Hot on the heels of his appointment to the Red Bull young driver programme, the motorsport world was thrown into shock yesterday as Red Bull announced that Max Verstappen would race for the Scuderia Toro Rosso team in F1 next year. Whilst for the wider world this will not at all be shocking that another young driver gets his shot on the F1 grid, his age and experience is what’s proved shocking for motorsport aficionados .
When Max Verstappen lines up on the grid for the Australian Grand Prix next year, he will have already set a record as the youngest driver ever to compete in F1. At 17 years old he will have a lot to learn over the winter as incredibly his second ever season of car racing will be on the F1 grid. Whilst their has been an increasing shift to promote talent at younger age’s with the previous youngest F1 racer, Jaime Alguersuari, is a prime example alongside Sebastien Vettel, who will retain his record of being the youngest driver to drive on an F1 weekend. Indeed, even further back in the mid-1990’s Max’s father Jos Verstappen received the same attention when he was promoted to the Benetton F1 team after only two seasons of car racing back in 1994.
For Max, the cautionary tales of his father Jos and Jaime Alguersuari will highlight what a difficult situation he has been thrust into. For his father Jos, his F1 career never seemed to recover from a difficult debut F1 season in 1994 with Benetton, although he was in and out of F1 drives up until 2003. Alongside that is a more recent example of Alguersuari, who was promoted to Toro Rosso at the Hungarian GP in 2009, aged only 19, only to struggle in his first two seasons before being unceremoniously dumped at the end of his best ever F1 season in 2011. Whilst he is still young and will compete in Formula E this year is appears increasingly unlikely he will drive in F1 again after only two and a half seasons in the sport and 31 points to his F1 name.
Whilst I am have explained so far the negative aspects of his step up to F1 next year, for many who have watched him so far this year in the FIA European F3 Championship, have no doubts he will produce results in F1. His debut season of car racing this year has been nothing short of sensational so far, as he currently sits 2nd in a highly competitive European F3 Championship, after taking 8 wins and 13 overall podiums from the season’s 27 races so far. It’s not just the results also which have been impressive with many people close to the series raving about his flamboyant driving style, with some even predicting he can be a future multiple World Champion.
It appears the offer of a race drive with Toro Rosso is what convinced Verstappen to sign with Red Bull as he also held a serious offer from Mercedes, who would have likely preferred him to move up the junior ladder before giving him an F1 berth, and it seems at this very early stage that Red Bull might just have stolen a future World Champion, much like they did to BMW when the snagged Sebastien Vettel from under their noses back in 2007.
Whilst the announcement of Verstappen has gained much press attention last night and today the biggest loser of this announcement has to be Jean Eric Vergne, who after 3 good seasons so far is being moved aside for Verstappen. This is desperately bad news as Vergne definitely deserves to remain in F1 next year, although he will have to find a seat outside the Red Bull nucleus for the first time since his first years of car racing. Furthermore, another two drivers who will lose out massively from this are Red Bull junior drivers Antonio Felix Da Costa and Carlos Sainz Jr.
Verstappen in action in FIA European F3 earlier this year
Felix Da Costa was passed over for a Toro Rosso drive last year for the talented Daniil Kvyat, a move which received similar scepticism yet has paid off for Red Bull this year, will surely be wondering if his chance has passed as he appears set to stay with BMW in the German DTM Touring Car Championship in 2015. Da Costa’s situation last year is mirrored this year by Sainz Jr, who is currently leading the prestigious Formula Renault 3.5 Championship yet has been passed over for a Toro Rosso drive for Verstappen, with his own chances of reaching F1 next year taking a hammer blow last night.
Max Verstappen seems likely to be a revelation at Toro Rosso next year, although for Jean Eric Vergne I hope he can remain in F1 next year as he has clearly shown so far he’s deserving of a place on the grid next year. For the likes of Da Costa and Sainz Jr I also hope to see them in F1 next year although their chances of reaching the top have taken a hit as Verstappen has jumped them in the Red Bull junior conveyor belt of talent, a bitter aftertaste from a scheme that has promoted so many to F1 is that some get left behind also. I will certainly be eagerly keeping track of Verstappen’s progress in he debut season next year for Toro Rosso.