Badger is taking a conversational look at the rookies who will make their F1 debuts in Melbourne. Having covered Masters Nasr and Sainz, it’s now time to meet Toro Rosso’s child prodigy Max Verstappen.
Have I read this right: Max Verstappen is 17?!
Correct. Born in September 1997, the Dutchman was just 26 days old when Jacques Villeneuve won the world title at Jerez. His dad Jos was making up the numbers in a Tyrrell when JV and Michael Schumacher had their infamous collision.
But I remember that!
That is because you are old and Max is young. In fact, when he debuts in Australia he will become the youngest F1 driver ever. And that record will never be broken, as henceforth the minimum age will be 18.
Kids these days. So his dad is Jos ‘The Boss’ Verstappen?
Yep, a veteran of Benetton, Simtek, Arrows, Stewart and Minardi. Jos spent most of his career towards the rear of the field, but to his credit he kept getting hired at a time when small F1 teams could still choose their drivers based largely on talent.
You’re just saying that because you’re scared of him.
Not at all. And Jos isn’t Max’s only racing relative. His mum, Sophie Kumpen, was a title-winning karter, his uncle Anthony is the reigning Euro NASCAR champion, and his younger sister Victoria is also an aspiring racer.
He sounds like some kind of thoroughbred, the result of a selective breeding programme aimed at developing the ultimate F1 driver.
You might put it that way, yes. Or you could just look at it as a kid taking up the family business.
So he’s got the right genes, but how exactly has he ended up in F1 at such a young age?
Max was a winning machine in karts but didn’t step up to single-seaters until a year ago. He contested the Florida Winter Series, but his star really climbed in European F3 where he won 10 races (and the non-championship Zandvoort Masters) on his way to third in the standings. F3 cars are big, powerful beasts, so to jump in and win regularly was mighty impressive.
And that got Red Bull interested?
Yep, Jos made it clear that Max was looking for a long-term F1 deal. Mercedes were also sniffing around, but Red Bull offered the Dutchman something Merc couldn’t: a grand prix seat for 2015.
I see. Was that a wise move?
Certainly. In fact, having hedged my bets with the other rookies, I’m going to stick my neck out and predict that Verstappen will be world champion some day.
Blimey! What’s brought this on?
The way he seamlessly moved from karts to Formula 3. You don’t do that unless you’re special. And Helmut Marko isn’t running a charity. He passed over some very quick drivers to get Max straight into F1 and he did so because there’s something there, that extra tenth in qualy, the dead-eyed coolness in battle. The kid is a machine.
Okay. And you’re not just saying this because you’re terrified of Jos? It’s okay, you can tell me.
Absolutely not. Max is 10/10, he’s the real deal, once in a generation, he’s…
Alright, alright, so he’s good. What can we expect in 2015?
He needs to beat team-mate Carlos Sainz Jr. The Spaniard is very talented, so beating him would confirm Max’s megastar credentials. Points would be nice at some stage, but the most important thing is to be the main man at Toro Rosso. Everything else is a bonus.
Fair enough. Well, I look forward to seeing the kid get behind the wheel of an F1 car. It’s scary: when I was 17 the fastest thing I’d driven was a Nissan Micra.
You can take some comfort from the fact that, with F1’s new engine regs, they sound pretty much identical.