Formula 1

Max Verstappen proves age is no barrier in modern Formula 1

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At 17, will Max Verstappen be ready for F1? (©GettyImages)
At 17, will Max Verstappen be ready for F1? (©GettyImages).

Late on Monday, it was announced that young Dutchman Max Verstappen will replace Jean-Eric Vergne at Toro Rosso in 2015.

A recent addition to the Red Bull young driver program, the son of the former Benetton driver Jos Verstappen made his first outing in the colours of the Austrian drinks giant at a Formula 3 event at the Nurburgring this past weekend.

Record breaker

When the Dutchman lines up on the grid in Australia next March, however, he will make history as the youngest ever driver to participate in a Grand Prix.

At just 17 years-old come the opening round of the 2015 season, Verstappen will smash the record previously held by a former member of Red Bull's young driver program and now Formula E driver Jaime Alguersuari who was 19 when he made his debut at the 2009 Hungarian Grand Prix.

The young Catalan was just 200 days younger than Verstappen's team-mate for 2015, the now 20-year-old, Daniil Kvyat who was also 19 when he made his F1 debut in Australia this year.

Too young?

The announcement of Max as race driver for 2015 has sparked questions over whether, at 17, he is too young to make the jump into F1?

After all this was a sport that was shocked when Jenson Button was thrust into Williams as a 20-year-old in 2000, considered Alguersuari to be dangerous at 19 and was unsure whether Kvyat was ready when he arrived this year.

The thing is, however, the difference between a 20-year-old being thrust into F1 a decade-and-a-half ago compared to a teenager making his debut now is much different.

Better prepared

Back in 2000, it was still a time when Michael Schumacher could be the best driver merely because of superior fitness, however, now with all the specialist trainers with their workout schedules and specific diets preparing a young driver physically for F1 is a lot easier.

Mentally as well, younger drivers are just as better off now as they are physically compared to when Button made his debut 14 years ago, the challenge of driving cars with far more horsepower per ton than a Bugatti Veyron and downforce that could literally bend the laws of physics is welcomed by the young talent of today rather than feared.

Is F1 easier?

Also part of the debate is whether the sport as a whole has become easier for racing drivers. Certainly with simulators that can reproduce the experience of stepping behind the wheel, the move from a lesser powered and much less demanding GP3 or in Verstappen's case F3 car to F1 is much less daunting, even if all drivers claim nothing compares to driving the real thing.

Today too, the physical requirements of driving a F1 car maybe less in terms of the power from the engine and the increased grip through the corners but the work a driver has to do behind the wheel with tyres and fuel saving to the deployment of energy boost and DRS the amount of operations a driver has to do has dramatically increased in recent times.

But again this is where the ability to better prepare a driver for the challenge of driving an F1 car comes in so as a result it is easier to come in as a rookie at any age compared to what is was in the not too distant past.

Potential

Finally there has to be the thought that maybe, at 17, Max Verstappen is simply good enough for F1.

While most of us with the untrained eye would consider the idea of a 17-year-old stepping behind the wheel of an F1 car to be ridiculous, Red Bull must surely believe that he has the skills to be worthy of one of its seats.

This is something that has been proven three times by the company and its sense of belief in who it employs.

Not too long ago Sebastian Vettel was still a spotty youth and at 21 scored an incredible victory at the 2008 Italian Grand Prix, at that time we all knew what he could become an four world titles later he has proven that.

Then there has been this year, while we knew Daniel Ricciardo was a great qualifier we didn't know about his race potential but two wins later, being the only man to beat the dominant Mercedes, most are left wondering why they doubted him in the first place and for Daniil Kvyat, here is a guy just starting out but already his speed and ability will see him become a team leader next year and has fully vindicated the decision to promote him over Antonio Felix da Costa.

While for any team the appointment of a driver with little experience can be seen as a risk, the role age plays in that decision has become much less of a factor, after all, some drivers could be a decade older than Max Verstappen and still cause the problems most would associate with putting a teen in a racing car.

Therefore I wish Verstappen the best of luck as he makes his dream move to the pinnacle of motorsport and hopefully he can prove all those pessimists who say what Red Bull have done is wrong, to be exactly what they accuse Helmut Marko and his bosses of being. 

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