When the news of Max Verstappen’s move to Toro Rosso broke and became plastered over my Twitter feed, I thought it was another morsel of Silly Season speculation. But, my eyes weren’t deceiving me.
At 17, Verstappen will become the youngest driver in the history of Formula 1, smashing the previous record by almost two years. This latest story has caused upheaval within the F1 fanbase. Some believe it’s a case of too much, too young, too fast; on the other hand, others believe that the son of two-time podium finisher Jos has the potential to win, and that he’s ready for the challenge.
Let’s sort one thing out first, though: Verstappen is viciously fast. Despite making his European F3 debut just six months after stepping into a racing car for the first time, the young Dutchman has made a colossal impact. He currently lies second in the Championship, behind fellow rookie Esteban Ocon, and has won eight races this season (including six in a row at Spa and the Norisring).
His driving is sometimes aggressive, but always precise. Although it’s a phrase that is thrown about too much in sport nowadays, Verstappen is a genuine natural talent. And, with young F1 rookies like Daniil Kvyat and Kevin Magnussen showing that youthfulness is no barrier to success in Formula 1, there is every possibility that Verstappen will succeed in the sport.
So why do some people disapprove of Verstappen’s move to Toro Rosso? One possible reason is because it defeats the object of driver development. Verstappen was in the Red Bull Junior Programme for just under a week before he signed for a Formula 1 team. By contrast, it took Jean-Eric Verge (the man who Verstappen will replace at STR next year) the best part of five years to earn his full-time place at Toro Rosso.
In addition, Red Bull has been nurturing the likes of Carlos Sainz Jr, Alex Lynn and Antonio Felix da Costa for several seasons now. But now the years spent toiling through the development formulae seem futile, since the opportunity to be selected for the elusive Red Bull or Toro Rosso race-seat has now been nullified by a teenager who has literally jumped in front of them. But, motorsport is unfair. Of course Red Bull are going to sign the driver that will create the most publicity; the image of the team is an essential part of their psyche.
Red Bull’s junior scheme may have left many of its protégés in the dry with this latest announcement, but the ferocious rise of Verstappen has ultimately tempted the team into an impulse-buy. After all, his current form suggests that he could definitely make it as a Formula 1 Champion.
The technological leap is likely to be the toughest challenge that Verstappen will need to overcome. Formula 1 cars represent the pinnacle of automotive engineering, and are a far cry from the relatively minimalistic world of Formula 3. Verstappen will be stepping from a driver-oriented world to a technology-oriented world; with a much larger focus on fuel-saving and energy recovery. The complexities of the sport and its star-studded global appeal will undoubtedly be a shock to the system, but with Max being Max, none of this will faze him in the slightest.
So, what should we make of Formula 1’s teenage sensation? His ability is undoubted and his confident attitude is a winning one. While he may be the youngest man (or boy) to ever race in a Grand Prix, he does deserve to be there.
He has created seismic waves in every series that he has set foot in this year, so we should expect more of the same in 2015. The leap from karting to Formula 3 was a huge risk, but it was the best way of showing his ability. As a result, he has been given the opportunity to perform on the biggest possible stage.
Obviously, Verstappen needs to obtain his Super License first. But once he’s sufficiently qualified (and finishing F3 in the top 3 spots will provide that) he’ll be able to dice with some of the drivers that his father once competed against.
He defies his age, and we are already waiting to be mesmerised. Max Verstappen, it’s all yours.
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