Behind Max Verstappen’s meteoric rise to becoming a dominant triple world champion lies a strategy imparted by his father, Jos. This strategy, revealed by Graham Watson, who played a key role in Max’s early F1 days, is both simple and ruthless: “destroy your teammate.”
Watson, now the head of race operations at Formula 1, shared his insights with Formule 1 magazine, delving into the psyche that drives Verstappen. “Jos (Verstappen) imprinted on Max that the first thing you have to do is destroy your teammate,” Watson states, highlighting a critical aspect of Max’s approach to racing.
This philosophy stems from Jos’s own experiences in F1, particularly during his time at Benetton with Michael Schumacher. Watson recalls, “I think that Jos felt that Michael had better material and was favoured.” This perceived inequality shaped Jos’s guidance to his son, emphasizing the necessity to be the undisputed leader within the team. “It has to be your team – you have to be the man around whom it revolves,” Watson explains.
The effectiveness of this strategy is evident in Max’s early days at Toro Rosso, where he quickly established dominance over his first F1 teammate, Carlos Sainz. Watson, team manager at the time, observed., “It was immediately obvious that it would be Max, not the Spaniard, who would be top dog from the first moment.”
Verstappen’s intense focus on F1 also sets him apart from other champions like Lewis Hamilton. Watson contrasts the two, saying, “Lewis is very talented, but he is involved in so many things that people wonder ‘Is he a Formula 1 driver or not?’ Lewis Hamilton is a brand, Max Verstappen is a F1 driver.
“I’m not saying that what Hamilton is doing is wrong, but he’s not the nerd like Max. When guys like that are not in the car, they’re in the simulator or in a kart. They’re always trying to improve themselves.”