Skip to content

At just 16 years old, is Max Verstappen simply too young for F1?

Aug 22, 2014, 1:00 PM EDT

F1 Grand Prix of Belgium - Previews Getty Images

When news broke of Max Verstappen’s promotion to a full-time seat with Toro Rosso earlier this week, it was met with a great deal of surprise by the Formula 1 community.

Although he was always known to be in the running for some sort of role with Red Bull (which owns Toro Rosso) in the future, few would have predicted that we would already be talking about his full F1 debut in 2015, when he will be just 17 years old.

His birthday is in September, but even at 17, he’ll still be too young to get a road driver’s license in his native Netherlands. Nevertheless, he’ll be piloting a multi-million dollar F1 car next season after just one season in single seaters. Is this really too soon for a driver to be making their debut?

Firstly, let’s talk about Verstappen himself. The son of former F1 driver Jos, the Dutch youngster made his name in go-karts, winning the world karting championship last year. He then moved into single seaters, with the natural option being Formula Renault. However, he instead moved straight into the FIA F3 European Championship, one of the most competitive junior series around.

This year, he has flourished in F3, currently ranking second in the standings behind Ferrari junior Antonio Fuoco. He won six races on the bounce at Spa and at the Norisring, and is certainly one of the breakout drivers in the current field.

Despite his success, many expected him to move into either GP2, GP3 or Formula Renault 3.5 for 2015. It was known that both Mercedes and Red Bull were chasing his services as a junior driver, and the drinks giant won – obviously, the promise of a race seat was going to outweigh any other offer.

Red Bull confirmed earlier this month that it had secured Verstappen’s services, and he raced at the Nurburgring with his car donned in its livery. Few would have predicted that he would have been confirmed just a few days later at Toro Rosso, though. The natural successor to Jean-Eric Vergne appeared to be Carlos Sainz Jr., but like many before him at Red Bull, he will now be asking just where he can go next.

Is Verstappen talented enough? Most definitely. Is he experienced enough? No, but, it is worth noting that Kimi Raikkonen had just one season in Formula Renault under his belt before he made his debut back in 2001 for Sauber. Nowadays, the cars are much easier to drive, and Toro Rosso has confirmed that it will be putting Verstappen through his paces in a Formula Renault 3.5 car and an old F1 car to ensure that he is ready for his debut in Melbourne next March. He will also be taking part in practice for the races in the USA, Brazil and Abu Dhabi later this year.

So is his debut something that concerns the current crop of drivers? Not particularly.

“I think it’s great that teams are still interested in the talent of the driver and not the money,” said Felipe Massa in yesterday’s press conference. “I think that’s really positive, it’s good for the sport in general.

“I think the most important thing is that he has the talent. I hope he can be clever as well to learn everything from Formula 1.”

Massa did also say that “seventeen is a little bit young,” whilst Daniel Ricciardo said it made him feel old – old being 25.

“It’s a wonderful opportunity that he has and it’s something quite special to come to Formula 1,” noted Lotus driver Romain Grosjean. “As everyone says, he has shown great talent early in his career, but he will have a lot of homework to do to learn everything about racing in higher categories.

“It’s good to see fresh blood, but a bit sad for JEV.”

Indeed, Jean-Eric Vergne is the big loser in all of this. At just 24, he is already facing the end of his F1 career, with the seats on the grid for 2015 being very hotly contested. He needs a great run in the final eight races to prove that he is worthy of a place for next season.

“I understand the decision,” the Frenchman said. “I’m not pissed off. I’m a little bit sad obviously because I like the team and believe it is a good one.

“It’s always in difficult moments that you can show your best potential, and that’s what I’m going to do in the next eight races.”

Fighting words from a man who was in the running for a Red Bull drive this time last year. Oh how quickly things can change in this sport…

As for Verstappen himself, he has few concerns about how ready he will be for Formula 1 in 2015, even if the news hasn’t quite sunk in yet.

“It’s absolutely amazing,” he told NBCSN’s Will Buxton in this week’s Paddock Pass. “I still can’t believe it really. First time when I get in the car, that’s when I’ll feel like ‘this is it’.

“I think at the end of the day, age doesn’t make a difference. As long as you can drive a car fast and you’re consistent without mistakes, there’s no issue about age.”

As with any driver, it is impossible to really know how they will perform until they are actually out on track for the first time. However, Verstappen will indeed raise some concerns about the age of F1 drivers. 17 is very young, but he may just well prove us all wrong.

Ever since it entered F1 in 2005 as a team, Red Bull has bucked the trend and revolutionized much of the sport. It can indeed boast the records for the youngest driver (Jaime Alguersuari), youngest point scorer (Daniil Kvyat), youngest race winner and world champion (both Sebastian Vettel). Verstappen could yet top them all, given the sensational start that he has made to his career.

F1 at 17 is a big ask, but it had to happen one day. Max will be out to prove his critics wrong, and this could prove to be a decision that we look back on in years to come with praise, calling it a “masterstroke” – even if it does make us all feel pretty old.

Latest Posts
  1. NHRA: C. Force, Todd, McGaha and Arana Jr. qualify No. 1 for 4-Wide Nationals eliminations

    Mar 28, 2015, 9:01 PM EDT

    Courtney Force qualified No. 1 Saturday at the 4-Wide Nationals. (Harold Hinson Photo) Courtney Force qualified No. 1 Saturday at the 4-Wide Nationals. (Harold Hinson Photo)

    It was a double dose of Force in Saturday’s final rounds of qualifying for the sixth-annual NHRA 4-Wide Nationals at zMAX Dragway in Concord, N.C.

  2. St. Petersburg notes: PWC, MRTI triple-dips heading into Sunday

    Mar 28, 2015, 7:46 PM EDT

    Photo: Pro Mazda Photo: Pro Mazda

    Roundup of the rest of Saturday’s action from St. Petersburg.

  3. Teaser clip: F1 on NBC’s “Off the Grid” hits Mexico (VIDEO)

    Mar 28, 2015, 7:20 PM EDT

    MexicoOTGteaser Getty Images

    NBC Sports Group’s “Off the Grid” digital series hits Mexico City, set to premiere on March 31.

  4. De Silvestro 11th in her first IndyCar qualifying in more than a year

    Mar 28, 2015, 7:11 PM EDT

    SimAndrettiQuals AP

    Simona de Silvestro happy to be somewhat disappointed with 11th in IndyCar qualifying at St. Petersburg.

  5. Sato saves Honda’s day with another St. Pete Fast Six appearance

    Mar 28, 2015, 6:45 PM EDT

    TSstpquals AP

    Takuma Sato puts together a successful qualifying effort for A.J. Foyt Enterprises, ending in fifth and best Honda.

  6. Penske’s quartet pushes each other en route to qualifying dominance

    Mar 28, 2015, 6:30 PM EDT

    PenskeTop4Quals AP

    After top-four qualifying sweep, the Team Penske teammates are praising each other rather than trading shots.

  7. Power on pole in Penske top-four sweep of St. Petersburg qualifying

    Mar 28, 2015, 5:24 PM EDT

    PowerSTPpole AP

    Power on pole as Team Penske goes 1-2-3-4 in St. Petersburg qualifying.

  8. Indy Lights: Carlin’s Ed Jones on top in opening race at St. Pete

    Mar 28, 2015, 3:25 PM EDT

    Photo: Indy Lights Photo: Indy Lights

    Indy Lights’ new era kicks off at St. Petersburg with a new driver and team on top in the series’ new car.

  9. Power on top as Penske 1-2-3 in second straight St. Pete practice

    Mar 28, 2015, 1:27 PM EDT

    WPstpP3 AP

    More Will Power on top of IndyCar practice at St. Petersburg.

  10. Franck Montagny receives two-year ban from FIA after positive drug test

    Mar 28, 2015, 1:01 PM EDT

    Montagnynew Getty Images

    Franck Montagny receives two-year ban from FIA’s Anti-Doping Disciplinary Committee.

  11. Ericsson storms to career-best qualifying in Malaysia

    Mar 28, 2015, 1:00 PM EDT

    Marcus Ericsson AP

    Swedish driver reaches both Q2 and Q3 for the first time in his F1 career, and will start tomorrow’s race from ninth place on the grid.

  12. Wet qualifying benefits Red Bull, hinders Williams, on Saturday in Malaysia

    Mar 28, 2015, 12:00 PM EDT

    F1 Grand Prix of Malaysia - Qualifying Getty Images

    Ricciardo and Kvyat both get inside the top five thanks to the rain in Q3 in Malaysia, but Massa and Bottas struggle.

  13. Monaco’s Formula E track layout is revealed

    Mar 28, 2015, 11:30 AM EDT

    F1 Grand Prix of Monaco - Qualifying Getty Images

    Monaco’s circuit for the FIA Formula E Championship is revealed.

  14. Grosjean hit with grid penalty after queue jumping

    Mar 28, 2015, 11:00 AM EDT

    AUTO-PRIX-MAS-F1 Getty Images

    Lotus driver drops two places on the starting grid after failing to keep his place in the pit lane.

  15. One spectator killed, others injured, at VLN Endurance event in Germany

    Mar 28, 2015, 10:28 AM EDT

    © VLN - the start of a 2014 race at the Nurburgring © VLN - the start of a 2014 race at the Nurburgring

    Incident involving Jann Mardenborough’s Nissan GT-R claims the life of one spectator at the Nordschleife.

  16. Verstappen flourishes in the wet to qualify sixth in Malaysia

    Mar 28, 2015, 10:00 AM EDT

    AUTO-PRIX-MAS-F1 Getty Images

    Dutch youngster scores the best F1 qualifying result for a teenager in 54 years on Saturday in Malaysia.

  17. Alonso: Q1 exit not a sign of things to come for McLaren

    Mar 28, 2015, 9:15 AM EDT

    Alonso 283 Getty Images

    Spanish driver will make his second debut for McLaren from 18th position on the grid tomorrow.

  18. Hamilton delighted after claiming 40th career pole (VIDEO)

    Mar 28, 2015, 8:30 AM EDT

    Lewis Hamilton AP

    British driver explains the challenge of judging your qualifying lap in the wet after securing pole position in Malaysia on Saturday.

  19. Manor receives dispensation to race in Malaysia despite missing 107% time in qualifying

    Mar 28, 2015, 7:49 AM EDT

    F1 Grand Prix of Malaysia - Qualifying Getty Images

    Merhi and Stevens miss the 107% time required to qualify in Malaysia, but are granted dispensation by the FIA stewards.

  20. Vettel hoping for more rain on Sunday after scoring Ferrari’s first front-row start in two years (VIDEO)

    Mar 28, 2015, 7:30 AM EDT

    AUTO-PRIX-MAS-F1 Getty Images

    Felipe Massa was the last driver to start on the front row of the grid for Ferrari, lining up second for the 2013 Malaysian Grand Prix.