GQ USA-AMERICAN GQ MAG-DECEMBER 2022/JANUARY 2023-GQ FASHION AWARDS 2022-ATHLETE OF THE YEAR-MAX VERSTAPPEN-27TH ANNUAL MAN OF THE YEAR ISSUE-BRAND NEW Copy

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“”””PLACE YOUR ORDER WITHOUT ANY HESITATIONS””””

The Making of Max Verstappen: How F1’s Most Thrilling Driver Took Over the Sport

The racing world’s most electrifying champ talks with rare candor about his ruthless rise to the top, the public misconceptions of his upbringing, and taking inspiration from Michael Jordan.

Toward the end of Max Verstappen’s first season in Formula 1—a season in which he’d become, at 17, the youngest-ever driver to compete in racing’s top series—he returned home to the north of Belgium to take his road test for his driver’s license. Despite winning in every racing category from seven years old onward, he hadn’t been in much of a hurry to drive normal cars, but it was getting to be a little silly. There was a break in the 2015 schedule, and a tight window to take the test before jetting off to a stretch of races in Asia. “The driving instructor was actually very strict,” he told me recently, before clarifying, “which is very good—it should be like that! And I wasn’t nervous but just a bit like: I really need to pass this test. There was a bit of pressure on it.”

Verstappen ultimately passed but nearly received a fatal infraction when he failed to cede the road. “Yeah, I didn’t give way twice,” he confessed, laughing knowingly.

Verstappen, from earliest racing days, has been known for an aggressiveness that lives—mesmerizingly or maddeningly, depending on where along the paddock one sits—right on the limit. “Max’s best form of defense is attack,” the Red Bull Racing team principal, Christian Horner, likes to say. Verstappen’s lead rival over the past few seasons, the seven–time world champion Lewis Hamilton, has put it slightly differently: “Max is kind of do-or-die. It’s like you’re either crashing or you’re not going by.” In other words: Max is not giving way. Ever. “I think he pushes it to the limit and probably beyond,” Hamilton added.

“I don’t think you can go fast if you have fear inside you,” Verstappen told me last year. And that tactical fearlessness goes a long way toward explaining his competitive edge and recent domination, which includes back-to-back world championships in 2021 and 2022. At 25, he has won more Grand Prix than all but five racers in F1 history and is already comfortably regarded within the company of the best half-dozen or so to have ever done it. Hamilton. Schumacher. Vettel. Prost. Senna. He can win from anywhere on the starting grid—not just the front of the pack. And it is when he is chasing that his proprietary ownership of the racing line is on most ecstatic display. That sense that he is destined to go past you, as though by fate’s decree, has seemingly contributed to a near-pathological certainty that he is never at fault. It can contribute to the impression that Verstappen, Horner, and Red Bull are working the refs and squeezing every last advantage. Which is why it might amuse race fans to learn that despite those infractions at his road test in 2015, Max managed to talk his way out of it.

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