young age having been under immense pressure from Jos to make it to F1, Verstappen has had to grow very quickly and maintain a laser focus on racing, and Hill attributes his success to that.

“Max is a thoroughbred racing driver,” he said.

Article continues below

“He doesn’t seem to be interested in anything other than getting into the car – winning races – and then going home to live his life. 

“He’s not sentimental about anything, he’s very smart, he’s impressed me with his maturity – even from the early days when he was 17 years old.

“At that age, I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life. He’s always wanted to be an F1 driver. A world champion. A winner. 

READ: ‘He has never been racist to me’: Red Bull driver defended after using racist slur while gaming

“The way I read it is that his life is directed in that one way. Some people aren’t like that – most of the young guys are – they’ve been racing carts since they were tiny.”

Irrespective of whether he ought to use his position to campaign for a better world – that is a debate for another day – the 26-time race winner’s sole aim is to race, and to win.

“But it seems he’s not distracted or interested in the extraneous things you see,” explained Hill.

“He’s not, for instance, like Daniel Ricciardo, who is a performer as well, he likes to project his personality. 

“He’s not like Lewis or Sebastian Vettel, who are campaigning. It’s all he’s there to do – work with his team – and win.”

Verstappen has won five of the last six races in 2022, and leads team-mate Sergio Perez by 46 points in the Drivers’ Championship heading into the British Grand Prix next weekend.