Article by Jan Joost Folmer
The father of the reigning World Champion Max Verstappen is so much more than just that. For years he was the most successful F1 driver the Netherlands had ever known. And they were pretty big shoes he had to fill with predecessors such as Michael Bleekemolen, Carel Godin de Beaufort, Jan Lammers and Gijs van Lennep. All of them legendary racers, not especially in F1 but also in other classes. For example, Gijs van Lennep won the 24 hour race of Le Mans in 1971 together with the current Red Bull advisor Helmut Marko, who let Max Verstappen have his debut in F1.
Father Jos won the German Formula 3 championship and the Masters of Formula 3 at the Zandvoort circuit in 1993. In early 1994 he signed a contract with the Benetton F1 team as a test- and reserve driver alongside the mega talented Michael Schumacher and his teammate JJ Letho. When Letho broke his cervical vertebra in an accident, Jos had to make his debut during the Brazilian Grand Prix and was also allowed to fill in for Letho at the Pacific Grand Prix. In his debut race Jos collided with Eddie Irvine and flipped his car, fortunately no one was injured.
“Making Jos Verstappen the first Dutch driver to finish on the podium in a Formula 1 Grand Prix.”
Because Letho’s performances in the following races were below par, Jos got another chance from the French Grand Prix of 1994.
In the following races, Verstappen’s performance was somewhat disappointing, putting his position as 2nd driver at risk. However, at the German Grand Prix in Hockenheim, a dramatic fire, during his first pit stop, caused quite a stir. Partly because of this, he was not put aside and he ended up at the start of the following race in Hungary. In the final laps he was running in 4th position, one lap behind race leader, teammate and friend Michael Schumacher. In the penultimate lap, Schumacher let Jos unlap himself, so that his race would last one lap longer. And then it happened; in the last lap Martin Brundle’s McLaren came to a halt from 3rd position, making Jos Verstappen the first Dutch driver to finish on the podium in a Formula 1 Grand Prix. After that, Jos also scored a podium during the Belgian Grand Prix, although that was well after the race due to the disqualification of teammate Schumacher.
Despite these successes Jos was replaced for the last 2 races by the more experienced Johnny Herbert who had to help bring in the constructors title. And even though this failed miserably, Herbert was still preferred for 1995 and Jos Verstappen’s career with a top team in the highest class of open wheel racing came to an end.
After several seasons of struggling, his big chance came in 1999; Honda had started a project to enter F1 with its own team. Reunited with old Tyrrell friends Rupert Manwaring and Harvey Postlethwaite, Jos tested the Honda car in that year to race it in 2000 and it was fast. However, Postlethwaite’s untimely death during a test session in Barcelona threw a spanner in the works. Shortly after this dramatic event, Honda pulled the plug on the project just to remain involved in F1 as an engine supplier.
In 2000 and 2001 Jos raced for the Arrows team and occasionally showed special skills. During the Malaysian GP in 2001, for example, he drove under varying weather conditions in 2nd position at one point, after starting 18th, to eventually finish 7th. In Austria he even scored a point by finishing 6th.
After a season with backmarker Minardi in 2003, he put an end to his Formula 1 career to look for success in other classes. He won races in the A1 GP series and in 2008 he won the LMP2 class in the 24 hour race of Le Mans together with team owner Peter van Merckestein and Jeroen Bleekemolen.
Was Jos Verstappen the talent that could have been much more successful? We will never know. Fact is that he never got another chance with a top team after Benetton but he also never really outclassed his teammates to a level that top teams got interested.
In the end he took part in 107 Grands Prix and finished in the top 3 twice. He scored a total of 17 points and is still the second best racing driver the Netherlands has ever known in F1 behind his, already legendary, son Max.