Graham Watson, Max Verstappen’s Toro Rosso boss, says the Dutchman always displayed self-confidence but not arrogance.
Watson first joined the Toro Rosso team in 2014, the same year Verstappen made his free practice debut by contesting FP1 at the Japanese Grand Prix.
Verstappen landed a race seat for 2015, remaining with the team until the early stages of 2016 before being called up to Red Bull for the Spanish Grand Prix which he won.
Watson, then as team manager, got the chance to work with Verstappen in the fledgling stages of his F1 career having also worked with his father Jos at Benetton when Watson was a mechanic there.
And from the start, Watson saw Verstappen was a special talent, one who carried a huge level of self-confidence with him onto the track.
Max Verstappen, Toro Rosso, smiling. Spain, March 2016.
Asked by Motorsport.com for the moment he first saw special talent in Verstappen, Watson replied: “Well, at the end of 2014 Max had already driven some free practice sessions for Toro Rosso.
“Max isn’t arrogant but like his father, he does brim with self-confidence. I saw that for the first time in Brazil, where he had quite a moment during free practice and almost crashed heavily.
“Normally a young driver would be upset, but Max managed to keep the car under control and a lap later set the fastest time.
“We also have to remember Max was driving our race car for the weekend. Anyway, even at that age I never thought ‘oh my god, he’s going to get back into our car and it’s going to go hopelessly wrong’.
“It’s hard to put into words exactly what I felt, but from that moment I knew Max would be special.”
Verstappen has been on an important journey in Formula 1 since stepping up to Red Bull, maturing to become the World Champion he is today.
But while on track he is now a driver who has changed for the better with this experience, away from it, Watson revealed a story to prove Verstappen has only matured, not changed as a person.
“He is a lot more mature, but that makes sense because he was still literally a teenager with us,” Watson explained.
“Anyway, I always found him an easy guy to deal with, certainly not arrogant.
“For example, last year in Monaco, during the rally, I was invited to join the launch party and Max was there as a guest speaker. I was just standing in the audience watching the opening and after the speech he came off the stage and walked over to me.
“He walked past everyone and asked ‘hey, Graham, what are you doing here, are you invited by Red Bull?’ Just have a chat. That’s nice, and in that respect he hasn’t changed dramatically or anything. You just see he is more mature.”