Teenager Max Verstappen has shrugged off concerns over his age after he was confirmed to race for the Toro Rosso team next season.
The 16-year-old, who will be 17 by the time next season begins, will replace not one but two Toro Rosso drivers when he partners Daniil Kvyat in Franz Tost’s Red Bull-backed team. He will take over the car currently driven by the Frenchman Jean-Eric Vergne, and will supplant former racer Jaime Alguersuari as the sport’s youngest-ever pilot. The Spaniard was 19 years and 125 days old when he started the Hungarian GP with the team in 2009; Verstappen will be 17 years and 164 days old when he starts next year’s Australian GP in Melbourne on 15 March.
Verstappen said he would be training hard to ensure he was physically ready and played down his youth.
“I’m a relaxed guy, I will handle it,” the European Formula Three title contender said. “I think the biggest step I had was karting to F3. I think F3 to F1 will be a smaller step. “I’m not that worried about it. The cars are really safe. I think it’s more dangerous to bike through a big city than race in an F1 car.”
Close observers always believed Verstappen Jnr’s chances of becoming a Formula One driver were high, given his antecedents. Father Jos, a likeable but sometimes hot-headed racer who has faced charges of assault since retiring from F1 in 2003, drove for Benetton in 1994 after turning down the chance of testing with McLaren.
Subsequently he drove for Simtek before going on to race for Footwork Arrows, Tyrrell, Stewart, Arrows and Minardi. His best results were two third-place finishes, in Hungary and Belgium in 1994, when he partnered championship-winning Michael Schumacher.
Additionally, Max’s mother is the talented karter Sophie Kumpen. Her father Paul is a former rallycross champion, while her brother Anthony races in FIA GT. Kumpen herself beat F1 racers Jarno Trulli and Giorgio Pantano to the 1995 Andrea Margutti Trophy at Parma, and was a Belgian champion. Her son continued that heritage with victories in several key karting championships before making his Formula Three debut with Van Amersfoort Racing this year. Thus far he has won eight of his 27 races.
The news will come as an unpleasant surprise to another son of a famous father, however. Carlos Sainz Jnr, who is leading the World Series by Renault feeder championship one step below Formula One, had been expected to replace Vergne for 2015, but it became clear that things were moving fast for Verstappen when he and his father recently had talks with both Red Bull and Mercedes during a recent visit to the German Grand Prix.
Red Bull’s Helmut Marko, the hard-line former racer who brought Sebastian Vettel and Daniel Ricciardo into the fold, made it clear he was impressed by the young Dutchman. Like the man who will be his team-mate next year, the 20-year-old Russian Kvyat, Verstappen has already shown enough fire to bypass both World Series by Renault and GP2.The highly impressive Kvyat did the same when he leapt up this year straight from GP3.
Fast starters: Precocious F1 debuts
Jaime Alguersuari (Sp)
Finished 15th in Hungary in 2009 aged 19 years and 125 days
Mike Thackwell (NZ)
Retired in Canada in 1980; 19yrs 182d
Ricardo Rodriguez (Mex)
Retired in Italy in 1961; 19yrs 208d
Fernando Alonso (Sp)
12th in Australia in 2001; 19yrs 218d
Esteban Tuero (Arg)
Retired in Australia in 1998; 19yrs 320d
Chris Amon (NZ)
Retired in Belgium in 1963; 19yrs 324d
Daniil Kvyat (Rus)
Ninth in Australia in 2014; 19yrs 324d
Sebastian Vettel (Ger)
Eighth in the US in 2007; 19yrs 349d
Eddie Cheever (US)
Retired in South Africa in 1978; 20yrs 53d
Jenson Button (GB)
Retired in Australia in 2000; 20yrs 53d