When it was announced last year that 17-year-old Max Verstappen would be joining the Red Bull junior stable at Toro Rosso, former world champion Jacques Villeneuve dismissed the idea, suggesting the teenager would be way out of his depth.
Villeneuve was in Sepang on Saturday as the Dutch rookie – the son of former Formula One racer Jos – qualified a confident sixth. On Sunday, he raced with the panache of a veteran to become the youngest grand prix driver ever to score World Championship points with an impressive seventh place.
“I really enjoyed that,” said Verstappen after remaining the final unlapped runner behind Sebastian Vettel, Lewis Hamilton, Nico Rosberg, Kimi Raikkonen, Valtteri Bottas and Felipe Massa. “I’m very happy to have scored my first ever points in F1 and to finish seventh. I think we did a great job as a team.
“The first few laps were a bit tricky for me as I was struggling a lot on the medium tyres, so we pitted early for the hard ones and that worked perfectly; the car felt great. We had a few good fights with other competitors and it was good fun.
“This was the right strategy and we did a great job managing the tyres. It was quite hot at the end but I was still able to cope with it and be consistent, so I’m happy. This is a big boost for the team.”
It was another tough day for the slowly developing McLaren-Honda team as cooling and turbocharger problems prevented Fernando Alonso, making his first appearance of the season following his crash in testing last month, and Jenson Button from finishing.
“I enjoyed it out there,” said Button, whose comments over the radio – “what’s happening, guys? I’m catching other cars!” – caused much mirth.
“We’re racing people and to be able to see one of the Red Bulls ahead of me – and so far into the race – was obviously a nice surprise,” he added.Reuse content