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Formula 1 Spanish GP

Ben Hunt: ​Is it time Max Verstappen ditched his dad and went it alone?

The father and son dynamic is a curious relationship in Formula 1. The paternal bond is often instrumental in helping a driver reach the top, but with it brings tensions and a hindrance.

Max Verstappen, Red Bull Racing with Raymond Vermeulen, manager of Max Verstappen,  Jos Verstappen

Max Verstappen, Red Bull Racing with Raymond Vermeulen, manager of Max Verstappen, Jos Verstappen

Photo by: Mark Sutton / Motorsport Images

Jos Verstappen has been by his son's side for the duration of his racing career and is the key protagonist behind Max Verstappen's success. Almost ever-present.

Yet he has been conspicuous by his absence at the majority of the Formula 1 races this season. The reason for which is understandably obvious.

His outburst towards Red Bull boss Christian Horner in Bahrain this year was incredibly personal and caused tensions that threatened to destabilise his son's career with the world champions.

Whatever the reason, Verstappen took umbrage at Horner being cleared by the initial internal investigation by Red Bull's HQ in Austria.

You'll remember his comments at the explosive season-opening race in Bahrain where Verstappen Sr commented on Horner's position in Red Bull and said: "It cannot continue this way. The situation is not good for the team and is driving people apart."

He continued to explain that his son could be forced out as a consequence. By putting Horner in his crosshairs, he had drawn his own son into the conflict.

The upshot was that after his father had made his outburst and left Bahrain, Verstappen was left in his trail of destruction, which could have been potentially detrimental to his career.

Christian Horner, Team Principal, Red Bull Racing with Jos Verstappen

Christian Horner, Team Principal, Red Bull Racing with Jos Verstappen

Photo by: Mark Sutton / Motorsport Images

The Formula 1 world champion faced an unwelcome level of scrutiny about his future that resulted in him tiptoeing questions about whether he supported Horner or would side with his father.

On this he was unequivocal. At the Miami Grand Prix, Verstappen said he never saw a time when he will race without his father and his manager, Raymond Vermeulen.

"We're a team," Verstappen said at the time. "It's me, my dad and Raymond altogether. And that will always be like that."

Only that has not been the case this season. Apart from Bahrain and Monaco, where Jos Verstappen's presence was duly noted, he has not been at any of the other races.

Yes, Vermeulen has been present, which makes total sense as he is Verstappen's manager and oversees his commercial and contractual obligations during a race weekend.

But there is a sense that without the paternal ties, the F1 world champion has been allowed a greater freedom and has consequently repaired his relationship with the team and, dare I say it, looks more relaxed.

Of course, winning helps, but even when he did not win in Miami, he was in a good mood and cracked jokes in the post-race press conference.

Max Verstappen, Red Bull Racing, 2nd position, Lando Norris, McLaren F1 Team, 1st position, in the Press Conference

Max Verstappen, Red Bull Racing, 2nd position, Lando Norris, McLaren F1 Team, 1st position, in the Press Conference

Photo by: Mark Sutton / Motorsport Images

Verstappen's father is likely to return to his son's side as the F1 schedule swings back to Europe for the Spanish Grand Prix.

But there is perhaps now a feeling that the current world champion would now be best to go it alone.

Cutting the paternal ties is hard. Like Verstappen, both Carlos Sainz and Kevin Magnussen have fathers who are racing drivers but they have managed to have a greater degree of separation from their dads.

That has allowed them greater freedom to forge their own careers in F1 without any external interference.

Perhaps the best-known example from a current F1 driver is Lewis Hamilton, who has spoken about the relationship he had with his father, who also acted as his manager during his early career.

Anthony Hamilton had a very hands-on role in overseeing his son's career but inevitably that led to a breakdown in their relationship.

Speaking on the subject in 2023, Hamilton said: "You just want to try and live some sort of normal life, but nothing is normal for you at the time. The thing for me and my dad...we were just really bumping heads at one stage.

Anthony and Lewis Hamilton

Anthony and Lewis Hamilton

Photo by: JEP

"It was like 'I really just want you to be my dad, let's go and have fun, let's go and have a laugh'.

"We hadn't had that for a long, long time. So, eventually, I decided to part ways from my dad and I was like, 'I'm gonna start making some of the decisions for myself and the mistakes that I'm gonna need to make'."

Hamilton's public split did result in their father/son bond being blown even further apart, but since then they have worked hard on their relationship to reconnect.

However, in doing so, Hamilton was able to make more decisions for himself, which was undoubtedly a good thing.

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While seeing a driver with their father is no strange sight in the paddock, there is not the same intensity as that exists between Verstappen and his dad, especially considering he has now notched up a total of 194 starts since making his debut in 2015 and subsequently not exactly requiring the reassurances of a rookie.

Now 26, Verstappen has matured and as a three-time world champion and of course, is experienced enough to stand on his own two feet. However, given his comments earlier in the year, it seems unlikely that their relationship will change in the short term at least.

Nonetheless, it would be a fascinating prospect - and subsequent observation - if the world champion did finally go it alone.

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