F1 World Champion Max Verstappen on shifting gears to take on drifting challenge

F1 World Champion Max Verstappen on shifting gears to take on drifting challenge
'It was pretty wild': F1 champion Max Verstappen learns how to drift

As a two-time Formula One world champion and current championship leader, we all know how impressive Max Verstappen is in an F1 race car...

But how would the Oracle Red Bull Racing driver fare at drifting?

Ahead of the British Grand Prix at Silverstone, Verstappen got to fulfil his lifelong ambition of learning how to drift on Thursday 6 July at Millbrook Proving Centre, under the guidance of professional drift driver and Red Bull athlete ‘Mad’ Mike Whiddett.

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While Verstappen is used to being in the driver’s seat, the 25-year-old was a passenger at first as he watched a demonstration from Whiddett who is an established drift racer and record-breaker with a career spanning 16 years.

After getting shown the ropes, Verstappen told indy100 how the demonstration was “pretty crazy.”

“I didn't know what to expect and it was already pretty wild,” he said with a chuckle.

“I just didn't expect to have that much grip you know? In the drift cars so yeah I'm curious to see how I will do it but it probably takes a bit of time.”

Whiddett showing Verstappen his custom-built car called the 'MAD BUL'Patrik Lundin and Red Bull

Since this is Verstappen’s first time learning to drift, he revealed how much he has seen of this particular kind of racing before today.

“I mean I've seen that clips and I've seen my friends do it a bit online you know virtual world doing a bit of drifting.

“Yeah it's crazy, it’s something very different of course to what I'm doing.”

Being an F1 driver, Verstappen is no stranger to racing but what makes drifting different is that drift cars are designed specifically to lose traction and slide to pull off manoeuvers.

In contrast, F1 cars use advanced aerodynamics to create downforce (5gs at maximum speed, meaning five times the weight of the car will press down on the surface) to get the maximum grip on the track.

He explained further why learning to drift is different from what he is used to.

“I mean already just steering lock, the way the car is set up. It's really about just being able to throw the car around so the way that breaks are implemented in the cars - there are a lot of different things.”

Verstappen took on the drifting challenge after some tutorials from 'Mad' Mike Whiddett.Patrik Lundin and Red Bull

Verstappen added the reason why drifting would not be beneficial for F1 drivers.

“It's just not fast,” he said. “You can drift it but the car is definitely not built for it already just to the steering lock we have, how stiff everything is made that the car really doesn't like to slide at all.”

Given the differences between F1 and drift racing, Verstappen provided a modest answer when asked how confident he felt going into the challenge.

“Not so much at the moment. I don't know maybe once I start driving I feel quite comfortable it comes a bit more natural but at the moment I really don't know how it's gonna go.”

This challenge came ahead of the British Grand Prix in Silverstone and the Red Bull driver shared how was “looking forward” to the race weekend because “the track is great to drive,” and believed it would “suit [his] car.”

Verstappen has had quite the year so far, as the two-time champ went into Silverstone with an 81-point lead in the world championship (229 points) over nearest rival and teammate Sergio ‘Checo’ Perez (148 points).

Off the back of the Austrian Grand Prix, Verstappen had won five races in a row, taking his overall number of wins this year to seven and from this excellent form, he revealed his highlight from the championship so far.

“I mean we had a lot of great races I think but for me probably Miami was a good race you know coming from P9 I think it was never going to be a straightforward race but I think we really manage that race well,” Verstappen said.

“Of course then to win it as well was great at the time and actually since then we have been in a good flow and we had a lot of good results.”

This dominant form only highlights Verstappen’s hunger to win as demonstrated at the Austrian GP.

Verstappen was leading the race by more than 20 seconds and convinced his team to let him pit for soft tyres with two laps left in order for him to win the extra point for the fastest lap – and the risk paid off.

“I love winning and that's what motivates me so the more I can win the more motivated I am,” he said.

“I think it works the opposite for me so yeah I'm enjoying it and the more faster we are the more interested I am and at the moment of course we have a great crowd so it's really not hard to come back to a race weekend and be on top of it.”

Before heading off to try his hand at drifting, Verstappen shared some of the advice he had been given by Whiddett.

“I mean he was explaining to me of course what to do with brakes the clutch and the handbrake.”

Verstappen behind the wheel of the custom-built 'MAD BUL'Patrik Lundin and Red Bull

He added: “The weird thing for me already is that it’s on the right-hand side so everything is opposite that probably will take a bit of time for me to get used to – normally you sit on the left-hand side.

“You have the gearshift for at first and then the handbrake – here it’s the opposite. So I think I just first have to get comfortable with doing it the other way around in your mind and then just see how that goes.”

It was then Verstappen’s turn to get behind the wheel of Whiddett's custom-built ‘MAD BUL’ – an FD3S Mazda RX-7 with 600HP (just over half the HP to an F1 car - 1050HP) which makes performing manoeuvres while travelling sideways more difficult to execute.

Plus, this challenge makes Verstappen the first person other than Whiddett himself to give this particular drift car a spin, to which the F1 driver jokingly admitted there’s “a lot of pressure on [him] to do well and not to destroy the car.”

Everyone then watched on as Verstappen attempted a series of manoeuvres that put him out of his comfort zone while also testing his driving abilities, these included: high-speed doughnuts and figures of 8, before flying through a Scandi-flick.

But the highlight had to be with the finale which saw Verstappen take on the ‘Horner Corner’ where he saw a familiar face in the form of life-size cardboard cutouts of the Red Bull team principal Christian Horner (with a rather enlarged hand) around the corner of the track to add an extra element of difficulty into the mix.

Verstappen took on the 'Horner Corner' while the actual Christian Horner was not harmed, the same can't be said for the cardboard cutouts...Patrik Lundin and Red Bull

“I didn’t really know what to expect,” Verstappen told indy100 after the challenge and joked that the cardboard Christians he knocked over had “recovered.”

“I really enjoyed it, it was definitely better than I thought it would be just because I had no clue how much fun it was.”

He even likened the experience to feeling “16 again and jumping into an F1 car for the first time.”

While Whiddett also commented on the challenge: We really pushed the limits with Max and I hope he’s learnt some awesome tricks he can take to the F1 track - drifting is as raw as it gets!

“I’d love to try out these challenges in an F1 car and see what’s possible in Max’s seat next time.”

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