At the age of 17 my days consisted of pursuing young women, squeezing spots and eating junk food – not at the same time, mind. It was all a far cry from what a 17-year-old Max Verstappen’s days will soon entail.
The young Dutchman, son of former F1 racer Jos ‘The Boss’ Verstappen, has recently been announced as Torro Rosso’s next young charger, at the expense of the practically ancient 24 year-old Jean Eric Vergne. When Verstappen Junior makes his Grand Prix debut in Melbourne next year, he’ll steal the record for the youngest ever F1 driver right from under the youthful nose of Jaime Alguesuari.
Now, we’ve been here before, with drivers elevated to the dizzy heights of Grand Prix racing before perhaps they were ready. I wrote about it in fact, citing Valterri Bottas and Daniil Kvyat as examples of drivers coming to Formula One having not sampled the likes of GP2 and other “necessary” stepping stones to motor racing’s pinnacle. I completely wrote them off, going as far as saying Kvyat got his drive with Torro Rosso courtesy of Russian backer’s deep pockets and his talent was still truly unproven.
Naturally, I couldn’t have been more wrong; both Bottas and Kvyat have performed sensationally. And so I’ve considered the young – very young! – Verstappen’s ascension to Formula One carefully…
At a time when Formula One has turned to the 64-year-old Flavio Briatore to lure spectators to the sport, it seems obvious now that what the sport really needs is a 17-year-old super-talent. One with the opportunity to blow the sport apart with his ability and often outspoken nature. But…how young!?
He’s talented, sure. Super-talented in fact, maybe one of the most exciting drivers of his generation. His youth however, conjures questions as to whether he’s ready to handle the pressures of Formula One. There’s only one way to answer that of course, and we’ll find out during the course of 2015.
The other concern of course, is his maturity. Not away from the track, mind – a 17 year-old’s off track escapades may just evoke the kind of tales Formula One needs right now, but rather, behind the wheel of a Formula One car; a machine with power and technologies like nothing else he’s ever raced; regardless of his supreme talent, Verstappen is yet to learn how to respect such a thing.
That could be concerning, but I’m all too aware of my failings when it comes to predicting the future for young racing stars, so let’s attack it from this angle instead: look at Marc Marquez; it may be a different discipline in which the MotoGP champion excels but his rapid ascension to the pinnacle of two-wheeled racing at a remarkably young age raised questions too.
Marquez showed little respect for his mighty prototype Honda – he hadn’t had the time to learn any. But by flinging it sideways, pulling wheelies and stoppies and generally thrashing the competition, the young Spaniard has breathed new life into the sport as he discovered in front of the watching world what he was capable of. He had seemingly discovered a new way of riding – a new way of racing and a new way of winning.
As with Marquez, Verstappen’s youth means he has had no time for preconceived wisdom of what should or should not be possible.
Formula One needs someone like Verstappen. Someone young, talented, yet to discover what can and can’t be done in order to perhaps do what “can’t” be done. Someone to spice up the show at the same time as benefiting the sport. At the very least, it will be thrilling to see how the flying Dutchman performs.