Verstappen mega-talent clear from early karting days

max verstappen karting genk

Formula 1 world champion Max Verstappen, even as a youngster, stood out as a serial winner says Paul Lemmens, owner of the Belgian kart track where the Dutch driver first honed his racing skills.

Lemmens, whose Karting Genk circuit is known as the ‘Home of Champions’, recalled first meeting the four-year-old Verstappen when father and former F1 racer Jos brought him along to test a baby kart.

“It was amazing to see because his helmet was bigger than himself,” he told Reuters television a day after Red Bull’s 24-year-old Verstappen won the title in Abu Dhabi.

“The father Jos was racing also in my team and for that, he started here. He lived also in Belgium about 15km from here so each weekend or each day they had off they were on track with Max.”

Lemmens said Max’s talents were soon apparent: “He did many, many races here, and most of them he won easily. He did his first race and he won immediately…”

Paul Lemmens, owner of karting circuit "Karting Genk", where Formula One World Champion Red Bull's Max Verstappen started his racing career, holds a signed photograph of Verstappen in Genk in 2018, as he poses during an interview with Reuters in Genk, Belgium, December 13, 2021. REUTERS/Clement Rossignol

When Max was here, his rivals knew they were going for second place

Lemmens, pictured above, continued: “From then on you can see he had an extreme talent. Then the next race he won also. I don’t think he lost one race – only when his engine was broken or something like that.

“The other competitors, when they started here and they knew Max was here, they knew they were going for second place.”

The international circuit, which has hosted the karting world championships, attracts plenty of youngsters as well as some established drivers.

Lemmens said seven times F1 world champion Michael Schumacher would come for practice even as a Formula 1 driver while Jenson Button, Fernando Alonso and Kimi Raikkonen also raced there on the way up.

Verstappen was 2013 European KF and KZ champion. At the age of 15, Verstappen won the 2013 World KZ1 championship, the highest karting category, at Varennes-sur-Allier in France. (Report by Alan Baldwin)