Max Verstappen will become Formula One’s youngest driver ever when he makes his debut at Melbourne next March, with confirmation that the Dutchman will replace Jean-Eric Vergne at Toro Rosso in 2015.
At 17 years and nearly 6 months old, Verstappen will break the record held by former Toro Rosso driver Jaime Alguersuari – who debuted in 2009 at 19 years and 4 months of age.
The 16-year old’s appointment is highly contentious, with many arguing Verstappen Jr is ill equipped to handle the machinery and pressure associated with the category.
This, and the notion that if he enters the sport too early, his career could be on the ropes before most even dream of making their debut.
In reality, cars of this era are the least physically demanding they have been in decades – more about finesse, as well as the style of racing, and the Dutchman’s admittedly limited record precedes him. He has been compared, somewhat ironically, to Schumacher himself as his father once was.
To that end, he presently lies 2nd in the European F3 championship – his first season in open-wheel racing, which is certainly no mean feat.
Some points to come from Verstappen’s imminent arrival are that Jenson Button, Fernando Alonso and Kimi Räikkönen – if all three are on the grid next season, will have the distinction of competing against father and son despite their own relative youth.
Räikkönen entered F1 under similar circumstances in 2001 with Sauber, having competed in just 23 events prior to his debut. Many doubted the merit of the decision, but were soon proven wrong as the Finn displayed his raw speed, culminating in the 2007 World Championship.
Kevin Magnussen, currently at McLaren, also shares a link to the younger Verstappen, in that it was the latter’s father, Jos, who effectively ended the elder Magnussen’s F1 career, when he replaced him midway through the 1998 season at Stewart.
Jos Verstappen competed in Formula One between 1994 and 2003. His debut campaign was as team-mate to Michael Schumacher at Benetton during the tragic and highly controversial 1994 season. It was during this season that he claimed the only two podiums of his career, but most notably escaped a spectacular fireball resulting from fuel rig failure at the German Grand Prix with only minor burns.
His mother was a highly competitive kart driver in her own right, thus he has gifted racing genetics on his side.
Verstappen has seven months to prepare for the opportunity of a lifetime. Whilst there will be pessimists, every opportunity must be given for the Dutchman to prove he is worthy of his status as Formula One’s youngest ever driver.
If he’s half as good as Schumacher was, we’re in for something special.