Not only for Formula 1 World Champion Max Verstappen, the new season starts today with the race in Bahrain, but also for his mum Sophie. That means lighting a candle for Max on Thursday before the race in the pilgrimage town of Heppenert on the banks of the Aude Maas River, not far from her hometown of Maaseik. The day before the race, she puts a candle on the table, holds her smartphone in her hand, and while sitting on her usual dining-room chair, the angels silently call out to protect her son and bring good luck. “I can no longer count the candles I lit. Hence my faith. People already know it, and then they think: Here she is again with her angels. But they helped.”
Sophie, Max Verstappen’s mother, believes her son has found the happiness he lost when he was young with Kelly Pique and her daughter Penelope (3). “Kelly is of course much older and has a baby. She moved in with him. She created a kind of family. And I think Max missed that somewhere when he was little. I think he’s had that stability this year. That person is waiting for him at home.”
Sophie thinks Max and Kelly are a very good match. “She also comes from a racing family, and she understands everything. When you see how kind he is to her child… to his sister Lee. His heart is in the right place.”
Sophie Marie Combin, 46, used to completely erase herself for the sake of the men in her life. First for her ex-husband Jos Verstappen, who was also a Formula 1 driver, and then for their son Max, who grew up with his father. “There were many nights I was crying in bed. From grief for the child I missed so much. I really had to give up on Max. I was often very afraid of losing him.”
Five years ago, after her first Grand Prix victory at Barcelona, Sophie called her Max ‘my little boy’ in an interview, but the little boys are growing up and becoming Formula 1 world champions. Five years later, before the crucial race in Abu Dabi, she sends her son a letter other. “Dear Max, whatever the outcome, you are my hero, you deserve this title. You have made F1 very exciting again. Keep it up and never give up. A huge fan of you, Mum.”
Just as before the race in Bahrain, she lit a candle for Max at the Heppeneert pilgrimage site on the banks of Oude Maas, not far from her hometown of Maaseik. She prefers to watch her son’s race at home in her living room as she sticks to her ritual. Candle on the table. Smartphone within reach. She sits on her usual chair in the dining room and silently calls the angels.
Max’s mother may not believe in God, but she does believe in angels. “I can no longer count the candles I lit. Hence my faith. People already know it, and then they think: There again with her angels. But they helped.” She calls these angels, at home on her usual chair in the dining room, with her regular friend on the sofa, again today.
Sophie Clumbine was only 23 years old when she gave birth to her son, whom she describes as a perfect version of herself and father Joss. She was successful in karting, and Joss made it into Formula 1. Sophie – the interior designer – was 21 years old when she retired from the top sport. She chose her marriage. When she made that choice, she had the best offer from a Formula Opel Lotus.
“Joss and I have seen each other so little that I chose my marriage. Now I sometimes think: ‘What if?’ When I chose Jos, I said ‘no’ to the best offer from Formula Opel Lotus. What if I said ‘yes’? I was fine at the time. Although I also know: So I didn’t have Max and Victoria. Max now realizes the dream I had to give up. It feels good. The sacrifices were not in vain. Because the sacrifices: we all made.”
After she stopped karting, she and Gus soon had two children, Max and Victoria. The couple lives in Monaco, steeped in wealth. Life smiles at them. But a divorce in 2006 turned that life upside down. Max was eight, and his sister Victoria was six. Victoria will stay with Sophie. Max on the prowl. Jos continued to race, and Sophie found a job at the OCMW in Maaseik, the Flemish equivalent of our social service.
It’s a tough time for mother Sophie. She doesn’t see her son anymore. She is following her first international successes in kart and Formula 3 from a distance. “I found it very difficult. But I also knew: If we really wanted to chase Max’s big dream, he’d be better off with Gus. I had to flip a switch for that. So many nights went by as I lay in bed crying. From grief for the baby I missed so much. I had to I really had to give up on Max. I was often too afraid to lose him.”
But Max does not forget his mother. The older he gets, the more often he knocks on her door. When he is 18 years old and wants to get his driver’s license, he takes driving lessons with his mother. “I want to do it for you, Mama.” Sophie feels that she is regaining her place as a mother in his life.
Sophie has known for years that Max and her (ex) husband, Joss, dominate her life. Sometimes she feels guilty about her daughter, Victoria. “It wasn’t always easy for Victoria to stand in her brother’s shadow. () Victoria was very good at karting when she was a kid. What if Gus invested in her as much as he invested in Max? She could have taken it too far because I think she was better than me. I thought it was cool. If a woman can make a difference in motorsport, it’s still better than when a man does. Just, it turns out differently.”
(Source: De Limburger, L1 ea)