#360view: Mad Max has the fury for F1

Matt Majendie
by Matt Majendie
16th November 2015

article:16th November 2015

Verstappen (l) stole the show in Brazil.
Verstappen (l) stole the show in Brazil.

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.

– Brazil GP: Rosberg storms to second successive win
– F1: Red Bull ‘right on limit’ for first pre-season

– F1: Haas chassis will be ‘better’ than Ferrari

– #360view: With pressure off Rosberg is different driver

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.

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.