F1's Max Verstappen: 'I have to believe I'm the best'

By Christian Hewgill
Newsbeat reporter

image copyrightGetty Images
image captionMax Verstappen (left) is locked in an intense F1 championship battle with British star Sir Lewis Hamilton

An army of passionate fans, the hopes of Formula 1 giant Red Bull on his shoulders, and the task of bringing an end to the dominance of Sir Lewis Hamilton and his Mercedes team.

It's a lot to deal with for a young driver. But is Max Verstappen feeling the pressure? Not likely.

"A racing car has a steering wheel and two pedals. That's what you can control," Max tells Radio 1 Newsbeat.

The 23-year-old Dutchman's job is much more complicated than that, but his mentality is simple.

"As a driver, you always have to believe that you are the best," Max tells us from the paddock in Baku.

"And do I? Of course."

The race is on.

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image captionMax won the Monaco Grand Prix in May - the circuit described as the ultimate test for an F1 driver

Ahead of this weekend's Azerbaijan Grand Prix, the Dutch driver leads the F1 drivers' world championship.

Max overtook Sir Lewis to lead the standings for the first ever time at Monaco last month - that track is described as the ultimate test for an F1 driver.

Two-time winner and double world champion Fernando Alonso recently told Newsbeat: "One lap of Monaco is like 20 of any other circuit."

Max admits it felt particularly special.

"Up until this year I had a few struggles there. But it's one of the races people always say you need to win, so I'm very happy that I've done so," he says.

You can't help but notice the smile spread across his face when Max adds: "It's awesome."

image copyrightGetty Images
image captionMax leads Sir Lewis in the world championship by four points

Max already has a huge reputation in F1.

Aged 17 he became the youngest driver ever to compete in the sport. A year later he was the youngest ever to win a race.

He's seen as one of the biggest talents in this generation of drivers, known for his raw speed and an aggressive driving style.

But he insists his relationship with Sir Lewis - the most successful F1 driver of all time - is built on respect.

"We race each other hard. And I think that's exactly how you want it to be, isn't it?"

He chuckles after I ask whether the two would go for a beer.

"Well, you know, we are different generations. But of course. Outside of the track we get on really well."

Max believes he is the best, and bluntly tells Newsbeat he doesn't really care if others disagree with that.

"You have to believe you can beat anyone out there.

"If you really think that's not possible, then it's better to stop, because it's never going to work out."

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image captionYou need to leave at least two car lengths between yourself and the driver in front on the road... but not in F1

F1 fans have waited years to see the two go head-to-head on track in cars which have similar pace.

This year that's definitely the case, leading many to predict a crash between the two title rivals. Max begs to differ.

"I think we're both experienced enough to avoid these kind of things.

"Of course, you want to beat each other, but you do have respect each other on track.

"You race fair and square. Then the best one, at end of the day, will win."

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image captionMax has reinvigorated Dutch fans' interest in F1

Max knows to beat Mercedes he and his Red Bull team will need to be as close to perfection as possible between now and the season's end in December.

It's not an exaggeration to say one mistake could cost him the world championship - and the chance to end the most dominant era in the sport's 70-year history.

He's not fazed by the momentous challenge.

"I can only do the best I can, you can't do more than that. That's what I always try to achieve every single weekend," he says.

He sums up the task of winning simply: "You have to be better than Mercedes, you have to be better than Lewis. When you can achieve both of those, you can definitely fight."

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