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today is May 30, 2023

The story of how a young Max Verstappen was once left behind at a petrol station by his father has entered the lore of the driver who is dominating Formula 1.

However the tale has prompted concerned questions from some over whether the future champion’s schooling by his father was excessively tough.

The criticisms are addressed in a new documentary produced with the co-operation of the Verstappen family. In it the champion’s father Jos, who raced in F1 between 1994 and 2003, firmly denies claims his treatment of his son amounted to “abuse”.

The pair relate the story in the second episode of “Anatomy of a Champion”, which was produced by Viaplay as part of an exclusive, multi-year agreement between the two-times world champion and the broadcaster.

The tale of the teenage Verstappen being abandoned at a petrol station has been known for years. Although the story gained widespread attention following an interview he gave around the time of his first world championship success in 2021, his father told the story years earlier.

The incident occured in 2012 after Verstappen crashed out of a major karting championship at the Sarno circuit in Italy. Driving with the backing of the CRG factory team, Verstappen put himself in the hunt for victory by passing rival Daniel Bray to win the pre-final.

Verstappen started the 18-lap KZ2 World Final from pole position but lost the lead to Bray on the second tour. Attempting to re-take the position before the lap was over, Verstappen made a hasty move and hit his rival’s right-rear wheel with his front left.

“I stayed in the lead at the start,” Verstappen explains in the documentary. “But then I got passed. I was so upset that I got overtaken that in that same lap I tried to pass the guy back in a place which is just totally unnecessary.”

Bray recovered to finish 20th while Verstappen’s team mate Jordan Lennox-Lamb won the final. Verstappen was furious with himself – and so was his father.

“My dad was just so upset with me doing that stupid move,” said Verstappen. “I basically threw everything away.”

The 14-year-old’s efforts to discuss the disappointment on the long journey home ended when his father told him to get out of the van the pair were sharing.

“Of course, I was very sad and upset with myself making that mistake,” Verstappen explained. “I then started to try to talk to him afterwards in the van, trying to travel home for 17 hours.

“He didn’t want to talk to me. And at one point, he was just so fed up with it. He said ‘get out’. He stopped at the fuel station, he was like ‘you get out’. And then he drove off.”

Jos Verstappen responded to criticism of his actions in the documentary. “People say how a bad father I was to him to abuse your child,” he said. “I never abused him.”

He said the treatment was necessary for his son to learn how to become a competitive driver. “I was teaching him.

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“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.”

The documentary leaves unanswered the question of how the young Verstappen returned home after being left at the petrol station. He was previously reported to have been collected by his mother, Sophie Kumpen, herself a former title-winning kart racer.

Verstappen’s manager Raymond Vermeulen recalled how the father justified his approach to raising his son. “Sometimes I said ‘Jos, you’re from a different planet’. He said, ‘I know. But we have to do it like this to be successful. End of story.'”

The exacting regime Verstappen’s father devised for his motorsport education was “intense” and led to conflicts between the pair at times, he recalled.

“Pushing myself to the limits, the travelling, going all over the place, it was just so intense. It was a bit like, why does it need to be like this?

“But also, my dad, it didn’t matter if it was warm, cold, dry, wet, he was out there like ‘every lap you’re making a mistake in that corner, you’re just not doing it right’. These kind of things.

“Always constantly trying to improve me. Sometimes you take it a bit easier than others. And sometimes it got a bit heated.”

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