‘My dad’s bet­ter than your dad’


A study of their di­ver­gent paths is a les­son in the all-too-bru­tal ways of F1’s aptly named ‘Pi­ranha Club’: an en­vi­ron­ment in which your en­emy’s en­emy be­comes your friend; a place where, in the words of a sea­soned F1 pad­dock in­hab­i­tant: “You eat what you kill…” The Ver­stap­pen camp is headed by pug­na­cious Jos; on the other side we have the diplo­matic Car­los Sr, a man as com­fort­able mix­ing with roy­alty as he is re­lax­ing on his farm after gru­elling 20-day cross-coun­tries rally raids. True, he earned the so­bri­quet El Mata­dor in du­els with Colin McRae, but he con­cedes WRC pol­i­tics are kids’ stuff in com­par­i­son with F1’s Machi­avel­lian in­trigues. Back­ing up Jos is the suave Ray­mond Ver­meulen, his as­so­ciate of two decades. They pull the ‘good guy/bad boy’ act, hav­ing learned from the best in the busi­ness. As 1994 Benet­ton team-mate to Michael Schu­macher, Jos was schooled in cock­pit pol­i­tics by the fu­ture seven-time champ; team boss Flavio Bri­a­tore pro­vided si­mul­ta­ne­ous les­sons in the dark arts of pad­dock in­trigue.

Jos fur­thered his ed­u­ca­tion at Ar­rows, rst un­der the street­wise Jackie Oliver, then the au­to­cratic Tom Walkin­shaw. Paul Stoddard’s hus­tling ways rubbed off at Mi­nardi, while run-ins with Ed­die Jor­dan taught Jos how not to de­liver ul­ti­ma­tums. These skills were tested to the max as Jos ma­noeu­vred his charge into pole po­si­tion at Red Bull.

Less than two years ago Car­los was on the fast track to F1, at that stage be­ing run­away leader of the 2014 Re­nault 3.5 World Se­ries, a cham­pi­onship he went on to win, hav­ing col­lected seven poles and seven vic­to­ries. Then the Ver­stap­pen camp ar­rived on Red Bull’s doorstep with a take-it-or-leave-it deal for their 16-year-old, who at that time had just half a sea­son of F3 un­der his belt – al­beit an im­pres­sive half-sea­son.

Max had of­fers from Fer­rari and Mercedes, they said, but no guar­an­teed F1 race seat. If Red Bull com­mit­ted to an F1 drive for 2015-17, he was theirs. Cru­cially, an­other con­di­tion was that the Ver­stap­pens came as a pack­age: Jos, Ray­mond and Max – a de­par­ture from the Red Bull norm, with the team man­ag­ing driv­ers di­rectly… of­ten to long-term ca­reer detri­ment. Red Bull leapt at the of­fer, strings and all.

In one fell swoop Car­los’s hopes were dashed, for Toro Rosso had but a sin­gle va­cant seat – along­side Daniil Kvyat. Un­ex­pect­edly, though, Vet­tel de­fected to Fer­rari; Kvyat was pro­moted, and a Toro Rosso seat availed it­self for Sainz. On such twists do F1 ca­reers hinge.

Car­los grasped the op­por­tu­nity with both hands, post­ing com­pa­ra­ble re­sults to those of the Dutch wun­derkind, but per­cep­tions lin­gered that Sainz was not “the cho­sen one”, par­tic­u­larly after Max re­fused to cede to Car­los in Sin­ga­pore, in breach of team or­ders, yet was praised by team bosses for do­ing so… Then Mercedes and Fer­rari asked about Max’s 2018 avail­abil­ity, giv­ing Team Ver­stap­pen an­other op­por­tu­nity: “Pro­mote Max to Red Bull im­me­di­ately, and we sign long term; if not we do a post-2017 deal with an­other team” was the gist. Again Red Bull man­age­ment suc­cumbed, de­mot­ing Kvyat to Toro Rosso two races after he scored Red Bull’s rst 2016 podium with a strong drive in China.

Sainz ri­posted in per­fect fash­ion: In Monaco, as Max twice clat­tered off bar­ri­ers, he ran im­mac­u­lately ahead of even­tual third-placed Ser­gio Pérez be­fore two team-in­duced duff pit­stops dropped him to eighth. Other team bosses paid heed, and, if Car­los gets snapped up, as he de­serves, F1 faces the prospect of its two most ex­cit­ing emerg­ing tal­ents needling each other well into the fu­ture.

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