Max Verstappen’s feet are firmly on the ground despite his status as the reigning world champion and, surely now, soon-to-be double world champion.
The Dutchman entered Formula 1 in 2015 with Toro Rosso, and he became the youngest-ever race winner in the pinnacle of motorsport in Spain a year later with Red Bull.
That record is unlikely to be beaten, as no one under the age of 18 is allowed to race in F1 now, but Verstappen’s meteoric rise saw him start his career at 17 years old.
Since then, the now 24-year-old has added another 29 wins to his repertoire, 10 of which arrived last year.
Verstappen beat Sir Lewis Hamilton to the crown on the final lap of the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, in what was one of the most dramatic championship finishes the sport has ever seen.
The two stars of their respective generations gave fans a clash that drivers of the future will do well to match, and it culminated in the Netherlands gaining its first-ever F1 champion.
Verstappen humbly collected his trophy in Paris in December amid Mercedes’ boycott of the prize-giving gala, and has since gracefully accepted the Laureus Sportsman of the year award, as well as an honour in his country.
Never once during any of that does his personality seem to have wavered; he is still the same focused, determined, yet fun-loving and quirky Dutchman we have become used to seeing over the years.
Fans around the world have watched as the teenager matured into a world champion, and he is set to add another to that record.
He leads Charles Leclerc and Sergio Perez by 109 points in the standings this year having won 10 races – he has equalled his tally from last year with seven rounds still to go.
None of that has had any impact on him as a person though. He is a champion on the racetrack, but off it, he is still Max.
“I’m busy with my job and outside of that I just live my life,” Verstappen told Sporza Sportweekend.
“I feel good in my skin, I don’t think too much about who I am outside of that.
“I focus on what I have to focus on to perform and beyond that I live my life in a relaxed way.”
The reigning champion is aware that he is much more experienced now than he was seven years ago, but there is always more to learn.
“Of course you are sometimes already feeling more experienced in this sport, but I try to keep that under control as much as possible,” added Verstappen.
“Some things are just part of it, but I think the best thing is when I can get in the car and just do my thing.”
Fernando Alonso, Kimi Raikkonen and Michael Schumacher have all raced into their forties in the last decade, while Hamilton is getting there at 37.
Verstappen’s current contract expires at the end of the 2028 season, by which time he will be 31, and he has constantly made it clear that he does not know what he will want to do after that.
What he seems able to say with some confidence, though, is that he will not still be in the pinnacle of motorsport beyond 39 years old.
“In the end it will only be like this for 10 to 15 years and then it will stop, I started very young so I don’t see myself racing as a 40-year-old,” explained Verstappen.
“Hopefully they all leave me alone after that!”
Further, were winning races to fall down on the list of his priorities, Verstappen would not see the point of sticking around.
“If you don’t have that anymore, the motivation to race is gone for me, ultimately, winning is the most important thing there is,” he stated.
“It’s about crossing the line first and that comes at the cost of a lot.”
Though there was friction at times with Hamilton, Verstappen reiterates that he holds everyone he races against in high regard.
“In general I get on well with everyone, but on the track you just want to beat everyone, although there must always be respect,” he affirmed.
Having a world championship under his belt has not affected the Red Bull driver’s motivation to win.
“Not really, except that my biggest goal has already been achieved and that gives me peace of mind,” elucidated Verstappen.
“I still like winning, but you have to be able to put things into perspective if you don’t win.
“Ultimately you have to analyse why you lose, that’s the most important.”
Verstappen also detailed the significance of the special crash helmet he wore last weekend at the Dutch Grand Prix, which was dedicated to his father and former F1 driver, Jos.
“I used to travel a lot with my father and he was quite hard on me at the time, some people can’t handle that, but I needed it,” he divulged.
“I have a lot of confidence now because of that, but I also know that it can always be better.”
Verstappen won his home race from pole for the second year running on Sunday, extending his already commanding lead in the championship.