As I start writing this (yes, sometimes it takes me a while!), it’s been thirteen hours since my last post, which was on the subject of Max Verstappen joining the Red Bull Junior Team. In that time, or shall I say one hour later, it was announced that Toro Rosso would add the Dutchman to their race driver line up for 2015, alongside Daniel Kvyat.
In the space of just half a week since signing onto the programme, Verstappen has leapfrogged Carlos Sainz Jr, Alex Lynn and Pierre Gasly to become Red Bull’s latest Formula One driver, throwing Jean-Eric Vergne’s future in the sport into serious doubt. This immediately lead to an outpouring of sympathy for Sainz Jnr in particular, who many reckoned would replace Vergne in the Toro Rosso seat for 2015. Let’s not kid ourselves about this. All of these drivers knew what they were letting themselves in for. Firstly, unless Toro Rosso and Red Bull Racing have a higher turnover of drivers, there is no way that all of the drivers in the Junior Team can progress to F1, and that’s even assuming that Red Bull don’t sign a driver that doesn’t come from their own programme. Kimi Raikkonen for example was rumoured to be close to signing for Red Bull after Mark Webber announced his retirement, what would that have done for Daniel Ricciardo and Kvyat’s career? This is a programme that is notorious for dropping or replacing drivers at a moments notice, Beumi and Alguersuari were both sidelined after 2011, and Antonio Felix da Costa was himself leapfrogged by Kvyat into Toro Rosso’s second seat for 2014, a lot of critics said at the time that the Russian was too young for F1, and have been silent ever since.
As for Verstappen’s age, many comments posted on social media have been ironically childish. Max will be 17 years old by the time he starts the Austrslian Grand Prix in 2015, two years younger than the current holder of the record for the youngest driver, Jaime Alguersuari. In terms of capability, if Verstappen has the talent and ability to drive an F1 car, why should he wait? Vertstappen’s F1 career could have been delayed by one or two years through needlessly progressing through Formula Renault 3.5 if he wasn’t fast tracked, it would be a waste of both time and money on Red Bull’s part by it moving ahead with plans. As for his physical ability, there is a worry right now that the amount of effort and energy needed to drive an F1 car will be too much for Max to handle especially over longer race distances. But with six months to go until the start of the 2014 season and just two race weekends of Formula Three in September, it’s certain that Verstappen will be in the race simulator for hundreds of hours probably starting immediately and going over the winter break, there’s also the possibilities of standing in for Jean-Eric Vergne in FP1 in upcoming Grand Prix weekends, and will probably be participating in the Yas Marina testing days after the final race of the season. It should be from these tests that he will be able to claim his super licence.
This will be the biggest step up to Formula One for any driver since Kimi Raikkonen was moved up from Formula Renault 2000 for the 2001 season. Max Mosley at the time criticised the move to give a super licence to a driver that was so inexperienced, with Kimi only starting 23 races before his move to Sauber. By the time Verstappen drives in the Australian Grand Prix, he will have started 33 races in a more competitive series. The decision could always be taken to grant him a temporary super licence as was the case with Raikkonen.
Instead of mocking Verstappen’s age, fans should support and celebrate the latest talent in our sport. If he is to establish himself on the grid and progress to potentially become one of the best in Formula One then he will need that instead of derision.