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Formula 1 champ Max Verstappen on Red Bull’s winning streak: ‘We fought for this’

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(NEW YORK) — Max Verstappen could win his 38th Formula 1 Grand Prix on Sunday in Miami, Florida. The 25-year-old defending champion is leading in points this season and is on track to win his third consecutive world champion title — if he and his Red Bull team continue to execute at a level unmatched on the grid.

Verstappen, who has been competing in Formula 1 since he was 17 years old, recognizes the sport can be unpredictable, maddening and cutthroat. Cars often break down. Rival teams gain an edge. Grueling race schedules can affect performance.

“You learn from bad and good results,” he told ABC News before the Azerbaijan Grand Prix. “That is the key. Even when you have good results, you always have to look back and analyze what you could have done better or what you would have wished to have done differently.”

Verstappen has also seen his popularity skyrocket as Formula 1 grows its fan base in the U.S. Drive to Survive, Netflix’s docuseries on the sport, raised the profiles of Verstappen and his fellow drivers, turning them into celebrities and reality TV stars.

Verstappen spoke with ABC News about the pressures on the grid, his jet-setting race schedule and what it’s like to film Drive to Survive. The conversation below has been edited.

ABC News: How has Formula 1 changed since you first started in the sport?

Max: I think it did shift a little bit more toward fan engagement, especially in the U.S. compared to other areas of the world, which I think in general has been really good for the sport. That is partly because of the technology available but also the new owners [are] involved more [and] focusing on the fans and the show side of things.

ABC News: Let’s talk about Netflix’s “Drive to Survive.” What has your experience been like on the show?

Max: Yeah, it’s been a ride. I mean, I think we had to clear a few things up, you know, before getting back on it. I gave one interview last year because I understand that it’s important for [the producers] to try and create a bit of a picture.

Some people … love being a bit more in the spotlight and some don’t. I just enjoy my privacy. And I enjoy being at home and being away from Formula 1 when I’m not racing.

ABC News: Are you part of filming for this current season?

Max: Not yet. We’ll do something again a bit later on in the year.

ABC News: When you say clear some things up, what do you mean by that?

Max: It was just how things were portrayed before in the early seasons, where it was basically creating a bit of a wrong picture. But it was to create a bit more excitement, I guess, for the show. I just want [the producers] to show me how I really am or at least as close as possible to it.

I’m very straightforward. And I will say what I think. Sometimes that might seem arrogant to some people but that’s just the way I was brought up. And I always learned that you have to speak out. If you really want something or you want something changed, at the end of the day, it’s better to say [it] quite directly.

ABC News: “Drive to Survive” has really boosted Americans’ interest in Formula 1. What’s your opinion of the Miami track?

Max: It’s a great event. Miami feels quite different to Austin even though it’s the same country. I love being in Miami. It’s nice and warm and that makes it also a tough track to drive in general.

ABC News: Do you enjoy driving when you’re not competing? Do you have your own personal car?

Max: Well, I do a lot of virtual racing at home. I spend a lot of hours on that. And when I’m at home, I don’t actually drive a lot. But I don’t mind being the passenger as long as I trust the driver. Then you can actually relax quite well.

I have some personal cars … a few sports cars. But the one I use the most is an Audi RS Q3, which I actually bought for my girlfriend. When I need to get into town in Monaco I actually use it myself because it’s a bit easier to park and when you hit a curb or whatever, it doesn’t feel as bad as damaging a wheel on another car.

ABC News: That makes me feel better that you also hit curbs.

Max: We all do.

ABC News: Can sim racing really prepare you for the pressures on the track and the G forces?

Max: Not the G forces. But I do think it keeps you really on top of things.

I just enjoy racing. It doesn’t matter if it’s Formula 1 or a GT car or a prototype car, I just enjoy really getting the best out of myself but also getting the best out of the car. And it doesn’t matter if it’s real life or virtual. It’s a hobby but I also want to win. I take it very seriously.

ABC News: Do you have any pre-race rituals?

Max: No, not really. I mean, I just go through my normal warmup in terms of just getting your body ready.

ABC News: You’ve won many Grand Prix but you’ve also had disappointments. How do you recover from a poor result?

Max: I mean, that’s just your racing career. I started racing when I was 4. You hope you have good results most of the time. But you know, there are also bad results. And I’ve been experiencing that from [age] 7 till now. You have ups and downs, hopefully more ups than downs. I think over time you learn how to deal with that. And everyone is a bit different. I forget stuff quite easily in terms of race results. It doesn’t really make sense to keep on thinking about the results too much.

You learn from bad and good results. That is the key. It’s not only about learning from the bad results. Even when you have good results, you always have to look back and analyze what you could have done better or what you would have wished to have done differently.

ABC News: Who is your biggest competitor this season? Is there a particular driver or team?

Max: No team yet. There are a lot of great drivers in Formula 1 currently. Some people just don’t have the material to fight up front, which is a bit of a shame but that’s how Formula 1 has always been. And I actually think that it’s getting closer and closer to the 80s and 90s and the early 2000s, when there was a lot of dominance.

We know that we have a great car again this year but the focus is always the same. You take it race by race. We don’t get ahead of ourselves. We know the competition is tough and things can change quite quickly. But we just have to focus on ourselves and really try to push everyone forward on the team.

We fought for this for many years, to come back on top, and now we are there. It’s important to win but it’s also important to enjoy it.

ABC News: What do you make of Aston Martin’s new car and Fernando Alonso’s surprise podium finishes this year?

Max: They’ve built a great car. They made a really big jump forward. And yeah, I’m happy for Fernando, he’s an amazing driver. He has won titles but I think he could have won even more if he was given the right material. It’s just great to be able to share all these podiums with him. And I really hope that it leads to more, you know? Not only a third place but second next to me, that would be great.

ABC News: Formula 1 has been criticized for its punishing race schedule. How do you cope with the constant travel?

Max: Yeah, some of [the races] don’t really make sense, right? The time zones are different and sometimes it can be tough. Later on in the season, it’s a bit harder because you’re getting tired, your energy levels are going down.

ABC News: Former Formula 1 driver Sebastian Vettel and Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton have taken on causes like climate change and racial injustice. Are there any causes that you care deeply about?

Max: I think I’m at a stage of my career where I’m really focused on performing in Formula 1. Of course there are a lot of things in the world that are not correct. But I don’t think I can solve these things on my own.

I’m a racing driver and I should focus on racing and if I want to focus on other stuff then maybe I should become a politician or something. But that’s not what I grew up wanting. When people ask me questions, you can have an opinion and share your thoughts, but sometimes you need to be well lectured and informed about things before commenting.

ABC News: What’s your relationship like with Red Bull teammate Sergio Perez? Do you two speak off the grid?

Max: Oh, for sure. Checo is Mexican so he’s traveling back to Mexico a lot. If he lived a bit closer, maybe it would be easier to do stuff together. You’re so busy racing, the weeks that you have off you actually just want to spend it with your friends and your family, which I think they deserve the time as well. So yeah, we do have a great relationship and it has really grown. Over the years I knew him as a Formula 1 driver but never as a teammate. So once we were teammates, we naturally spent more time together. And it’s been good.

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