Max Verstappen, too fast too soon?

Max Verstappen - Avenue21Two and a half months ago, Avenue21 published an article called Formula 1 beware, Verstappen 2.0 is coming. In short, it said that it’s almost impossible to predict the future stars of racing. The junior formulas can provide hints, but they’re often misleading. So I’ve only made such a prediction twice, the first time was after I saw Michael Schumacher in a kart, the next time was more than 20 years later and concerned Verstappen 2.0.

Max Verstappen is the 16-year-old son of Jos Verstappen, the most successful Dutch Formula 1 driver so far. At the time of the previous article, Max wasn’t on the general public’s radar yet. But in the last few months a lot has happened, and yesterday he made international headlines. It was confirmed that he will make his Formula 1 debut in 2015 for Torro Rosso (the junior team for reigning world champions Red Bull Racing).

Too young for a Dutch drivers licence

At his first race in Melbourne, Max will be 17, and almost 2 years junior to the youngest debut in F1 history so far. And even more remarkably; Max earned this contract after having raced cars for just over half a year now.

The insiders have been aware of Max’ talents for a while. After all, it ‘s already 4 years ago that I spoke with Jos during the Belgian Grand Prix. We were having lunch at the Energy Station, the hospitality lounge for the Red Bull and Torro Rosso F1 teams, and he introduced me to his then 12-year-old son. Max had been racing karts at an international stage for a few months then, and the F1 talent programs were starting to take notice. Red Bull had already made an offer, but Jos was in the fortunate position that he could finance Max’ career himself if necessary…

Jos Verstappen looking over Max' shoulder - Avenue21

Father knows best

Jos wasn’t ready to sign away his son yet. He had spent over 10 years in karts and almost 10 years in F1, so there was still a lot that he wanted to teach Max. For instance, Max could easily have been a factory driver in karting, but Jos didn’t want him to show up at his races and have a crew available. He should work on his own karts, take them apart, clean them, set them up. He needed to experience that anything less than full commitment can lose races.

Jos knows his son best, and his custom-made driving school worked out well. So well actually that F1 teams started a bit of a bidding war over Max’ signature recently. And just when it looked like Max would sign with the Mercedes junior team, Red Bull outbid them by offering him an F1 contract for 2015.

Too young for F1?

Of course I didn’t attend the secret contract-meetings, but it seems fair to assume that Red Bull considered letting Max gain another year of experience, for instance in the GP2 series. This way he could get familiar with the F1 tracks, tires and speeds. At the same time he could do Friday-testing plus spend many hours in Red Bull’s F1 simulator. But sometimes if you really want a hot property, you may have to take a chance.

Many F1 forums are full of comments about how wrong it is to put “a child” in an F1 car. And yes Max is controversially young. But don’t forget one thing; Red Bull will never put an underqualified kid in an F1 car, just because it’s fashionable or good marketing. They do this because they believe in Max’ success, they do it because Verstappen 2.0 is exceptional.

Verstappen in Red Bull colors - Avenue21

Promise

I won’t go into the reasons again why Max is so talented, you can read that here, but I will again promise that he is a future F1 star. Of course he still has a lot to learn and he will also need some time to adjust to the extremely high level of everything in F1. But I don’t doubt that Max can impress in his first year already.

It’s hard to say if Max will eventually be able to consistently beat stars as Alonso, Hamilton and Vettel, nor that he will outgrow super talents like Ricciardo, Bottas and (teammate) Kvyat, but I promise you that he will prove the doubters wrong. This “kid” already has the car control, maturity and calm composure to handle F1…

Photos by Red Bull Content Pool

Max Verstappen victory - Avenue21

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