Verstappen was mentally tough from his first day in an F1 car – Tost interview

2021 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix

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The first team principal to run Max Verstappen in Formula 1 is “convinced” he will win the championship this weekend.

Franz Tost described how he had been impressed by Verstappen’s mental toughness from his first practice outing for his team, at the age of 17, at no less a track than the formidable Suzuka.

“I knew him from the very beginning onwards and he was already mentally strong in those days,” Tost recalled in an exclusive interview for RaceFans. “Because if you remember right there were many people who criticised us to sit him in the Formula 1 car because he was only 17 years old, and even didn’t have a driver’s licence.”

Ahead of Verstappen’s practice debut at the 2014 Japanese Grand Prix, Tost says some journalists told him he was “completely wrong” to put such a young driver in his car. “I said to them let’s talk in five years once more, I think it’s right. In the end it was right.”

After Verstappen made his grand prix debut for Tost’s Toro Rosso team – now known as AlphaTauri – Formula 1 introduced a mandatory minimum age limit of 18 years for drivers. However Verstappen, whose junior career was overseen by ex-F1 racer Jos Verstappen, proved he was ready for his debut despite his youth, says Tost.

Verstappen is “the best driver in F1”, Tost reckons
“He had the driving abilities, which he learned by doing many years karting. He learned a lot from his father because all his reactions and everything, you could see that someone when he was growing up, some experienced person was on his side. He learned really a lot from his father.”

Having run Red Bull’s junior F1 team for 15 years, Tost has unrivalled experience in helping new young drivers adjust to life in the sport’s top flight. “I say always to the drivers [that] to come into Formula 1 is one story,” he explains. “But then to stay in Formula 1, to educate yourself and have a real steep learning gradient is another story.”

Out of the hundreds of junior drivers Red Bull have enlisted over the years, only a handful have reached their top team. Sebastian Vettel moved on of his own choosing, as did Daniel Ricciardo, though the presence of Verstappen in the team’s other car is widely believed to have hastened his decision.

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Others didn’t last: Daniil Kvyat lost his place to Verstappen in 2016, and over the previous two seasons Pierre Gasly and Alexander Albon been found wanting when measured against Red Bull’s latest superstar. As a result the team’s stock of junior talent has rapidly depleted, and at the end of last year they resorted to looking elsewhere, hiring the experienced Sergio Perez.

Home win showed Verstappen’s coolness under pressure
But even after being hastened into a front-running car, Verstappen has impressed Tost with his continued rate of development: Not as constant, linear progression, but a series of steps.

“They are normal, the steps, because you have to be settled to understand everything,” Tost explains. “The step comes up, you learn something and then you understand it, then it goes up [again].”

In Formula 1 “there are too many unforeseen and difficult-to-understand ingredients,” for a young driver’s development to be smooth and consistent, says Tost. “Tyres, car, power unit, all this kind of thing. And to optimise it: to optimise now the tyre management, to optimise the usage of the power unit, for this you need a learning process.”

Now Verstappen finally has a championship-contending car at his disposal, Tost believes his resilience is serving him well in his increasingly tough fight with Lewis Hamilton.

Report: Verstappen and Hamilton unfazed by threat of points deduction over collision
“From his driving style and everything he was always superb. But also on the mental side.

“For example this year when he won Zandvoort, thousands of spectators are out there expecting you to win. And how good he did it, how fantastic he did the qualifying and the race without making any mistake. You must be very strong in your head to do this.”

Nearing the end of his seventh season in F1, Verstappen has become the complete package, says Tost. “I really like to see how in the last years he has developed himself in reading the races, setting up the car, understanding the technical side.

“Therefore, for me, currently he is the best driver in Formula 1.”

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2021 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix

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Author information

Dieter Rencken
Dieter Rencken has held full FIA Formula 1 media accreditation since 2000, during which period he has reported from over 300 grands prix, plus...
Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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17 comments on “Verstappen was mentally tough from his first day in an F1 car – Tost interview”

  1. Nice psychological support from ex boss. However, it’s useless against W12.

    1. Exactly. Mercedes have the edge, the W12 is the superior/faster car and has been for a number of races. Hamilton is also driving to his usual standard (compared with early on in the season when he was a bit off colour). Verstappen is evidently mentally very tough, but that doesn’t matter so much when your car is a few tenths away from the pace it needs.

  2. Not only the best, but also the one for which a lot of fans are watching. Without him it would be a dull season ;)

    1. Without Lewis, it would be equally dull, Max would have wrapped it up several races ago. It takes 2 to tango :)

      1. Amen to that :)

  3. Mental being the operative word here!
    Finger & everything else well crossed no “red mist moments” this weekend.
    Vera Slapem & Karen Spice!!!!

    1. Calm down, Karen Bunting

  4. Jos is the responsible for the mental toughness as well as the arrogance and cockiness in Max’s attitude. It’s well known that he was tough with him as hell from an early age. One of the things he used to do to Max while he was Karting is to make him walk long distances before and after the races from their hotel to the circuits. On the other hand, Lance Stroll used to arrive to the circuits in a private helicopter when he was racing in F4…

    1. I don’t really understand how Max comes across as ‘arrogant’, is this a language thing? Does he comes so across for english-speaking people? Where does it show, I don’t mean this as criticism, but I genuinely want to know.
      For us Dutch speaking people Max sounds as a down-to-earth guy who speaks his mind and says it like he sees it.
      He is very self-confident, and you certainly can say stubborn and cocky. But, in general, there are not many modest and self-conscious formula one drivers. The closest kind of people are fighter-pilots.

      1. Max never takes responsibility for anything, even when he’s in wrong.
        He thinks he knows better than everyone else,and he acts like he’s greater than he is.
        He acts as if he’s accomplished more than Lewis,when in reality,their records from karting to now are like night and day.

    2. Well, Jos is an atrocious piece of —- so…

  5. After reading the definition of ‘tough’ in the Merriam Webster. I really agree with Tost, the good and the bad:
    – very difficult to deal with;
    – physically and emotionally strong;
    – physically strong and violent;
    – capable of enduring strain, hardship, or severe labour;
    – unruly, rowdyish
    – uncompromising determination
    – very hard to influence, stubborn

  6. He has to be if he wants to stand a chance. He is not only fighting Lewis, but the whole British tabloid media.

    What a utterly disrespectful commercial of sky sports.

    1. The Dutch F1 media all support max,so what’s wrong with the British F1 media supporting Lewis?

      1. You don’t see anything wrong with that commercial?

        That was something else than supporting Lewis. That’s just character murder. And has nothing to do with being a fan or support of the local hero

  7. Lewis had to take on Alonso in his first season,and also deliver great results for the team…now thats pressure,and Lewis handled it better than Alonso.
    I’ve yet to see max have a wdc teammate and beat him.

  8. He learned a lot from his father because all his reactions and everything, you could see that someone when he was growing up, some experienced person was on his side. He learned really a lot from his father.”

    — Tost

    Great interview, good job, guys!

    But I’m always blaffed on how people inside F1 erase the role of Sophie Kumpen — Max mother — in shaping Max character as a driver. Sophie was a fantastic kart racer who raced along great drivers like Button, Magnussen, Trulli and Fisichella — and along some not so good like… Horner.

    Luciano Burti, F1 pundit in Brazil, always said that Sophie was a better driver than Jos. And, let’s be honest: it takes a lot of toughness to survive as a female driver in the 90´s.

    Looks like Jos is good manager and father, but F1 journalists should dig deep to understand how Sophie contributed to Max’s success.

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