You would think Max Verstappen lives the dream life. He’s a two-time Formula 1 world champion, adored by his country and lives in picturesque Monaco.
From crisscrossing, kart tracks all over Europe in a van to having a jet-set lifestyle and F1 firmly in his hands. On paper, life couldn’t be sweeter for the 25-year-old from Hasselt.
But in reality, things are slightly different. Despite dominating F1, Verstappen is already looking towards retirement and a life away from the sport.
The demands of being a modern-day Grand Prix driver, which include an ever-changing format, heavier cars, and a growing schedule, have caused Verstappen to question the necessity of F1 life. But is he right regarding whether F1 life isn’t as easy as many would think?
Long calendar causing headaches
Since 2005 F1 has continued expanding its calendar to accommodate new markets. With the exception of 2007, 2009 and 2020, there have been more than 17 events every season.
But there are downsides to this growth. Burnout has been creeping up on the paddock, and this is something which Daniel Ricciardo struggled with during his two-year stint with McLaren.
“It’s tough because we like the mental challenges of competition,” Ricciardo told Total-Motorsport.com. “But you can’t just [keep] getting the s*** kicked out of you week in and week out at some point.
“It does take its toll. Hearing it from Max is interesting because this is someone in their prime at the top of the sport, [if] he’s still saying [I am] tired or burnt out.
“Ultimately [we] got into racing because we love it and we enjoy it, and when the schedule takes away the pure enjoyment, that’s a risk.”
Ricciardo‘s comments do hold water. The calendar is causing immense stress to drivers who must remain in top physical condition throughout the season and personnel who assemble and dissemble F1‘s colossal paddock.
For mechanics arriving on Monday of Grand Prix week, any chance of a work-life balance is impossible with F1’s tight deadlines to prepare cars for opening practice four days after touching down at the venue.
Gimmicky format and the increase in social media content not to his liking
Verstappen isn’t a fan of the new sprint format that has been rolled out for 2023, which sees Saturday become a standalone sprint day.
A format consisting of two qualifying sessions, a sprint marred by an opening lap collision with George Russell and a processional Grand Prix on Sunday irked Verstappen, who lambasted the concept following the Sprint.
“Just scrap the whole thing,” said Verstappen to the media. “I think it’s important to go back to what we have and make sure every team can fight for a win, [not] try implementing this kind of artificial excitement.”
Verstappen’s criticisms were proven correct. The format didn’t spice up the action in Azerbaijan during a weekend best remembered more for Esteban Ocon’s near miss in the pitlane rather than a more drama-filled weekend.
Social media has also been a bugbear for Verstappen, particularly regarding online abuse aimed at him, his family, partner Kelly Piquet or even Red Bull team members such as principal strategy engineer Hannah Schmitz in the wake of the Dutch GP.
With drivers receiving death threats, F1 stepped in with the Drive it Out movement, designed to tackle online hate, although whether this initiative will work remains a difficult question to answer.
Former Williams driver Nicholas Latifi hired bodyguards following a championship-deciding crash in the 2021 Abu Dhabi GP, revealing another downside to F1‘s toxic relationship with social media.
Street circuits also becoming an irritant.
When Liberty Media took over control of F1 in 2017, only four street circuits were on the calendar. Now, in 2023, it has doubled to eight.
Although fans can now get close to seeing their heroes without moving from their balconies, the size of modern-day F1 cars has made racing relatively tame.
Baku and Jeddah were fairly average races where overtaking was at a premium, and although Monte Carlo had an exciting conclusion, rain played a significant role in generating excitement.
Verstappen also isn’t a fan of modern-day street circuits, arguing they limit the driver’s ability to let an F1 car express its true potential.
“An F1 car is not designed to drive on a street track,” said Verstappen on ViaPlay’s F1 Talks show. “An F1 car comes alive in proper high-speed corners.
“It’s better to have the old-school tracks like Suzuka. A qualifying lap around there is much more fun than a random street circuit. I understand a few street circuits a year but not too many.”
With F1 cars becoming as wide as trucks, the only chance a driver can reap the maximum out of their machine is at old-school driver tracks such as Suzuka and Spa Francorchamps.
Spa’s presence on the calendar, a fan and driver favourite, has been threatened since the farcical 2021 Belgian GP when three laps were completed behind the safety car before a result was declared.
News of Spa’s potential exit wouldn’t sit well with Verstappen, who has previously called Spa his favourite track on the F1 calendar and is also a defacto second home race due to the closeness proximity with the Netherlands.
Verstappen’s criticisms are all valid and correct
Some may see Verstappen as an ungrateful whinger, but his critiques of modern-day F1 are valid and could later cause problems for the sport.
The prestige of a Grand Prix has been watered down due to over 20 of them occurring every year. Cars are too stiff and big to race with, causing most races to become bore fests.
But with most of the sport’s newer venues on long-term contracts and the calendar set to grow to 24 races a year, there is yet to be any respite in sight.
Clearly, something must budge as this writer believes over 20 Grand Prix a year, which includes several triple headers, is too many and also tramples on F1‘s sustainability targets by flying from one continent to another.
Drivers’ opinions should always come first over financial gains, and when one of the sport’s stars is openly looking at new pastures, it might be time to act before others follow his lead.