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

When we first spoke, in 2021, he told me why. “I understand they want to bring more fans to F1—and it works,” he said. “But a lot of the scenes are literally copy-pasted, even with sentences, things that had been said that I know have not been said at the time. Or, like, shots. At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter, of course, to get someone who doesn’t understand Formula 1 energetic about it. But if you are a die-hard fan, it’s not realistic.”

The season of the show about 2021, then, has intimate interviews with everyone but the guy who won. (As a creative solution, the season frames the principal rivalry of Horner versus Wolff as the more essential battle—which, admittedly, is frothier. They both love to talk, love to preen and provoke, like the most garrulous politicians.) But this summer, Max and Netflix seemed to reach a détente. When Max and I last spoke, days before he clinched his second world championship, he had just come from a sit-down interview for the show’s new season.

“It’s just good to understand what we both want from each other, right?” he told me. “And I think the interview we did was good, so… I just wanted to keep it real. You know, no fake stuff. No overhyped things. Because that’s not how I am. I just want it to be to the point, and my opinion, and how I see things. Of course, we still need to see the end product, but it all sounds good.”

Max had long been the chosen one. Predestined for greatness. An inevitable multi–world champion. And he held the keys now. He had the leverage to do whatever he wanted—but he also had the responsibility to be this moment’s face of the sport, and to drive the sport forward. “I know it’s important for Formula 1. So we came to an agreement and I’m very happy about that.”

Despite his former frustration with Drive to Survive, Max is a fan of other sports documentaries on Netflix. He likes “to see how other people are operating,” he told me. Not surprisingly, one that resonated was The Last Dance. “Of course, not everything about that is 100 percent true, because it’s a documentary and some things for sure are a bit hyped up,” he said. “But I did like the spirit of Michael Jordan, how he was pushing it, how he was driven to win.”

As delicious as comparisons to Jordan’s competitiveness might be, it would be a mistake to think that Max is looking to emulate anyone else. He grew up in a room, like a lot of kids, with pictures of cars on the wall. He had a life-size cardboard cutout of his dad, from his F1 days. But no posters of other drivers, of heroes: “I never really had someone that I looked up to. Like, ‘I really want to be like this guy’ or whatever. I just wanted to be myself. That works the best.

“If you start copying people, you can only be as good as them,” he said. “You cannot be better.”

Daniel Riley is a GQ correspondent.

A version of this story originally appeared in the December/January 2022 issue of GQ with the title “Mad Max”

Photographs by Mikael Jansson
Styled by Kate Phelan
Hair by David Harborow at Streeters
Skin by Erin Green at Bryant Artists
Tailoring by Laima Andrijauskaitė
Set design by Samuel Overs at New School
Produced by Samuel Aberg

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