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Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you know Dutch driver Max Verstappen has been dominating Formula 1 for the past several years. But not everyone knows that Max Verstappen is the son of 1990s Formula 1 driver Jos Verstappen. And even fewer know that during a pit road 1994 fire, Daddy Verstappen was seconds away from being burned alive. Max was one strategically-placed fire extinguisher away from never having…Verstappened. Luckily, this story has a three-time-world-champion happy ending.

1994 was Jos Verstappen’s debut season. He was signed with Benetton-Ford, the same team as Michael Schumacher.

The German Grand Prix promised to be especially incendiary. The FIA had hit German favorite Michael Schumacher with a two-race ban. The event was already sold out and the story goes that disgruntled fans began stacking up huge piles of firewood in the woods near the Hockenheim track. No, I’m not making this up. They were suggesting they’d light the whole thing up if their hometown boy couldn’t race.

Dutch Formula 1 driver Jos Verstappen, father of Max
Jos Verstappen, 1994 German Grand Prix | Pascal Rondeau/Allsport via Getty Images

Things got so tense that the Hockenheim mayor begged the FIA to delay Schumacher’s ban. And the FIA caved. Even so, unruly German fans leveled death threats at some drivers. But as Schumacher’s teammate, Jos Verstappen escaped most of the heat. Schumacher qualified fourth, Jos Verstappen qualified 19th. Early in the race, Schumacher suffered engine problems, so both drivers took the opportunity to hit the pits.

“I remember coming in for what I thought was a regular pitstop. Sitting in the car, I would always open my visor because when I was stood I still would sweat a lot, so as I came to a halt I opened my helmet to get some fresh air.”

Jos Verstappen

While they refueled, one of the pit technicians accidentally disconnected Jos Verstappen’s fuel hose. The high-pressure line instantly covered the hot car in race fuel. A heartbeat later it exploded into flames.

The fire ball completely engulfed Jos Verstappen. It released a column of thick black smoke that other drivers could see from the track. Many spectators were convinced a car had exploded.

Pit lane fire at the 1994 German Grand Prix
1994 German Grand Prix | Bernd Weißbrod/picture alliance via Getty Images

Formula 1 requires someeone with a fire extinguisher standing by–for exactly this reason. The quick-thinking team member stepped forward and sprayed the fire around Jos Verstappen. Bystanders say the flames were out in two to three seconds. But even in a race suit, Verstappen was injured.

The Dutch driver was immediately transported to the hospital. With his visor up, his face had been burned. He was treated for burns around his eyes and on his nose. None of them were life-threatening and he was released form the hospital that day. But Jos Verstappen admits that everything could have been different–if he had happened to be inhaling as the spill occurred. The result might have been deadly damage to the inside of his lungs.

“I remember the team pouring water on my face and then later putting cream on it. I went to hospital for a check-up, but everything was pretty much okay. My breathing was fine too, as I don’t think I breathed much when it happened.”

Jos Verstappen

In 1994, many German fans were just angry that the crew decided to retire both cars after the fire, and Schumacher did not finish the race. Little did they know how much the events of that day would shape the sport for decades to come. Verstappen not only lived to drive another day. He would continue to race until 2003. And as soon as his son Max (born 1997) was old enough, he began training the promising driver on go carts.

Next, read about the time Formula 1 broke its own rules and changed racing forever, or see the 1994 pit lane fire for yourself in the video below: