Max Verstappen is the favourite for being the next world champion after Lewis Hamilton.
Ever since he showcased prodigal skills on a go-kart at the age of three, he was bound for an interesting Formula 1 career.
It was Red Bull who came forward and gave him a chance to participate in the most elite motorsport competition. However, they hope that he can repay the debt by winning a world title.
His dominance in the sport translated into professional race car driving. After just a few races in European Formula 3, he was under the observation of scouts of major teams.
His father Jos and manager Raymond Vermeulen were initially involved in trying to broker a deal with various top teams. But after a particularly successful 2014 weekend in Nuremberg, he was called by Red Bull’s Dr Helmut Marko who was interested to sign him.
However, McLaren team boss Eric Boullier was also interested. Coincidently, he knew Verstappen since his karting days and was friendly with Jos. He tried his best to sign Max with McLaren.
“Max was the kid to beat and yes, we had a discussion,” Boullier said.
“In the end, it was between Red Bull and us but Max was wanted by a lot of people.
“But Red Bull obviously had a better argument than we had at the time – then he joined them and had the success he had.
“I knew Jos very well at the time and we developed a friendship, in the end though it was a career choice and I think he did the right one in the end.”
Boullier believed that he was very well-hedged during that time considering he had signed up Frenchman Esteban Ocon to the Gravity Academy.
Ocon had battled and won against Verstappen during the Dutchman’s single season in junior formula series after which Red Bull fast-tracked him to F1.
Ocon had a mellow start to his career first working as a Lotus, later Renault, test driver. He then went on to drive for Manor and Force India after which he joined Renault (Alpine) again.
After his performance at the Mercedes-backed Manor and Force India, it seemed that Ocon will be the heir to the Mercedes seat.
But that plan seemed to lose steam with the arrival of George Russell.
Boullier, however, thinks that Ocon might drive for Mercedes someday.
“Mercedes have plans for the drivers that are there and Esteban has some plans with Renault and George Russell is coming up,” Boullier said.
“If Mercedes have to change both drivers, then maybe Esteban has a place there, but every driver has his own career plan and it is better to be in a Renault car *and* in the Mercedes family than not.
“Part of the success of a grand prix is to have French drivers,” Boullier said.
“But having the support of a car manufacturer like Renault/Alpine is also key to the success of a race and the success of F1 itself in France.”
Last year should have been Boullier’s first race in charge of the resurgent French race. The race had not been held for 10 years between 2008 to 2018.
Due to the pandemic, the summer date was missed which led Boullier to take a difficult decision.
“I still remember the moment I had to press the button on my computer and send this email to confirm [to postpone the race]. It took me a few moments to press it – but we had to be realistic,” he adds.
“It was in some way necessary with the sanitary conditions and the restrictions. At that time it was unclear what was going to happen but then what happened afterwards confirmed that we had to do it.
“In motorsport you have to make difficult decisions all the time but that was one of those where you don’t realise the impact. A grand prix these days is the top event in a country and there is a lot of attention to it, as well as a lot of time, a lot of people who love Formula One and want to see the race cars for themselves – and obviously a lot of people working for the grand prix.
“The F1 community as well because you are part of their calendar, their expectation. Once again though, back in April last year, no one was expecting to have a second wave, a third wave, a second lockdown – so it was the right decision to take.”
The race this year is set to happen on June 27.
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