When Toro Rosso made the eyebrow-raising announcement that 17-year-old Max Verstappen would be driving for them this season, two-time world champion Mika Hakkinen was among the doubters.
“It’s too young because in F1, the risk is high,” said the Finn.
Hakkinen was not alone in his thoughts and the critics were sharpening their knives, ready to weigh in with the slightest of error from a driver that was so young he was not even old enough to drive on the roads in his native Holland.
Quite what Hakkinen thinks now is unclear but a driver that was supposed to be too young and too inexperienced to handle a Formula One car is, with just the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix to come, undoubtedly one of the drivers of the season.
His ninth place at the Brazilian Grand Prix on Sunday – courtesy of a late overtaking manoeuvre on Pastor Maldonado and Felipe Massa’s late exclusion – ensured a sixth consecutive points finish for a driver who only celebrated his 18th birthday six weeks ago.
Interlagos, it has to be said, was not the most thrilling of races as Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton once again sealed a Mercedes one-two.
While both drivers seemed relatively content to keep that status quo on the track, Verstappen appeared to be on a one-man mission to both delight the crowd and prove that it is a circuit where overtaking moves are possible.
Verstappen may have been some way off the pace of the leaders but his X-factor was clear to see in the amount of time the television director spent with the camera fixed on a driver known as “Mad Max”.
What appears to be the Toro Rosso driver’s greatest strengths are an innate feel for the car – his delightful braking move on Felipe Nasr in China a perfect example of that – as well his awareness of the space around him, a facet many drivers have struggled with early in their F1 careers.
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Verstappen is by no means perfect. There was the error at the Monaco Grand Prix – the street circuit an immensely unforgiving venue – that resulted in him exiting the race following a head-on collision with the Armco barriers. But that one major blip merely highlights how impressive the F1 rookie has been this year and, bearing in mind he’s probably a good decade off his peak, how good he may well go on to be.
There was an element of surprise among many that he was not given a race seat ahead of Daniil Kvyat with Red Bull next season but Christian Horner and the Red Bull hierarchy are of the belief that he needs another season.
The danger, though, is that both Ferrari and Mercedes are sniffing around, and Verstappen would surely be tempted were the Prancing Horse to take a punt on the teenager to replace Kimi Raikkonen for the 2017 season.
Verstappen is devoid of the hot-headedness of many young guns – compared to when say Hamilton made his F1 debut, the Dutchman appears infinitely cooler.
Asked to explain the reason why he is so at ease at the top tier of F1, he credited his father Jos, himself all too familiar with an F1 cockpit over eight seasons in the sport, for “being hard on him”. It prepared himself for any nasty shocks that might come along the way.
For now, though, the only shocking he has been doing is of far more experienced members of the grid.
Nico Rosberg sealed his second straight victory in Sunday’s Brazilian Grand Prix to rubber stamp his runner-up spot in the Formula One world championship.
Lewis Hamilton got close to his Mercedes team-mate on a handful of occasions, but failed to find a way past at this famous Interlagos track.
Sebastian Vettel, now consigned to finishing third in the standings, completed the podium places with his Ferrari team-mate Kimi Raikkonen crossing the line in fourth.
Speaking after qualifying on Saturday, Mercedes boss Toto Wolff said the team’s “primary objective” at the final two races was to ensure Rosberg finished second in the championship.
Hamilton, whose Brazilian hoodoo continues having failed to win here now on nine occasions, knew his best chance to beat his team-mate would be on the short run down to Turn One.
And while the pair came narrowly close to touching wheels, as they did in Austin last month, pole-sitter Rosberg retained the inside line and the lead.
In his bid to get past Rosberg, Hamilton requested to try something different to his team-mate.
“Can you get me on a different strategy somehow?” he asked. “I’m faster but it’s impossible to overtake.” But the Briton’s desperate request was dismissed by his team.
Rosberg and Hamilton pitted a lap apart on three occasions and from there it was a rather processional affair.
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Hamilton had a sniff at passing Rosberg when the German missed the apex at Turn One midway through this penultimate race of the season – but that was largely as good as it got for the world champion, whose build-up to Sunday’s race was disrupted with his early morning car crash in Monaco on Tuesday.
Hamilton, sporting a tribute to his Ayrton Senna on his helmet this weekend, would have been desperate to end his winless streak at the home of his boyhood idol, but his wait will go on.
Max Verstappen, the 18-year-old rookie who is surely a future world champion in the making, was the provider of the best on-track action of a tepid afternoon.
The Toro Rosso youngster dived around the outside of Sergio Perez at Turn One before bravely holding on to the position.
Romain Grosjean, the only French driver on the grid, followed Verstappen through before later going on to pass the Dutchman.
Grosjean would finish ninth with Verstappen continuing his impressive streak of scoring points by passing Pastor Maldonado in the closing stages to clinch 10th.
The FIA, the sport’s governing body, chose not to honour the 130 people confirmed dead in Friday night’s terror attacks in Paris with a one-minute silence ahead of the race.
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Instead the drivers gathered at the front of the grid to pay their respects to road traffic victims – which had already been scheduled – but Grosjean used the opportunity to unfurl a French flag.
Earlier a French flag with a black ribbon was pinned on to a truck for the pre-race drivers’ parade. The drivers, as well as FIA president Jean Todt and the sport’s commercial rights holder Bernie Ecclestone, wore black armbands.
Back on track, and Rosberg lapped the entire field up to fourth such was Mercedes’ dominance here with Valtteri Bottas finishing fifth and Nico Hulkenberg sixth for Force India. Red Bull’s Daniil Kvyat was seventh ahead of Felipe Massa, Grosjean and Verstappen.
Another painful weekend for McLaren culminated in Jenson Button and Fernando Alonso finishing 15th and 16th respectively.
Nico Rosberg pushed Mercedes team-mate Lewis Hamilton off the top of the timesheets in second practice for the Brazilian Grand Prix on Friday night.
Hamilton’s preparations for the penultimate race of his champion- ship-winning campaign have been hampered by his mysterious crash in Monaco in the early hours of Tuesday morning.
But the British driver, who has failed to win in Brazil in eight pre- vious outings and is also recovering from a fever here, put his troubles to one side to lead the way on Friday morning.
But Rosberg bounced back emphatically in the second session to finish well ahead of his Mercedes colleague with the Ferrari of Sebastian Vettel third in the standings.
Rosberg’s best lap of one minute and 12.385 seconds at the famous Interlagos track was almost half- a-second faster than Hamilton and nearly a full second quicker than Vettel.
The German, who won here last year from pole, also survived a detour at turn 12 in the slippery conditions to end the session com- fortably quickest.
On Thursday, Hamilton revealed a fortnight of “heavy partying” and “not much rest” contributed to him hitting a stationary vehicle while driving his limited edition Pagani Zonda supercar at approximately 3.30am.
He subsequently delayed his flight from Monaco to Sao Paulo by 24 hours, missing a sponsor’s event on Wednesday, and only arriving for this weekend’s race yesterday morning.