Highly regarded F3 racer Max Verstappen, son of former Benetton, Stewart and Arrows driver Jos, has joined Red Bull’s Junior Team, a move which will fuel rumours that the 16-year-old Dutch driver is being lined up for an F1 race seat with Toro Rosso.
After graduating from a stellar karting career, Verstappen currently lies second in the FIA Formula 3 European Championship, trailing Frenchman Esteban Ocon by 94 points with nine races left across three events, at the Nurburgring this coming weekend and then at Imola and finally at Hockenheim in mid-October. In his first season in the series Verstappen has so far taken seven wins.
A Red Bull statement read: “We are very pleased to announce that Max Verstappen has accepted our invitation to join the Red Bull Junior Team. This is effective immediately and the 16-year-old Dutchman will continue his FIA Formula 3 European Championship campaign at the Nürburgring this weekend as a Red Bull Junior in the Van Amersfoort Racing team and additionally will compete at the Macau Grand Prix in November.”
Verstappen and father Jos were very visible visitors to the F1 paddock at the German Grand Prix last month, with the pair being courted by a number of teams keen to secure the youngster’s signature.
Red Bull motorsport advisor Dr Helmut Marko was one of those who met the Verstappens but in the wake of the visit, Italy’s Autosprint reported that the pair had rejected Red Bull’s overtures in favour of a deal with Mercedes, with an announcement supposedly ‘imminent’.
That news never came, however, and when the Red Bull Ring hosted round eight of the F3 European Championship at the beginning of this month, Marko was present to once again put the case for Red Bull to the Verstappens.
Whatever he said worked and Verstappen now joins current Red Bull Junior Team drivers Carlos Sainz Jr and Pierre Gasly, who race in Formula Renault 3.5, and Alex Lynn who currently leads the GP3 championship.
Verstappen will be 17 at the start of the 2015 Formula One season and paddock rumour has suggested that the youngster may displace Jean-Eric Vergne, who is midway through a third tricky season, at Toro Rosso.
While that may seem premature, with more obvious destinations being Formula Renault 3.0 or GP3, there is precedent for such a move. Red Bull promoted Jaime Alguersuari to a Toro Rosso seat half way through his maiden Formula Renault 3.5 season in 2009, the Spaniard graduating to F1 as the reigning British F3 champion. He was, however, 19 years and 125 days old when he made his debut. Sebastian Vettel made his race debut for BMW-Sauber at the 2007 US GP aged 19, stepping up from Formula Renault 3.0. And this year, Daniil Kvyat made his F1 debut aged 19 having won the 2013 GP3 title. He became F1’s youngest points scorer with ninth place on his debut in Australia.
While a move to an F1 seat in 2015 for Verstappen might seem unlikely when two years younger than other Red Bull-associated F1 debutants, his joining the company’s junior squad send a warning message to the others on the programme. Lynn, Gasly, who lies third in WSR 3.5, and 19 year-old Sainz, who currently leads the Formula Renault 3.0 series and who until recently had been widely tipped to replace Vergne, will now surely be looking over their shoulder in the coming months.