AlphaTauri team manager Graham Watson has dismissed claims that newly crowned F1 world champion Max Verstappen is arrogant, instead affirming that the Dutchman is simply confident.
Watson joined the team – then named Toro Rosso – as team manager in 2014, and oversaw multiple practice sessions partaken by Verstappen that season, the first of which came at the Japanese Grand Prix when he was just 16 years of age.
The Dutchman was then fast-tracked from Formula 3 straight to Formula 1 in 2015. He scored points in 10 of the 20 races that year, and achieved a P4 finish at the frenetic Hungarian Grand Prix en route to a 12th placed Championship finish.
Verstappen would then move up to Red Bull to replace Daniil Kvyat four rounds into the 2016 season, and he won his first race on his Red Bull debut at the Spanish Grand Prix.
Fast forward five years, and Verstappen now has 20 wins and won his first F1 Championship in dramatic style at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix this year, passing Sir Lewis Hamilton on the final lap.
His rivalry with the Briton has polarised F1 fans around the world, with many seeing Verstappen as an arrogant racer. Watson disagrees with this notion though, and compares Verstappen to his father Jos, who also raced in F1.
“Well, at the end of 2014 Max had already driven some free practice sessions for Toro Rosso. Max isn’t arrogant but like his father, he does brim with self-confidence. I saw that for the first time in Brazil, where he had quite a moment during free practice and almost crashed heavily,” Watson said.
“Normally a young driver would be upset, but Max managed to keep the car under control and a lap later set the fastest time.
“We also have to remember Max was driving our race car for the weekend. Anyway, even at that age I never thought ‘oh my god, he’s going to get back into our car and it’s going to go hopelessly wrong’.
“It’s hard to put into words exactly what I felt, but from that moment I knew Max would be special.”
The 54-year-old is impressed by how Verstappen has improved mentally in the seven seasons he has competed in F1, and described him as easy to work with.
“He is a lot more mature, but that makes sense because he was still literally a teenager with us. Anyway, I always found him an easy guy to deal with, certainly not arrogant.”
He then cited a rally event in Monaco last year during which Verstappen approached him for a chat.
“For example, last year in Monaco, during the rally, I was invited to join the launch party and Max was there as a guest speaker. I was just standing in the audience watching the opening and after the speech he came off the stage and walked over to me.
“He walked past everyone and asked ‘hey, Graham, what are you doing here, are you invited by Red Bull?’ Just have a chat. That’s nice, and in that respect he hasn’t changed dramatically or anything. You just see he is more mature.”