Teenage racer Max Verstappen is set to become the youngest driver in Formula One World Championship history next season.
The Dutch driver is to join the Scuderia Toro Rosso squad alongside Daniil Kvyat next year, replacing Jean-Éric Vergne.
The move represents a remarkable jump for the 16-year-old Red Bull Junior, who only made his car racing début in January in the inaugural Florida Winter Series.
In a statement released this evening, Verstappen commented, “I would like to thank Dr. Helmut Marko and Red Bull for all their trust and giving me the chance to make my Formula debut in 2015 with Scuderia Toro Rosso. Ever since I was seven years old, Formula 1 has been my career goal, so this opportunity is truly a dream come true.”
He added, “We’ve all worked tremendously hard to reach Formula 1 and I will give my absolute best to be successful in the pinnacle of motorsport. With the return of the Verstappen name to Formula 1, I hope we can relive old memories and I’m hoping to see many fans at all the Grand Prix circuits.”
Verstappen – who turns 17 at the end of next month – also made his prowess behind the wheel of a Formula 3 car apparent this year when he entered the FIA European Formula 3 Championship with van Amersfoort Racing. He currently resides 2nd in the standings, 77 points behind the Lotus-backed Frenchman Esteban Ocon.
But make no mistake – Max Verstappen is bloody fast.
Where other remain idle between sessions, Verstappen has worked hard with his engineers and has learned quickly. Under the guiding hand of his father Jos, Max is clever and the wide-eyed stare that was once quite common has become serious and confident.
Emerging from an often-crowded van Amersfoort awning at races (his father Jos is still a big draw in paddocks everywhere), Verstappen has amassed a good deal of maturity in recent months, but the Dutch driver had to live through numerous unforced errors and mechanical woes during the early part of the season.
Following a victory at the Hockenheimring in May, the Volkswagen-powered racer secured seven straight Formula 3 class victories through June and early July, including a dominant victory at the Zandvoort Masters.
According to Toro Rosso team principal Franz Tost, it was during this period that Verstappen’s potential really began to shine. “At the Norisring and Nürburgring, he showed extraordinary determination and the ability to withstand pressure before going on to win.” Tost, whose Toro Rosso team gave the the teenage Kvyat his F1 début earlier this year, was also keen to emphasise the reasoning for the team’s existence. “Scuderia Toro Rosso was created with the aim of bringing young talent from the Red Bull Junior Team into Formula 1 and to educate them, it will now be up to us to provide Max with a competitive car, which will enable him to have the best possible start to his Formula 1 career.”
Since Zandvoort, the teenager has taken a further victory and three podiums; however with six races remaining, Verstappen may be too far distant to take a realistic shot at the European F3 title. Meanwhile, he also has a narrow lead over Carlin’s Tom Blomqvist – a former Red Bull Junior – who closed in on Verstappen at the Nürburgring over the course of last weekend.
With all this, Vergne’s career at the top level is left hanging in the air. There had been growing feeling that his time with the Red Bull Junior squad may have been coming to an end at the close of this season, but whether he has been in talks with other teams is not known. It marks an unfortunate end game for Vergne whose season has been dogged by an unreliable Toro Rosso machine.
There is little doubt that Verstappen can handle a Formula One car – in fact, I would contest that a majority of drivers at GP2/3, Formula Renault 3.5 or Formula 3 level could.
However one has the maturity to handle the baggage that comes with Formula One is a different story completely and that is where Max’s real challenge lies.