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Max Verstappen’s biography: ‘Unstoppable’

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About the time 26-year old Dutch motor racing phenomenon, Max Verstappen, realized his third Formula 1 driver’s world championship at the Qatar Grand Prix (round 17 of the season’s total of 22) on October 7, 2023, with five more races to spare – a new book on him by motor sport magazine editor, Mark Hughes, dropped.

Hughes’ is the story of a kid who threw a tantrum in order to be bought a kart at the delicate age of two; stood crying by her mom’s side whilst his dad was participating in an F1 race – all because he also wanted to drive; dominated kart racing that he fast-tracked to F3 and skipped GP2 to become Formula One’s youngest ever rookie at 17 years 166 days; a disruptor of hierarchy who had already driven in 14 grand prix before he was even eligible for a normal driver’s license; “a talent of the century”, as declared by Niki Lauda and a ‘thoroughbred’ according to the Team Principal of the currently dominant Red Bull Formula One team, Christian Horner – among myriad astounding feats!

A young Max Verstappen

Horner’s name crisscrosses Verstappen’s family and career history: he raced against Max’s mom, Sophie Kumpen (a Belgian who also raced against the likes of Jenson Button, Jarno Trulli, Giancarlo Fisichella, etc.) and was much later destined to form a triple F1 driver’s championship winning partnership with him at Red Bull.

When you’re the progeny of motor racing parents, the sum total, in the person of Max, is an uncomfortable proposition to rivals. Yet the younger Verstappen’s path to glory was a tough grind wrought with more than a decade of sacrifices, extensive travelling, sweat and much tears shed – especially when orchestrated by an exacting father as Jos, a former teammate of 7-time F1 champion, Michael Schumacher, at Benetton.

As Richard Williams was an unrelenting taskmaster to his daughters, Venus and Serena’s tennis career successes – thus was Jos. A 2012 incident in Napoli had him leaving the then 15-year old Max at a service station all because he was furious at an error the youngster had committed during a race.

Elucidated Helmut Marko, director of Red Bull Formula 1 teams, “Jos was a really good teacher and instructor. But I think he was more than hard on this young boy.”

Marko, an Austrian former F1 racer, is the singular figure who assisted Max realize his dream of becoming an F1 driver. Himself and lifelong friend, Dietrich Mateschitz (the now late Red Bull tycoon) bandied a phrase among themselves: ‘no risk, no fun’. And in Max, Marko was to discover an enactment of just that!

When some in the racing community threw barbs at the team for entrusting such enormous responsibility on a teenager, Marko persisted in his belief in the youngster. It would take seven seasons, starting from 2015, for Red Bull to manufacture a car with which Max would be capable of competing for the driver’s championship – with 2021 marking the turnaround season in which he’d eventually challenge Mercedes’ dominance henceforth!

Renowned for his confidence to an extent of being brash, he had this to say regarding his rivalry and numerous duels with Mercedes’ Sir Lewis Hamilton:

“… I’m not afraid of him. Yeah, I think I’ll make him nervous if he sees me in his mirrors. He doesn’t know how to race like I do.”

Unstoppable by Mark Hughes, published by Headline UK.

Not only did Verstappen’s emergence disrupt the norm of Hamilton’s hegemony, but his forthwith on-track take-no-prisoner approach provoked the ire of fellow F1 drivers and insiders. “If he does it again, I hit him,” Finnish driver, Kimi Raikkonen once warned in exasperation after Max had blocked his path pending a defensive manoeuvre in a race; “He is a ****. That’s what he is,” raged Sebastian Vettel upon Max gaining an advantage from his own doing in a duel with him; “D- – -head. He needs to learn some respect,” Hamilton vented to his teammate, Valtteri Bottas, after an on-track incident; “He needs to see a psychiatrist,” commented Niki Lauda upon witnessing the incident involving Verstappen and Raikkonen.

Although almost entirely focusing on Verstappen’s on-track heroics, the book also relates smidgeons of his human side. The fierce competitor who cancelled a scheduled TV appearance upon the succumbing of his grandfather to cancer, and genuflecting: “Joy and sorrow are often close together.” Red Bull’s ace driver who took stock at the succumbing of the team’s owner, Mateschitz, to cancer, by deferring: “The news of his death is very difficult to take. I will remember him as a man of gentle character who took care of people with extreme love.” He is a private individual in a relationship with Brazilian erstwhile F1 champion, Nelson Piquet’s daughter, Kelly, and who has additionally assumed a stepfather role to the daughter of a fellow F1 driver, namely, Daniil Kvyat.

The older brother who always ceded the colour book to his kid sister, Victoria, so as to keep the peace. The devout son for whom his caring mom (pined Kumpen in a documentary titled, Whatever It takes: “Max was three and a half. He was such a little boy with this big helmet sitting in a baby kart. And you’re thinking hopefully nothing goes wrong.”) always lights a candle for his safety in church before every race he participates in.

The sim (simulator) racer for the e-sports team, Team Redline, who regularly participates in online contests such as the Le Mans 24-Hour Virtual race. A megastar who brought back mass following of Formula One to his native country (nowhere on colourful display as at both his home and adopted home grand prix at Zandvoort and Spa Francorchamps) – in the process evoking Dutch master painter, Vincent van Goch’s observation that: oranje is de kleur van gekte (orange is the colour of madness)!

Unstoppable is available at the following retailers:

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