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
December 13, 2021
GENK, Belgium (Reuters) – Formula One world champion Max Verstappen stood out even in infancy as a serial winner, the owner of the Belgian kart track where the Dutch driver first honed his racing skills said on Monday.
Paul 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 nL1N2SX080 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,” Lemmens added.
“He did his first race and he won immediately … 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,” said Lemmens.
The international circuit, which has hosted the karting world championships, attracts plenty of youngsters as well as some established drivers.
Lemmens said seven times world champion Michael Schumacher would come for practice even as a Formula One driver while Jenson Button, Fernando Alonso and Kimi Raikkonen also raced there on the way up.
(Writing by Alan Baldwin in London, editing by Ken Ferris)