Milan: Sixteen-year-old Max Verstappen will become the youngest driver in Formula One history next season after being unveiled as Toro Rosso’s new signing.
The Dutch teenager, son of former F1 driver Jos Verstappen, will partner Daniil Kvyat in the Red Bull feeder team with Frenchman Jean-Eric Vergne surplus to requirements.
“Ever since I was seven years old, Formula One has been my career goal, so this opportunity is truly a dream come true.
“I think the biggest step I had was karting to Formula Three. I think Formula Three to Formula One will be a smaller step.
“I’m not that worried about it. The cars are really safe. I think it’s more dangerous to bike through a big city than race in a Formula One car. I’m a relaxed guy, so I think I will handle (the attention).” Verstappen said.
Turning 17 next month, Verstappen will beat the age record currently held by Spain’s Jaime Alguersuari, who was 19 years and 125 days when he made his debut in 1990.
He won the world go-karting championship last year and has topped the podium in eight out of 27 races since graduating to Formula Three.
“We’ve all worked tremendously hard to reach Formula One and I will give my absolute best to be successful in the pinnacle of motorsport,” he said, thanking his father for his support.
“With the return of the Verstappen name to Formula One, I hope we can relive old memories and I’m hoping to see many fans at all the Grand Prix circuits.
“I hope that I can maintain a wonderful collaboration with my sponsors as I embark on this exciting new phase in my career. I also want to thank my manager Raymond Vermeulen, for all his efforts in making this agreement possible,” Verstappen added.
Verstappen is following the path of four-time world champion Sebastian Vettel and Red Bull teammate Daniel Ricciardo, who were also members of the Red Bull junior team.
Toro Rosso team principal Franz Tost said that despite his youth, Verstappen’s skill-levels and maturity indicated he could cut it in Formula One.
“We consider Max to be one of the most skilled young drivers of the new generation and we believe he has the necessary maturity and mental strength to take on this challenge successfully,” he said.
However, many of the sport’s elder statesmen are likely to be nervous at Verstappen making his debut so young, particularly given repeated criticism of some young drivers who have shown themselves to be reckless in their race craft.
Tony Jardine, the former McLaren assistant team manager, who also worked at Brabham and Lotus, feels the Dutchman will face a frosty reception from some of his competitors.
“He looks like a wonder kid, but he is going to be the youngest ever on a Grand Prix grid,” he said.
“What the senior drivers will think about it… Don’t ask them, because they won’t like it.”
Britain’s John Watson, a five-time winner and championship runner-up in 1982, agreed that it would be a baptism of fire for Verstappen, especially given the cutthroat manner in which Red Bull dispose of young drivers they deem surplus to requirements.
“The concern some of the more established drivers might have is, are we bringing in drivers who are not emotionally or mentally mature to deal with difficult judgements, which they’ve got to make in milliseconds and it’s got to be the right judgement…?
“He’s got a remarkable degree of self-confidence and assurance.
“I don’t think the driving bit will be an issue whatsoever, but it might be more difficult in dealing with the enormously high expectation Red Bull place in their young drivers, which can be a huge pressure.
“He will have to grow up really quickly,” stressed Watson.
In Verstappen’s favour is the current generation of Formula One cars, which do not demand the same physical strength required when Jenson Button and Lewis Hamilton first entered the sport in the 2000s.
Kvyat, a remarkably skinny figure who will partner Verstappen next year, has also enjoyed an incredible start to his Formula One career this year despite concerns that he was too young.
Vergne, who becomes the latest in a string of drivers to fall out of favour with Red Bull, just months after being in contention for a seat at the senior team, said he still had “a lot to show in F1.”