The Flying Dutchman: Jos Verstappen
MAY 1, 1996
BY JOE SAWARD
In the autumn of 1993 Jos Verstappen - veteran of just two years of single seater racing - sat in an Arrows for the first time at Estoril. His times were so impressive that both McLaren and Benetton wanted to sign him up. Benetton won. He was to be the team's test driver in 1994. Then JJ hurt himself in a testing accident and Jos was thrown into the spotlight as team mate to the man who would go on to become World Champion that year Michael Schumacher. It was no surprise that Jos should have been overshadowed but it still rankles that he was dropped by Benetton before the end of the 1994 season. He stayed under contract to Benetton last year - but was lent out to Simtek by Benetton boss Flavio Briatore. At the end of the year Briatore made the curious decision to release Verstappen from his long-term Benetton contract. Arrows was only too happy to claim back the man they first thrust into the spotlight.
This year Jos - who was only recently 24 - is making a strong impression - having finished an impressive sixth at the last race. And now that Arrows has been taken over by the TWR Group Jos is well-placed to take advantage of the increased testing and development which will be available to record some even more impressive results. Verstappen is bouncing back...
Q: Looking back how do you see the 1994 season with Benetton. Was it a mistake?
JV: "I think that maybe I was in the right place - but at the wrong time. Benetton is a very good team. They have proved that. But for me it was just a very difficult year, particularly as I was alongside Schumacher. I didn't have any problems with that in my head but the car was too nervous for me. I cannot handle that style of car."
Q: Was it the same problem which Johnny Herbert complained about last year?
JV: "Absolutely. I must have a little the same driving style as Johnny because he said basically the same things about that car that I did and seems to have had the same feelings. It was a very difficult car. You could not feel the limit and so you were pushing and pushing and then suddenly it would have oversteer. Normally when you get oversteer you can control it but the Benetton would go very suddenly and so you ended up having a spin. I had big problems with that car. Then I went on to Simtek. I must say that it didn't go that well in qualifying because we always had a gearbox problem but in the races we showed that we could do quite well. Now at Arrows I feel that the car suits the way I drive. I am happy in the car and I can go right to the limit. I think that I have now proved to the people in F1 that I am quick, despite what they thought in 1994."
Q: How did you feel about being released from your Benetton contract?
JV: "In a way I was happy to go. I wanted to race and to be able to have a good relationship with my engineer. At Benetton I got on fine with the engineer but he could not do what I wanted because the other guy was winning races with the car as it was. At Arrows I feel I have the whole team behind me. They do exactly what I want in terms of setting up the car. I didn't have that at Benetton. I was the second driver. They said: "Here is the car. You drive it." When I asked for something new, it took a long time to get it."
Q: The Benetton episode is now behind you are you are re-establishing yourself as a rising star. You are in a pretty good situation for a guy who is only just 24.
JV: "Yeah. Maybe it is good to be in a smaller team to build up a bit more experience. I don't know. I don't know if it was too early for me to race for Benetton. You have to remember that when I signed for the team I wasn't supposed to race. I was the test driver. Having said that, I think that if I had had a good car in 1994 I could have proved what I was worth. The B194 was a good car for Schumacher - but it wasn't a good car for me."
Q: You raced against Schumacher in go-karting didn't you? Was he as good then as he is now?
JV: "He was very good. He was European Champion in 1987 or 1988. The European Championship often said more than the World Championship because that was just one race. The European Championship was five races. Schumacher was never had the luck to World Champion and nor did I. Something always happened in the World Championship race: the engine failed or I made a mistake. I might have won it in 1991 but my engine blew up and Jarno Trulli [Recently signed as a Benetton driver] won it. I was European Champion in 1989, racing against people like Giancarlo Fisichella and Jan Magnussen. I raced gainst all these guys and it is good to see how the same people I drove with in go-karts and gradually coming into F1. My career got ahead of them for a while but now we are all coming back to the same level."
Q: How did you start out in racing. Holland is not really a major player in F1, is it?
JV: "My grandfather had a junk yard and when I was four or five I was always there driving a go-kart which my father had made for me. My grandfather wouldn't let my father race. He would have loved to have done it but he never got the chance. Karting is quite big in Holland I guess because we have had some very good engine tuners. I left school at 16 and worked for the three best engine tuners in Holland one after another. In my last season in karting I prepared my own engines. That was 1991. The funny thing is that I didn't go to my first F1 race until August that year at Spa. It was the race when Schumacher made his F1 debut. The first race I actually watched was at Estoril a month after that. I went to the race at Spa to meet Huub Rothengatter and I must say he helped me a lot and I was able to go straight into Formula Vauxhall Lotus in 1992 and then into German Formula 3 in 1993. So it was two years from when I watched my first F1 race to when I did my first F1 test at Estoril with Arrows."
Q: Despite your amazing rise to stardom. You've had a difficult time raising the money for F1, haven't you?
JV: "Yes. It has been a problem because Holland is a small country although I must say that we have some very big companies in Holland such as Philips, Unilever, Shell. If you are good and get into a top team I don't think it matters how big the country you come from is because you can prove your value all over the world. That's what it is about. Now I have some good sponsors: Philips Car Systems, Marlboro, ICL and Quest (which is part of Unilever). With Tom Walkinshaw now taking over there will be more money for the team and so we can make more progress. At the start of the year I was hoping to use this year to show my talent. I was hoping to be able to get back into a top team as soon as possible. Maybe now we can turn Arrows into a top team."
Q: Have your adventures in F1 made you famous in Holland? Can you go around without being hassled by people all the time?
JV: "I get a lot of publicity and TV coverage in Holland. If I am walking around people will say: "Hey. There's Jos Verstappen". I think that's good. It is a sign you are doing well. The moment people stop recognizing me then I am going to get worried. If people recognize me and say: "Can I have a photograph?" I say: "Why not!" I don't have any problems with that. If they want a photo they can have one. I guess it depends a little on your character. If you try to hide away all the time then I think you have a problem."
Q: A few more good results and you may find life a little more hectic. What do you reckon about the races ahead?
JV: "Before he left Arrows Alan Jenkins designed a good car. We now have to develop it. Allan McDonald my race engineer is very good. He can do it, but right now I don't know who is going to do what. We will have to see..."