Jos Verstappen: The tough-love father convicted of assault now taking on Christian Horner

Jos Verstappen
Jos Verstappen is no stranger to controversy himself - Getty Images/Qian Jun

For a few hours at the Bahrain Grand Prix this weekend, the key people in Christian Horner’s turbulent world did their utmost to restore calm. First, the hand-in-hand public show from Geri and then the leading figure of his professional life, Max Verstappen, roared to victory to show he was on message too. Business as usual scenes, with the all-too-familiar sight of the Dutchman climbing aloft the podium to begin the new season exactly where he has left off in recent years.

Max Verstappen and Christian Horner celebrate victory in Bahrain
Max Verstappen (left) and Christian Horner (right) celebrate victory in Bahrain - Getty Images/Clive Rose

Behind the scenes, however, father Jos was about to aim a flamethrower at the cooling furore. Verstappen Snr and Horner – the two figures who helped power the star driver to three consecutive world championships – had been at loggerheads since at least Friday. Witnesses clocked a heated conversation that night in the Red Bull principal’s office at the paddock, which prompted Jos to storm out. He later returned to shake hands with Horner, but their relationship is now severed beyond repair after he became the most influential voice to go public with his concerns.

Jos Verstappen talks with Christian Horner in the Red Bull principal's office at the paddock
Jos Verstappen (right) talked with Horner in the Red Bull principal's office - Getty Images/Clive Rose

Red Bull, Verstappen says, will “explode” if the beleaguered Briton remains in position. “He is playing the victim when he is the one causing problems,” the 51-year-old added.

For Horner and Red Bull, the intervention significantly ups the ante as the star driver is forced to pick between the two most influential figures in his career.

Verstappen, a former Formula One driver, manages his son’s career, alongside Raymond Vermuelen, and has been a regular in Red Bull’s inner sanctum, known for his keen eye for identifying talent.

However, the three-times married father of five is no stranger to controversy himself. After a 1998 fight at a go-kart track, Verstappen was issued with a five-year non-custodial sentence by a Belgian court. “Verstappen was found guilty of fracturing the victim’s skull,” assistant public prosecutor Cedric Stuyck told the Reuters news agency in 2000.

In 2008, Verstappen was then reportedly hit with a three-month suspended sentence for threatening Sophie Kumpen, who is Max’s mother, and violating a previously-issued restraining order.

In November 2011, Verstappen denied allegations he assaulted an unnamed 24-year-old girlfriend in a hotel room in Venlo, Holland. In January 2012, he was arrested for attempted murder following claims that he drove a car into his ex-girlfriend in the Dutch city of Roermond. He was released after two weeks in jail when the charge was withdrawn because of a lack of evidence.

Nevertheless, in his son’s eyes, he is a hero. Verstappen contested 107 Grands Prix, achieving two podium finishes and scoring 17 championship points, with a highest qualifying position of sixth at the 1994 Belgian Grand Prix. But guiding his son Max to the top of the sport ranks as his biggest achievement. “Max was my life project,” he said in 2019. “I wanted to win with him, become a champion. We had a goal together. I found the time with Max much more fun than my own career. Put it this way: I did more for Max’s career than for my own career.”

Jos Verstappen with son Max and Raymond Vermuelen
Jos Verstappen (right) with son Max (centre) and Raymond Vermuelen (left) - Getty Images/Bryn Lennon

In turn, Verstappen Jnr had been close to tears in 2021 as he paid tribute to his father after he controversially overtook Lewis Hamilton to secure his first championship. “All the years we spent travelling for that goal and then everything comes together in the last lap,” he said. “It’s insane.”

A tearful Max with his father after becoming world champion in 2021
A tearful Max with his father after becoming world champion in 2021 - Getty Images/Mark Thompson

The star pupil grew up on tough love. In 2012, when Max was just 15, his dad kicked him out of his van as punishment for crashing in the second lap of a world championship kart race in Sarno, near Naples, Italy. They were driving back home to Holland.

“I didn’t speak to him for six or seven days,” his father explained. “I knew what I was doing. I think it helped him and shaped him.”

With his son now wielding major influence within Red Bull as a result of his success on the track, even friends of Horner acknowledge splits in the camp. Internal tensions were already known to exist within Red Bull, between Horner, the team principal, and the company’s motorsport adviser Helmut Marko. The Thai majority owners and executives at the headquarters in Austria are also known to be in split camps too.

Red Bull's majority Thai owner Chalerm Yoovidhya with Christian Horner
Red Bull's majority Thai owner Chalerm Yoovidhya (left) has backed Horner (centre) - Getty Images/Kym Illman

Despite launching his attack, Verstappen denies playing a role in leaking the text messages allegedly sent between Horner and the female claimant that were sent via anonymous email last Thursday. Verstappen, who Telegraph Sport revealed had a close relationship with the complainant, was seen meeting Horner on Thursday in what was their first public appearance together since the allegations had first surfaced.

Given the current atmosphere of fear and loathing at Red Bull, Verstappen’s explanation is as plausible as any: “Why would I do that when Max is doing so well here?”

But whether Verstappen and Horner will continue to enjoy such success in the same garage for much longer would now appear of some debate.

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