‘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.