From the cradle, to karts, to Formula 1 glory, the story of Max Verstappen is nothing short of astonishing. But is it all coming too soon for the stubble-free 18-year-old? Andrew Maitland writes:
Think about when you were seventeen. For me, I had just completed my final year of high school yet couldn’t face the prospect of university. So I deferred, had fun drinking and smoking for a year and then got back to business the following year. Amid the girls, the booze and the driving too fast around corners on country roads at 3am, I was definitely no Max Verstappen — a young Dutchman who is showing signs of the kind of generation-defining brilliance encapsulated by a Fangio, a Senna or a Schumacher.
But maybe, just maybe, Max – just like the rest of us were – is just a silly teenager after all.
Although fiercely envious of the life and success now awaiting him, I do sympathise with Verstappen. He has told a tale of, when even a younger boy in top-level international karting, he threw away a weekend of his father Jos’ hard work by crashing. On the long drive home to Holland, Verstappen senior – once Michael Schumacher’s F1 teammate – refused to utter a single word to his child. A week later, the pair still had not exchanged a word. Max has admitted he did some crying during that week, and others like it.
He has grown up incredibly fast. From meteoric karting success into top single seaters, the F1 world watched his entire, rapid-fire development. Together with Jos, they turned down Mercedes at the end of 2014 because the world champions could not promise him a race seat somewhere until 2016. Red Bull’s junior team Toro Rosso was the perfect fast-track to the grand prix grid for Max — so fast in fact that the FIA quickly closed the loophole of allowing 17-year-olds who don’t shave to join motor racing’s top category.
But Max proved quickly that he is different, demonstrating incredible daring and bravery in his audacious overtaking and yet the calmness and maturity of men a decade older than him.
By race five of 2016, Verstappen had thrown the more steadily-developing career of 22-year-old Daniil Kvyat into turmoil by being parachuted into the top Red Bull Racing cockpit. He won immediately. Indeed, the next Senna or Schumacher has definitely arrived!
Or has it? Once the champagne had dried and the tabloid headline writers found another instant success to hail, a calmer look will show that Daniel Ricciardo – just as livid after Spain as he is now after Monaco – should have won in Barcelona. Red Bull gave him the best strategy – the three-stopper – but it turned out that Max’s second-choice two-stopper was the unintended winner.
Similarly, with Renault only giving Red Bull one version of its more powerful new engine for Monaco, it duly went into the lead driver’s car — Ricciardo’s.
So in qualifying, Max – having spent the preceding days being hounded by Red Bull’s press officers for congratulatory one-on-one interviews with the world’s mainstream titles – promptly binned his car with a rookie smash into the unforgiving Monaco barriers, just as he had a year ago in F1’s most prestigious race. Then, the very next day, he binned it again, his pained sigh on the radio after telling the team “Ohhh, I crashed” revealing the stress of living up to his new status as perhaps the best talent F1 has ever seen.
Verstappen will surely win world championships. I just wish I could turn down the speed at which the pressure is piling on the shoulders of a boy who does not yet even shave.