In terms of Formula One news stories, we have had some huge ones so far this season, but yesterday evening’s announcement tops the lot. Max Verstappen, who became part of the Red Bull junior programme earlier in the month, has now been confirmed as a Toro Rosso driver for next season and will partner Daniil Kvyat. Why is this story so poignant? – Max is only 16 years old and will become the youngest driver in Formula One history by quite a margin. However, will the youngster sink or swim after just one season in single seaters?
Max ‘Son-Of-The-Boss’ Verstappen
Just like Nico Rosberg and Kevin Magnussen, Max Verstappen has a surname synonymous with Formula One. Jos ‘The Boss’ Verstappen competed in the sport between 1994 and 2003, partnering Michael Schumacher at Benetton in the German’s title winning campaign in 1994, scoring 10 points along the way. In this kind of situation, critics will always site a youngster’s surname as an advantageous tool which has been used to carve open opportunities and this is largely unfair. After all, Max has burst onto the single seater stage this season and currently sits second in the European F3 Championship – no mean feat for a youngster who has just jumped out of go-karts. Jos may have had the contacts, but Max has done the job necessary to land on the Formula One talent radars.
Despite his age, he is clearly a man in demand. Just six days ago, he was confirmed as a new member of the Red Bull junior programme, despite Mercedes also demonstrating an interest in the youngster. However, no-one could have predicted that he would immediately take up a race seat at Toro Rosso, with Carlos Sainz Jr being touted as next-in-line for a Toro Rosso drive. However, much like Antonio Felix Da Costa, Carlos has been rejected for an even-younger young talent and could now be in danger of falling off of the fast moving conveyerbelt entirely. Success in Formula Renault 3.5 seems to be somewhat of a poison chalice for Red Bull rookies of late.
I keep mentioning age, but that is because it is so significant in this instance. Max Verstappen will only be 17 years-old in September, meaning that he will smash the record currently held by Jaime Alguesuari for being the youngest starter of a Formula One race, by almost two years. If we put Max’s age into context;
- He will start his first Formula One race as a boy, not officially becoming a man of course until he is 18.
- He has been officially signed by a team before he is allowed to take to the roads for driving lessons.
- He will become the first Formula One driver in history who is younger than me! (That makes me feel old.)
Joking aside, Dr Helmut Marko is taking a huge risk by signing Max so early on in his career. Let’s not forget, he is currently in his first year of single seaters and while his performances have suggested that he has acclimatized well, he is hardly a veteran. Formula One is a difficult stage for any driver, let alone one who is still learning his trade. Moreover, Toro Rosso’s 2015 driver line-up as a whole is unquestionably exciting but unprecedentedly young. Daniil Kvyat will become the most experienced member of the team with just 19 races under his belt at the age of 20. That means that the combined age of Max and Daniil by the time we reach the opening round of the 2015 campaign will be 37 – one year younger than Mark Webber we be come March next year.
The danger is that Max is being thrown into the lions den too early. When we consider how Romain Grosjean struggled when being parachuted into Renault mid-season in 2009, it was simply an issue of age – he had not matured enough as a driver and was not ready for the opportunity. Fortunately for Romain, Lotus were not afraid to give him a second chance, but Dr Helmut Marko has proved in the past that drivers are given one chance to prove themselves – once they fall off of the merciless conveyerbelt, they cannot remount. Obviously, Red Bull have seen the potential within Max and feel that he is ready for the opportunity but this is evidently a high risk decision and one which will make or break Verstappen’s career.