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Jos Verstappen: The F1 driver turned F1 father at the heart of Christian Horner scandal

Verstappen Snr. is heavily involved in Max’s racing career and insists the current furore surrounding Red Bull team principal Horner is ‘driving people apart’

Kieran Jackson
Formula 1 Correspondent
Tuesday 05 March 2024 06:55 GMT
Verstappen’s Dad Says Horner Scandal “Driving Team Apart”

Ubiquitous in the background of son Max’s all-conquering racing career, Jos Verstappen is a no-nonsense figure in the world of Formula 1. The father of the sport’s most dominant driver right now – a three-time world champion, odds-on favourite to make it four titles this year – is present at most F1 races around the world. Usually his face is one of sternness, focus honed in on the racetrack, in the Red Bull garage.

But in Bahrain over the weekend, amid the maelstrom surrounding Christian Horner’s professional and private life, Jos was a regular face snapped by the flurry of photographers in the Red Bull hospitality unit in the paddock. And now we know why.

Throughout the month-long controversy surrounding Red Bull boss Horner’s position – amid a claim of “inappropriate behaviour” towards a female colleague – rumours of unrest at the world championship winning team has been brewing. The speculation is that Verstappen Snr. had fallen out with Horner after his support for team adviser Dr Helmut Marko, after Marko and Horner clashed last year.

Jos Verstappen (left) with son Max at a race last year (Getty Images)

But by Thursday morning – by which time Horner had been cleared of any wrongdoing after an internal investigation, prior to the leak of alleged WhatsApp exchanges between the Red Bull boss and the complainant – civility seemed the order of the day. Jos arrived alongside son Max and his manager Raymond Vermeulen. He embraced Horner and spoke to the Red Bull boss in view of the cameras. All seemed well.

This all changed, however, by Saturday night, mere hours after his son coasted to a first grand prix victory of the season. It was time for Jos to say his piece.

“There is tension here while he (Horner) remains in position,” he told the Daily Mail. “The team is in danger of being torn apart. It can’t go on the way it is. It will explode. He is playing the victim… when he is the one causing the problems.”

Questioned further on whether he was the source of the leak of hundreds of WhatsApp messages, he said: “That wouldn’t make sense. Why would I do that when Max is doing so well here?”

Jos was also seen talking to Mercedes boss Toto Wolff over the weekend, which was enough to send the rumour-mill into overdrive. Surely Max would not move to Mercedes – who have a seat to fill in 2025 – and renege on his lucrative Red Bull contract, running into 2028?

Verstappen Snr. was seen talking to Christian Horner (left) in the Bahrain paddock (Getty Images)

It is the ultimate powerplay in the pocket of Verstappen Snr., should the points of contention with Horner be irreparable, for a man who knows the F1 soap-opera inside out.

Jos raced in F1 from 1994-2003 with the likes of Benetton, Tyrrell and Minardi. He started 106 grands prix, securing two podiums and 17 points. But even then, he was preparing the next generation in-line for a shot at greatness.

He was a tough father to Max – of that he has made no secret. Once, he abandoned his 15-year-old son at a petrol station after raging at him for a poor manoeuvre during a kart race in Naples. Max’s mother, Sophie Kumpen, had to collect him.

Jos has been at Max’s side since he made his F1 debut as a 17-year-old in 2015 (Getty Images)

Jos, 52 today, denied accusations last year that he “abused” his son as he moulded him to become one of F1’s greatest prospects. “People say how bad a father I was to him to abuse your child – I never abused him,” he said. “I was hard on him, that mistake, and that was also my plan on that to learn, to think. A lot of people have no idea what you have to do to arrive at the top of a sport.”

Jos has been in hot water with the authorities as well. After a fight at one of Max’s go-kart races in 1998, Verstappen Snr. was “found guilty of fracturing the victim’s skull” and issued with a five-year non-custodial sentence by a Belgian court. A decade later, he was given a three-month suspended sentence for threatening Kumpen and, in the process, violating a restraining order.

In 2011, Jos denied reported allegations that he assaulted a 24-year-old ex-girlfriend and a few months later, he was arrested on murder charges after allegations he drove a car into his ex-girlfriend in the Dutch city of Roermond. The charges were dropped, due to a lack of evidence.

Irrespective of a chequered past, Max trusts the judgement and advice of his father implicitly – in a way a son simply does with his father. Jos describes the journey of getting Max to where he is now, the most talented driver of his generation, as his “life project.”

What sort of role Verstappen Snr. plays next in the Horner saga – though Jos will not be present this weekend at the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix – will be fascinating to see. The consequences for Horner, Red Bull and their star driver could be far-reaching.

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