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“If you are good enough you’re old enough” – but is 17 too young for F1?
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Max Verstappen
Posted By: James Allen  |  19 Aug 2014   |  9:23 am GMT  |  269 comments

There is an old saying in F1, when weighing up if a driver is too young for a race opportunity: ” If you are good enough you are old enough”.

Up to now that has only been applied to drivers who were 19 years of age, like Sebastian Vettel, Daniil Kvyat and even Fernando Alonso.

But the news that Max Verstappen, who turns 17 next month, is to make his F1 debut next March in Australia is a real moment to pause and consider the wisdom of that saying and of the decision itself.

Leaving aside the complexity of modern F1 cars with their hybrid systems a world apart from an F3 car and the depth of knowledge required to drive them, it is highly questionable whether he has the mental racing database, honed through years of experience, to mix it with the best drivers in the world’s fastest cars. An Alonso or a Hamilton approaching him in a racing situation early next season, will be concerned at how he might react, how he will race.

Max Verstappen

Alonso is on record saying that some young drivers today have a “GP2 mentality”, driven by the desperation to get results to further their careers and they take risks as a result. It’s make or break and they force the issue.

A 17 year old can drive an F1 car quickly, but racing is a craft and one that takes experience and time. There are no shortcuts.

Vettel, Kvyat even Alonso made rookie errors at the start, that’s to be expected. But they had done more racing than Verstappen. Kvyat for example had raced cars for four years before his F1 break, including F3, where Verstappen is now and GP3. He has a far more developed mental database of racing situations. Kimi Raikkonen is the most obvious comparison; he did only one season of Formula Renault before coming into F1 in 2001, with some debate about whether to give him a Superlicence. He was 20 years old at the time.

Perhaps it is the combination of extreme youth and lack of car racing experience which causes concern here.

The mental challenge is fierce and many of the drivers who came in young have later reflected that they were too young and not really ready. Jaime Alguersuari was 19 when he was parachuted into F1 mid season and he later said that he was too young but had no choice when offered an F1 seat.

Fernando Alonso 2001

Development is the key word. Youngsters with exceptional talent in any sport need to be developed correctly, over a pathway. Verstappen’s promotion at this time is a jagged step on an otherwise correct pathway. It’s one thing for Wayne Rooney to make his Premier League debut at 17, he had 10 other men on the pitch to carry the day if he struggled and the worst that could happen was if he fouled someone or got sent off.

We need to remember that young drivers are still developing in the first five years of their F1 careers, even Vettel was still improving in his mid 20s, as was Alonso. Kvyat won’t be the complete article for another four to five years.

Another unfortunate downside of this move is the impression it creates that F1 must be getting quite easy, if a 16 year old kid can be handed such an opportunity, it must be a doddle. Taken in tandem with recent moves like double points for the last race, sparking skid blocks and other gimmicks, it demeans the integrity of the sport.

F1 is about the best of the best competing for the highest stakes; to maintain and grow its appeal as a sport, driving an F1 car should look difficult and dangerous and not something the average Joe could ever imagine being able to do.

All of this is not to say that Verstappen is destined to fail, far from it; he clearly has the credentials and pedigree to be a top F1 driver, the kind of talent the sport needs and even in this difficult situation he may well succeed. We wish him well.

But it seems wrong to put him and the sport in this position, it looks like forcing the issue, making this bold move itself a talking point to create sensation. It is another example of Red Bull having a different attitude to F1 from other competitors in the way it uses F1 to its own ends.

Sebastian Vettel, Daniel Ricciardo

Let’s remind ourselves of the context: Verstappen’s opportunity has come about because of timing. Red Bull operates a revolving door policy, whereby young drivers are given approximately two years in the Toro Rosso team to prove themselves and then are either promoted to Red Bull Racing, if there is a space, or dumped. The vast majority are dumped, as Jean Eric Vergne has been with this move.

Daniel Ricciardo was fortunate that Mark Webber decided to stop at the end of 2013, creating a vacancy, which only he and Vergne were qualified to fill. The team chose Ricciardo.

The next in line for promotion is Kvyat, who looks very good indeed. He will hope that there is a vacancy in 2016 or 2017, possibly if Vettel decides to take one of the offers which are likely to be around at Ferrari, McLaren Honda or even Mercedes by then.

If Kvyat does get the chance and Ricciardo continues his development and stays put, there will be no space at Red Bull for Verstappen.

The Dutchman must therefore put so much pressure on Kvyat in the couple of seasons to warrant consideration for Red Bull and that means – potentially – driving with a sense of desperation.

I hope not and I hope that he turns out to be another great talent like Vettel and Ricciardo before him from the Red Bull programme.

But it will certainly be a talking point this weekend in Spa and I wouldn’t be surprised if a few of F1’s current leading drivers voice some concerns.

What do you think? Give us your views in the comments section below

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1

Could it be that F1 fans are reacting poorly to the notion of 16-year-old Max Verstappen joining Toro Rosso next year? Or, was it Jacques Villeneuve’s recent comments that started the ball rolling?

Regardless, at present Superlicence requirements seemingly conspire to allow a teenager with one car-racing season behind him to jump straight into F1 while more experienced drivers can’t get a Superlicence because…why exactly?

So the FIA is going to review the licensing requirements with a proposal due out in December of this year for implementation in time for the 2016 season. Convenient, as it fails to address the current controversy.

No doubt F1 will now be racing (no pun intended) to find 15-year-olds and younger to fill race seats before the new rules come into force. Hopefully, exaggerating here, but where do you draw the line on age eligibility or do you?

If Verstappen is competitive next year it will make a mockery of the supposed race craft and skills needed to succeed in Formula One, and if that is the case, there’s a lot of over-paid “fat cats” in F1 bilking us ticket buyers because how can you truly claim F1 is the top echelon of motorsport now!

Another example of F1 is reacting with glacier speed and a lack of urgency to yet another potentially damaging controversy.

2

Mr.Allen, how would you think about Max Verstappen join Formula 1 at next years?

3

It amuses me all these people saying that he’s too young only having done karting and a season of F3. Maybe they should try a season of karting and find out how good these kids really are. It’s not sliding around warehouses in little 50cc toys. How can any armchair critic judge whether he is ready, unless they have dedicated their life to a single pursuit since they were 4.

I wouldn’t have been ready for anything at 17. Nor was Taki Inoue clearly, judging by his very funny tweet.

But, if he’s good enough, good luck to him. Max was in discussion with Mercedes too so it’s clear that he has some talent.

4

I will ‘bet’ that wee young Max Verstappen racing in orange next year will be just like any other young upstart, or perhaps even worst, and he will be a frequent ‘crasher’ for at least a couple of years before he even begins to understand what racing in F1 is all about!

Daniel Ricciardo is doing well this year because he already has a few years’ experience in F1, and he has also benefited from the new regulations which is negating most drivers of their experience of previous cars, and thus acting as a leveller, as Vettel has found!

Daniel Ricciardo is possibly a champion of the future, if fate is in his favour, with a great car and a good team!?

5

I bet we see the waterworks his first stack.

6

Interesting that in yesterdays press conference a lot of the drivers said they’d have struggled at 17 but now it’s not such a problem because the cars are physically easier to drive. They suggested the barrier before was purely physical and not ability or race craft.

With the physical aspect of F1 hugely reduced it seems 17 isn’t such a big deal any more.

My concern with bringing in such a young driver to F1 is that if it is too soon he could be washed up and out of the sport by 18 or 19. Red Bull could actually be denying us some great future 25 year old racers.

7
kenneth chapman

@ jason….some very good points raised there and i agree with most of them. well said.

8

I feel the biggest issue is not so much the age because he will get some practice this year and in testing the car next year. It will be the strength and stamina required to drive the car for up to two hours in a sport where a tenth of a second can make all the difference.

Age nowadays is less of an issue than before because people simply grow up quicker. Age never stopped any of these self-made millionaires online or any of these footballers.

How young is too young? The FIA made their ruling so let’s see. A mature 17 year old is fundamentally more mature than an immature 29 year old.

What if this guy does NOT disobey team orders like Vettel, is he more mature? What if he doesn’t post pics on Twitter, is he more mature than Lewis? What if he doesn’t sulk and try to blackmail his team over a spygate scandal or benefit from a team mate crashing, is he more mature than Alonso? Or maybe he won’t cry “understeer” every time he drives the car badly compared to a team mate like Button. Is he thus more mature than the four World Champions above if he just does none of them things? I find them all immature when they moan about not being allowed past, moan about the team publicly and pretty much do things the rest of us would be fired for.

Maybe he has discipline. Maybe he listened to his grandparents. Maybe he doesn’t believe the sun shines out of his behind. Because of that, he may well be the most mature driver out there. We just don’t know. That is not down to age and all about upbringing.

Given his dad didn’t exactly set the world alight, perhaps he has learned from that and applied himself xx% more than his father could.

Sure, he will lack experience but then we all once kissed a girl for the first time, all once had a first job, all once sat a first exam and all once sat in a car for the first time. Given for all of them experiences, we all went in cold turkey with no coaching, what makes us think it will be any harder for an already amazing driver to jump into a car that on the basic level is simply faster and more powerful than the ones he’s already driven? It is a big step but not quite as big as going from never racing to F1. He will be ok I am sure.

9

While I wish Max Verstappen the best of luck I hope we are not graced with his father doing interviews from the paddock on TV.

http://www.crash.net/f1/news/175863/1/verstappen-arrested-charged-with-attempted-murder.html

10
Kieran Donnelly

I see no real reason why he won’t be like any other new driver coming into Formula 1. He may surprise us with talent or, equally, with stupid mistakes; he may just fail to impress or not be able to adjust to F1 driving and slide out of view like so many other highly-rated also-rans. Were these drivers bad drivers? For the most part, probably not but they suffered from reliability issues, poor cars, problems with tyres or brakes or car balance that they just could not drive around, or merely were always in the shadow of a mercurial team-mate. Some who had done so well elsewhere then never managed to succeed in F1 – others who were written off (Grosjean) would now be pretty highly rated. Max will have to tread his own path through the minefield – skill and chance will play equal part in whether he makes it through or not

11
kenneth chapman

a well reasoned approach.

12

Is it a really a matter of drivers or their age? Red Bull was competing Mercedes to have Max in their boat. Red Bull had just a card Mercedes didn`t to give a guy F1 seat. Surely Mercedes was slapped by Red Bull and they are having a war there. So, like in war there will be casual victims and in this case it can be viewers, Max, other drivers and as James delicately put- F1…. but in real world it is just a natural involvement of things where everything happens for a reason and in such a competitive environment you have to do things before others.

You start sooner you burn out quicker. Nobody cares about that, even his own dad pushes him on. Embrace the fact and try to enjoy F1 as long as you can. They don`t care of their own, why should we?

About this Alonso guy and constant case of putting him as a yardstick- one swallow doesn` t make a summer and he is more a exception than a rule, and he did spent years in no competitive environment. He even didn`t know what to expect in a near future. So he had time for himself to grow but today guys have to deliver right away and they know exactly what to expect – who wants to know their time of death? Sometimes not knowing is a bless.

13

BTW,

did you notice autosport.com is preparing ground for the next gimmick: “Reverse grids would

guarantee F1 action” ?

http://plus.autosport.com/premium/feature/6154/reverse-grids-would-guarantee-f1-action/?_ga=1.105998918.470764779.1384954624

(subscription required)

Against stupidity the gods themselves contend in vain… .

14

I hope the reverse grids do not materialize. What’s the point of qualifying then?

I am more in favor of getting rid of qualifying altogether and let the cars start in the order they finished the last race. This will encourage racing on race day as it will have an influence on your grid position in the next race.

Saturdays could be reserved for testing and the fans.

15

I’m not keen on the idea of grids based on the previous race and I do enjoy watching qualifying, but I’ll take your idea over reverse grids any day.

16

We’ve got it wrong a few times re the new drivers (or new pair of drivers). We thought that Kimi was far too inexperienced for F1, that Alonso would crush Hamilton (who would crush Rosberg), that Vettel would crush Ricciardo, and so on. Max may well surprise us.

However, he will have to grow quite quickly up to F1 standards if he wants to survive – I got a bit concerned when I read his BBC-R5 quote of “I think the biggest step I had was karting to F3. I think F3 to F1 will be a smaller step.” I’m not an insider, but I would tend to disagree on that one.

By the way, James – good to know that Jaime will be racing in FE, he deserves a decent seat.

17

Hi James,

I visit your website regularly and can sense from the tone of your article how strongly you feel about this. I was surprised Vertsappen was given the drive, not only becaause of his youth but also because of drivers competing in GP2 and other premier single seater series whoa re more deserving of the opportunity.

I remember watching Jenson Button in British F3 on channel 4 in 1999 and then suddenly seeing him in Formula 1 next season!He obviously made the most of the opportunity as did Raikonnen but as I recall the Williams test opportunity was also given to Bruno Junquiera,then racing in Formula 3000.

I do wish Vertsappen all the best but it is not a decision that sits well with me…

Jonathan

18

I think that experts like Prost and Berger know a little bit more than those here on this forum. They think it is the right decision and fully support it.

The kid will do fine..

19

He should be in school on fridays.

These machines have obviously become to easy. Physically that is

20

Given Max Verstappen’s age and limited car racing experience, I would say my minimum expectations from him would be (1) to bring the car home in one piece in majority of the races, (2) to limit the crashes in between practice and qualifying sessions, and (3) to be at most maybe 0.5-0.7s off Daniil Kyvat’s pace. But although I am skeptical of Red Bull’s (Dr. Helmut Marko’s) decision to draft Verstappen Jr. at such a young age, I do hope things go well for the Dutchman and that he meets/exceeds expectations (a la Kimi Raikkonen and Fernando Alonso, back in 2001). Everyone loves a fairytale ending every now and then.

One thing for sure I hope young Max won’t allow to happen is for his temper to get the better of him: at 17 years old, kids still tend to be at that age where they think they’re invincible/Superman (e.g. if they went head to head with a freight train, it would be the train that would crumple and not them). I do hope he’s mature enough to stay grounded, and that his inner circle will be one that fosters that sort of environment. The last thing anyone would want to happen is for him to get into a devastating accident all because he got carried away by the moment (similar to that recent tragedy in a Sprint Car Race in the U.S., where a young driver was killed when he walked out in middle of track after crashing out, to try and confront the guy he collided with who was still running).

Lastly, I don’t think Max Verstappen starting at a such young age diminishes F1 or is a sign that F1 is getting easier. It’s just that at this day and age, technology is so advanced (simulators, video games) and information is so readily available, that people belonging to Generations Y and Z are able to take advantage and advance their skills/knowledge at a much faster rate.

21

My guess is, if the driver in question was British, you would be talking about how great he was and how good he was gonna be in an F1 car…

Innit?

#Dutchie

22
kenneth chapman

hahahaha….spot on. it would be headline banners stating’ great new british talent’ etc etc etc.

23

great article James …and well said on all points.

‘Race car driving’ …as opposed to – ‘tearing a fast thing around a track and bugger the consequences’ – takes time. Not just talent. Its a learned art.

This is on par with a school kid going up against Brett Lee and James Anderson at a Test match at Lords, both coming in, with a tail wind ..and doing it every second week.

errr … good luck.

24

Just another thought. Presumably he is one of the lightest drivers on the grid and so will suit the current minimum weight limits. I hope for his sake he doesn’t have a “growth spurt” during the next couple of years!

25

Seems ridiculous that someone what was still driving Go-Karts at the end of 2013 is now suitably qualified to drive an F1 car in 2015.

Indicates that F1 is now too easy.

26

An idea for Red Bull.

You’ve already proven a lot. Now you have the youngest ever kid in F1. But Newey is bored.

Get a woman into F1. Give her 1 year intro at STR. That year Newey works on absolute optimization of an F1 car to a woman’s needs for upcoming season, taking into consideration possible weigth distribution benefits, optimizing systems to female body strength needs. Next year STR becomes the most complete effort to get a woman to a F1 championship. Throw everything behind it. It will be a first, which Red Bull loves. It will be reported everywhere, for as long as F1 exists this achievement will be linked to Red Bull.

Let’s get on it. I’m sure Newey would enjoy the challenge. Start the auditions for the driver ASAP. Beside getting Vettel to 8 WDCs, and Max to reset WDC clock at youngest age what other things can Red Bull achieve in F1 beside buying F1 and owning it outright?

27

Red Bull must accept full responsibility for the consequences of this decision. I believe they are wrong to put so much pressure and expectation on a “child” of this age. Its now men against boys apparently and I fail to see any logic in this decision other than PR when there are talented and more experienced young drivers out there. Let him learn his trade in a lower formula for at least another year and then see where we are. RB have a lot to answer for and I think the qualifications for a super licence need to be looked at carefully by the FIA in the light of this.

28
kenneth chapman

@ scott D…why should red bull accept ‘full responsibility’ for these consequences? did they actually demand his acceptance of a drive at the end of a gun pointed at their heads? c’mon. time to reflect and take a cool look before issuing a damning appraisal.

do you seriously think for one minute that red bull didn’t weigh up all the possibilities, look at the performance levels, look at the mental ability to handle a car in challenging circumstances and peruse all the data tracking flows available? we are talking here about highly paid and professional people making extremely difficult decisions. i will live with that until proved categorically to have been wrong and even then if it was a wrong decision why was it wrong? very complex.

29

you know, after reading all these comments, i am somewhat surprised at the negativity being shown when max hasn’t even driven in one F1 race? talk about superficial.

i have to admit that i am frequently amazed at the ‘maturity’ of young people today. to put this in perspective, young people can master so many skills that older people just cannot manage. mental accuity is certainly heightened by the very society we now live in. i frequently underestimate younger peoples intelligence, ingenuity and adaptability. maybe that is just me but i doubt it. only after vertappen has had at least 6 months in the TR will we be able to materially judge whether he is up there or just another vergne/alger/buemi/speed or dare i say liuzzi. give the kid a chance.

30

At first I was on the fence regarding Max, too young, lack of experience all of that. However after reading the endless complaints from middle aged men about “kids these days” I’m now firmly planted in the pro-Max camp. It is obvious that F1 needs some fresh blood and some youthful vigor instead of an endless barrage of “oh no, no, everything was better in the old days”.

Times change, that’s a fact. And no, I’m not a fan of all of the changes (double points are of course stupid), but it’s pointless to navigate by looking in the mirrors .

I hope Max makes a very successful rookie year in F1 to shut up all the negativity. And if he doesn’t? Well then this whole debacle did at least mange to rattle the cage a little bit.

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