The announcement by Toro Rosso of the decision to hire Max Verstappen for 2015 has understandably caused some stir in the F1 paddock and wider community. Verstappen will be 17 in September and whilst most people his age will be contemplating buying a car similar to a Citroen Saxo, he will be stepping into one of the most expensive vehicles ever made.
At 16, Verstappen is not legally allowed to drive in most countries around the world. Yet, he will be driving something seen on many a boy his age’s bedroom wall next year. Fans have been extremely divided about his appointment, with some claiming he’s too young and immature with a lack of experience, and some claiming it to be too early to judge the decision by Red Bull’s junior team.
Well, a lot of things go in favour of the young Dutch sensation. A lack of senior racing experience proved to be of no harm to Kimi Raikkonen, who joined Sauber in 2001 off the back of just two years and around 20 races of senior motorsport in British Formula Renault. His career wasn’t exactly a flash in the pan, was it? Verstappen will have completed his first season in senior racing by the time he makes the jump to F1, as he lies second in the European F3 series and joins a team of a similar standing to the one a fresh-faced Finn walked into 13 years ago.
As a 17-year-old, very little will be expected of Verstappen. The experts will write him off as a rough diamond in the early season and this may prove to be a great help to Verstappen. He will be given time to adjust to his new surroundings, and big results will not be expected of him straight away.
If he does hit the ground running, then he’ll have effectively bought himself another two years with the team, where he will be able to develop both as a driver and as man, meaning that he will be able to deal with the media attention a lot better and without the advice of his dad Jos, also a successful F1 driver.
If 2015 does not work out, then there’s no reason why could not go down the Romain Grosjean/Tai Woffinden route of taking a step back and competing further down the ladder before resurfacing to ultimately much greater success. In the case of Grosjean, a disastrous 2009 debut was followed up by a largely successful, if quite erratic, return to the elite. Woffinden had much the same in the Speedway Grand Prix series, with a dreadful debut series when he himself has since admitted he was too young and not ready for. He took two years out, and made the most triumphant return possible by winning on his comeback last year.
This leads me nicely on to the potential drawbacks.
The lack of racing experience may hinder him throughout his early career, and in certain situations throughout qualifying and the race he may compromise the weekend of other drivers. He will not have experienced blue flags before, something he quite likely will experience throughout next year. At circuits such as Spa and Monza, this will not be much of a problem. However, at Monaco and the Red Bull Ring track space will be limited, and scenarios like these may prove to be his undoing in his earlier career.
Verstappen’s youth and probable exuberance may earn him a reputation that he may have to work hard to shake off. He will have to learn about the opening laps of an F1 race, and will no doubt have endless briefing and coaching right up until they hurtle into the fearsome first chicane at Albert Park next year. However, as Grosjean will testify, that counts for little in the hustle and bustle that is the first lap of a Formula One race. Verstappen would do very well to curb his enthusiasm and nerves in the fledgling races of his career.
The stresses of Formula One may prove to be too much for someone of his age. He will lose certain aspects of his adolescence and will not be doing the leisure activities that some of his friends will be doing. This may end up having an effect on him, as the business and commitments of Formula One is one of the more tedious and demanding aspects of one of the most commercialised sports in the world. A boy/man of his age could find that side very tough if he isn’t managed properly and exposes himself to too many media commitments too soon.
It is unquestionable that Verstappen oozes talent, and if that is harnessed correctly we could be looking at a future World Champion. There appears to be an unnecessary haste to judge Red Bull’s decision to hire Verstappen, with the judgments being based solely on his tender years. The truth is that it will be some time before we see whether Red Bull have made the right decision in trying to polish the rough diamond that Verstappen undoubtedly is. But as the old adage goes, if you’re good enough, you’re old enough.