Verstappen and “The Young Winners Club”

Statistics are key in any sport. One of the favourite past-times of the armchair pundit is to dissect all the key facts and figures and whenever a record is broken, it is quite the occasion. As such, Max Verstappen’s shock win at Sunday’s Spanish Grand Prix took on greater significance than the typical first time win. The 18 year old obliterated the previous record for youngest winner, in turn toppling top spot for the youngest driver to both stand on the podium and lead a lap, all in his first weekend at a new team.

The Dutchman is quite the record breaker, but follows in the footsteps of numerous other emerging talents who re-wrote the record books over the years.

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Image Credit: ph-stop (via Flickr) [CC-BY-SA-2.0]

One of the most recognizable names in those record books is Ferrari’s talisman Sebastian Vettel. The German has seen a number of his records bettered by Verstappen in regards to being the “youngest ever.”

Vettel’s maiden Grand Prix victory came at Monza in 2008, on a day when a tug boat would have been better suited to the conditions than a Formula 1 machine. Vettel’s Toro Rosso was, however, the most at home in the inclement weather, with the circuit’s long straights also playing to the car’s strengths. He was imperious all weekend, with pole position on Saturday followed by a sublime drive to victory on Sunday.

Aged 21 years and 73 days, Vettel eclipsed the record held by Fernando Alonso in regards to youngest race winner by 318 days. It was also the weekend in which Vettel placed himself at the head of the list regarding youngest pole sitter and podium finisher.

Interestingly, Vettel played his part in what was F1’s youngest ever podium. He was joined by Heikki Kovalainen and Robert Kubica who finished second and third respectively, forming the lowest average age of podium finishers.

Unlike Verstappen, Vettel had managed to lead a race prior to his maiden win. The similarly sodden Japanese Grand Prix in 2007 marked the first occasion that Vettel led a Grand Prix.

Intriguingly sticking to the Red Bull theme, Sebastian Buemi is third on this particular list, as the Swiss briefly led during the chaotic 2010 Canadian Grand Prix. Albeit, the closest Buemi came to entering the young winners club was a handful of seventh place finishes over the course of his three year stay at Toro Rosso.

In the days before Dr Helmut Marko and the Red Bull young driver programme formed the rapid conveyorbelt of blistering talent, these records were less regularly eclipsed. American racer Troy Ruttman held the record for being the youngest F1 race winner for 51 years, with his accolade crossing continental divides.

Ruttman won the Indianapolis 500 in 1952 at the age of 22 years, 80 days. This was at a time when the Brickyard’s blue-ribbon event was included as an F1 championship event, meaning that Ruttman – whose F1 footprint was largely limited to just the Indy 500 – played his part on the world stage. His triumph in 1952 earned him eight World Championship points and saw him also lay claim to the accolade of being the youngest Indy 500 champion, which he still holds today.

What Vettel, Alonso and Ruttman’s achievements do is place Verstappen’s into context. The Dutchman’s first win has arrived nearly three years earlier than Vettel’s similarly extraordinary achievement. Verstappen has redefined what is possible upon entering the sport.

While records are set to be broken, winning at just 18 year and 227 days old, it is unlikely that Verstappen will be toppled from his pedestal as the youngest ever Grand Prix winner for quite some time.

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