Formula One driver Max Verstappen has been having a pretty rough time of it lately. Whether it’s being stripped of his pole position in Mexico, running afoul of safety officials and being lambasted by everyone from F1 spirit boss Ross Brawn to competitors Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel, Verstappen’s weeks leading up to his 100th race, the United States Grand Prix, have been... eventful. (Update 9:15 p.m.: A Red Bull spokeswoman “categorically” denies that they hung up on us during the interview.)
So naturally, when Jalopnik sat down to chat with Verstappen during the F1 Fan Fest in Los Angeles, we had to ask about how things have been going.
Red Bull Racing wasn’t too keen on it.
I wanted to know if Verstappen stood by his yellow flag comments in light of his race result—a sixth-place thanks to a stellar drive, if only he hadn’t acted dangerously. I wanted to know if he’d had a change of heart since then. I wanted to know if he felt that Hamilton’s comment about his driving style was warranted, and also how he felt his style differed. I wanted to know where he drew the line between risky moves and straight-up dangerous ones. It all seemed pretty on-point.
“There has been a lot of controversy on your comments regarding the yellow flag thrown in qualifying during the Mexican Grand Prix. After the race, do you still stand by those comments?” That was how I wanted to start.
I wasn’t even halfway through the question about the Mexican Grand Prix when the PR person politely cut in and requested, “We’d like something more relevant to the upcoming weekend, please.”
I stuck to my guns, reframing the question about if his mindset has changed from last weekend as he approaches this race. I tried to give things a more relevant flair.
After that, the line went dead. My initial impression, as I originally wrote here, was that they hung up on us. A Red Bull spokeswoman later adamantly denied this was the case, saying instead that they were in a car and the call was dropped. We continued on, though I adjusted my line of questioning. (This story has been updated to reflect this.)
They called back a few minutes later, apologized, and asked me again for “more relevant” questions.
I’ll be honest, I was kind of expecting to be left high and dry, but they seemed to want to make it work. I can respect that—and I did by adjusting my approach and seeing if I could somehow work up to the toughest questions on my list.
But what that got is a lot of PR speak and very base-level answers that don’t give any character, any development, show any introspection, or do much for Verstappen as a guy—stuff I wanted to know, and stuff fans want to know.
That’s totally fine. That’s how pretty much every single interview with a race car driver goes.
But we’ve included the rest here for your enjoyment:
Elizabeth Blackstock: The U.S. Grand Prix will be your 100th race in Formula one—and you’re one of the youngest drivers to ever achieve that. How do you think your time in F1 has changed your driving style?
Max Verstappen: I guess over time, you get more and more experience. Your driving style will always be pretty similar. But it’s very nice to know that I’ve done almost 100 races now.
EB: Being so young, how has your meteoric rise in the sport impacted your personal life?
MV: Not so much, to be honest, because my whole life was already all about racing, so I just kept doing what I was doing already, just on a higher level.
EB: Your rise through the Red Bull Junior ranks was also pretty quick. Could you talk a little bit about your experience there?
MV: I was never really a part of it. I got signed up right away as an F1 driver, so up until the middle of my Formula 3 season, I was always doing it myself with my dad [former F1 driver Jos Verstappen] and my manager. Then we got picked up by Red Bull.
EB: Can you talk about that change—what it was like to go from pretty much doing it yourself as a family to being part of a well-funded program?
MV: I have to be honest, I really only signed up for F1, so the focus was only on that. We had some Friday practices and stuff, and at that point, I was only focused on that. Getting to know a new environment was hard, but Red Bull really helped me a lot to make me feel welcome.
EB: Coming into F1, you did have a pretty significant lack of experience compared to your competitors having not gone through those ranks. What was that like?
MV: My dream was always to be in Formula One, and going that quickly, my experience was less than others. But on the other hand, I was always with my dad from a very young age, so I think I was more experienced than people think. I had a lot of guidance in terms of preparations and the way I was working already. Maybe from the outside, it might not have seemed like I had much experience. But working with my dad, that gave me the experience I missed.
EB: What is your relationship with your dad? I know he’s played a crucial role in your past, but how much does he factor in now?
MV: He’s still good for advice. I still talk to him about setup and stuff, how I’m approaching the weekend. I get more and more experience myself, so now it’s just to let him know what I’m doing. But it’s not like he’s telling me what I need to do.
EB: What kind of physical toll do you see racing having had on your body? Have you had any injuries?
MV: No, no, everything is going well. I love what I’m doing as well, so I guess that helps.
EB: Growing up in the sport with your father Jos Verstappen racing, you had a chance to see how the sport has evolved. Do you like the direction it’s heading in?
MV: Times have changed massively and the cars are very different in terms of technology. The whole engine concept is completely different. But the basics will always stay the same in terms of driving. Like before, you just have to wait and adapt to the situation you’re in.
EB: With change being an important part of Formula One, how do you see yourself growing and evolving with the sport—especially with new regulations coming up?
MV: Well I think the key is always adapting to the situation you’re in. Every year you’re in a new car with new tires, so you already have to adapt to that. With new regulations coming in, that’s exactly the same. I think the key will being adapting best.
EB: A lot of people are saying the racing will be a lot closer with these regulations. Do you feel the same way?
MV: You always have to wait and see, but I think they are trying to go in that direction. They’re doing everything they can to make it happen. I’m looking forward to it. Let’s wait and see how good it all will be.
EB: How does COTA, as a newer track, compare to older tracks?
MV: There’s more runoff, of course. It’s a really great track—there’s some really cool corners similar to the old school tracks. I think they did a really good job of designing the track for us.
EB: Considering the amount of runoff on these newer tracks, do you think a return to the gravel traps IndyCar still uses would make for better racing?
MV: It depends—if you run out of brakes, you’d like have gravel. But you’d also like to have tarmac. Personally, I don’t ever see them going back to gravel. It’s tricky.