Jos Verstappen, the father of current F1 star Max, arrived in the sport with a BANG. On his debut, the 1994 Brazilian GP, he arguably caused one of the most horrific looking multicar pileups ever. This had followed massive hype surrounding the 22-year old that he was F1’s next big thing.
Verstappen failed to deliver on his initial promise, instead he crashed out of 50% of races during 1994. It earned him the nickname “Vercrashen”.
Some believed the pressure of debuting for one of F1’s top teams (Benetton) alongside the 1994 World Champion got to him. Others however, including Jos himself, felt Benetton secretly gave Schumacher a car laden with hidden electronic aids which explained the Dutchman’s lack of performance. The new book investigates this in detail however, what can be learnt from Verstappen’s career outside of Benetton?
After go-karting Verstappen only had two seasons of car racing experience behind him prior to F1. At the time this was an unprecedented rise through the ranks to race the fastest cars and most dangerous cars on earth. It was almost half the car racing experience Senna and Schumacher had before they got to F1.
The Dutchman originally had been appointed as Benetton’s test driver for 1994 so he could learn the ropes away from the limelight. But a week after that announcement JJ Lehto, the team’s second driver, suffered a serious testing crash and fractured his neck. It meant Verstappen was called upon to substitute for Lehto despite his lack of experience.
In 2014 Verstappen admitted “I think it (1994) was too early. I should have gained more experience in a lower team instead of going straight away into a top team next to Schumacher.”
The book details his 1994 season in which the 22-year old clearly struggled, qualifying on average 1.9 seconds behind his teammate. Towards the end of that year Verstappen, having only scored 11% of the points of Schumacher, was demoted from race driver back to test driver. In 2011 the Dutchman claimed the sister Benetton had an unfair advantage. “There were electronic aids (in Schumacher’s car)”, Verstappen said, “they (Benetton) will never admit it, but I am convinced of it.” Conversely, during another interview, made in 1996, he also revealed “the (B194) car was too nervous for me. I cannot handle that style of car”.
More analysis into these apparent contradictions is contained within the book however, for 1995, Verstappen continued as Benetton’s test driver. His boss, Flavio Briatore, had also recognised the need for Jos to gain more racing experience. Therefore a deal was struck with minnow team Simtek who allowed Verstappen to race one of their cars for 1995 in exchange for free Benetton gearboxes.
Although the team was small and underfunded, Jos was much happier with the handling of that car. “The Simtek is how I want it and I can play with it” explained the Dutchman in early 1995. “Last year I felt under pressure at Benetton and I was having to drive really hard just to get within a second or a second and a half of Michael (Schumacher). Maybe if I drove the car again now, I would be quicker.”
Verstappen also put in some great performances at the time but unfortunately, Simtek folded by midseason. This left Jos without a race seat and rumours began to circulate that he might replace Johnny Herbert in the second Benetton. Herbert, in common with every second Benetton driver since 1993 had struggled alongside Schumacher but the Englishman unexpectedly won at Silverstone. Much to the annoyance of Verstappen and apparently team boss Flavio Briatore, Herbert’s home Grand Prix win secured Johnny’s Benetton seat for the remainder of 1995.
In 1995 Simtek used Benetton gearboxes in exchange for giving Verstappen, a race seat.
Verstappen then signed for Arrows, a midfield team, for 1996 and once again put in some impressive performances during the early races, the highlight being sixth at the Argentine GP. This led to BBC commentator Jonathan Palmer getting very excited over these displays in his belief Verstappen was a rising F1 star.
At the time Arrows had just been taken over by Tom Walkinshaw who had worked with Jos at Benetton in 1994, so the future looked rosy. Unfortunately, it proved to be a false dawn, partly because 1996 was the year Verstappen’s reputation for crashing was cemented as evidenced by the Dutchman only finishing a quarter of races that season. But also because Walkinshaw concentrated his efforts on the following season and his upcoming partnership with Bridgestone tyres and the World Champion elect, Damon Hill.
Verstappen then spent the rest of his F1 career racing for midfield / back of the grid teams, scoring a total of six points outside of 1994. This included a third stint racing for Tom Walkinshaw in 2000 and 2001. Walkinshaw had been Benetton’s Engineering Director during 1994 and many labelled him as a cheat due to his colourful past. For instance, the Scot’s TWR’s run cars were disqualified for technical infringements from the 1983 British Touring Car Championship, and at Le Mans in 1993. It is therefore commonly assumed Benetton were guilty of giving Schumacher illegal driver aids during 1994 simply because of Walkinshaw’s involvement and past. However how much truth is contained within that assumption?
Verstappen drove for Tom Walkinshaw run teams during 1994, 1996, 2000 & 2001. Would he have done that if he genuinely felt cheated by Walkinshaw at Benetton?
1994 – The Untold Story of a Tragic and Controversial F1 Season is a new book which amongst other things sheds light on why Verstappen struggled at Benetton in 1994. It also explores Walkinshaw’s colourful past in detail. The book is now available from Performance Publishing’s website where you can also read a free sample of the book. Alternatively, sign up at; www.1994f1.com/contact to receive exclusive information on the followup book and have new blogs emailed to you.
Images courtesy; of Antony John Dennis, Alastair Ladd and Juanjoyutu via https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Main_Page