Max Verstappen is like black licorice: You either love him or you hate him, but you’re probably not sitting in that vague middle ground of “eh, I’ll eat it if it’s there but I won’t seek it out.” And haters, it’s your time to shine. I want to know why, exactly, you don’t like the Red Bull Racing Formula One driver.
(If you’re a Verstappen fan, I’m sure you’ll also make yourself very heard in the comments.)
I ask because we’ve been chatting about Verstappen in the Jalopnik Slack, and the folks who dislike Verstappen tend to struggle to pin it down on any one thing. In a lot of cases, it mostly just seems like he gives off bad vibes, like the kinda-cocky jock at your high school who wasn’t approachable to anyone outside of his immediate friend group. But the people who like him probably like him for that exact same reason.
So, I’m curious. I’m inviting you to air your grievances. Can you define your feelings?
Because I’ll come right out and say it: I haven’t ever been a fan of Max Verstappen, but maybe not for the reasons that you’d think.
When Verstappen first hit the F1 scene, I was a mere 18-year-old child who had a little crush on Jean-Eric Vergne. As I am sure you can imagine, I was fully distraught at the prospect that Verstappen would be replacing Vergne, in whom I was fully invested so much so that I even posted this on Facebook to all 50 of my friends who didn’t give a shit about racing:
At the time, my grudge against Verstappen wasn’t so much with the driver himself (or with the fact that it inspired me to be an embarrassing child on line) as it was with the fact that he epitomized what I saw as being wrong with Red Bull’s Junior Program.
Verstappen joined the Program in the summer of 2014, and he was promoted to F1 almost immediately after. He’d undertaken one season of Formula 3, in which he finished an exceptional third, but that was about it for non-karting open-wheel experience. It seemed dangerous to push a teenager through the ranks so quickly. It was disheartening that other dedicated drivers in the Red Bull pipeline had been cast aside or passed over. I didn’t like it, but I accepted that it was the nature of the sport. And I continued to dislike that Verstappen was essentially used as a weapon against drivers like Pierre Gasly or Daniil Kvyat.
I also mostly just dislike Jos Verstappen, who was an abusive partner and has also been really shitty to Max, which has made this whole debate even more difficult, because I know what it’s like to want to impress your very shitty father as you grow up even if it makes you a shitty person in the process because you were given no other option than dad’s version of success. I lived that nightmare, too. It isn’t easy to cut ties with assholes to achieve the things that you actually want, and you’ll probably also do some really unenviable things to impress a bad parent before you learn how to move on. But you’re also still the one behind your own actions. It’s a complicated debate, one I’ll likely flesh out in depth in a different post.
Alas: I was told when Verstappen was signed that I’d eat my words because his skill would prove he deserved his place in F1 — even though I never doubted that he was a good driver. And since then, he’s continued to be good. He’s also been aggressive. He’s also been stunning. He undertakes some great on-track maneuvers because he seems to have absolutely no fear, which is fine, but it’s also kind of terrifying, and I am simply not the kind of person to appreciate a balls-out move that has a 50/50 chance of turning out horribly or perfectly.
And I think my feelings about Verstappen have remained on that same track since then. I appreciate that he’s a good driver, but I disagree with so much of his behavior that I don’t think I could ever like him. He’s made jokes about ‘buying’ his girlfriend, which is generally bad but takes on a whole different level of meaning when you realize Verstappen is dating Kelly Piquet, who is Daniil Kvyat’s ex-girlfriend with whom Kvyat has a child.
He’s used derogatory language. He’s shoved other drivers around. He was a fan of grid girls. He made that half-ass statement about not taking a knee during the pre-race ceremonies because he was committed to anti-racism in other, different ways. I also don’t really think he comes across the way he might want to when he tells folks he “might headbutt” them if they ask why he crashes a lot.
I also realize that these things are no different than things that many other drivers have said or done (you will probably not be surprised to find that I dislike Nico Hulkenberg for his similarly bad comments about women), since most F1 drivers kind of exist in their own very privileged bubble that the real world doesn’t penetrate.
But I’ve rambled enough. Now, I turn the floor over to you as we embark on the F1 version of the Playa Hater’s Ball.