F1? 'It's more dangerous than riding a bike'

Dutch teenage GP prospect is fearless, writes Daniel Johnson

Red Bull's newest recruit to Formula One, Dutch racing driver Max Verstappen, 16, talks things over with his father, former F1 driver Jos Verstappen.Picture / AFP
Red Bull's newest recruit to Formula One, Dutch racing driver Max Verstappen, 16, talks things over with his father, former F1 driver Jos Verstappen.Picture / AFP

The 16-year-old boy who is poised to become the youngest driver in Formula One history says riding a bicycle through a major city is more dangerous than taking the wheel of an F1 car.

Max Verstappen, who has signed for Toro Rosso, the Red Bull junior team, will not be allowed to drive on the road in his native Holland without the supervision of an instructor when he makes his debut in the sport aged 17 next year. If Verstappen were to finish on the podium, he would also legally not be permitted to drink the champagne.

The Dutch teenager has been setting the world alight in Formula Three this year, winning eight races, but his call-up at such a young age is likely to be a major source of debate when Formula One comes back from its summer break, in Belgium this weekend.

Verstappen, however, exuded confidence after the announcement that he was to replace Jean-Eric Vergne in 2015. "Ever since I was 7 years old Formula One has been my career goal," he told the BBC.

"I think the biggest step I had was karting to Formula Three. I think Formula Three to Formula One will be a smaller step. I'm not that worried about it.

"The cars are really safe. I think it's more dangerous to bike through a big city than race in an F1 car. I'm a relaxed guy so I think I will handle [the attention]."

The 16-year-old is the son of Jos Verstappen, 42, who raced in 106 grands prix from 1994 to 2003, including as teammate to Michael Schumacher at Benetton when the German won the World Championship.

Spain's Jaime Alguersuari holds the record for the youngest driver in F1, making his debut for Toro Rosso when he was 19 years and 125 days old in 2009. While he lost his seat just two years later, Verstappen will smash the current record by nearly two years when he races in the sport for the first time.

The Dutchman has contested fewer than 40 races in single seaters, although that is not totally unheard of, with current Ferrari driver Kimi Raikkonen having completed just 23 when he began in F1.

However, many of the sport's elder statesmen are likely to be nervous at Verstappen making his debut so young, particularly given repeated criticism of some young drivers who have shown themselves to be reckless in their race craft.

Tony Jardine, the former McLaren assistant team manager, who also worked at Brabham and Lotus, feels that the Dutchman will face a frosty reception from some of his competitors. "He looks like a wonder kid, but he is going to be the youngest ever on a grand prix grid," Jardine said. "What the senior drivers will think about it - don't ask them, because they won't like it."

John Watson, a five-time winner and championship runner-up in 1982, agreed that it would be a baptism of fire for Verstappen - especially given the cut-throat manner in which Red Bull disposes of young drivers deemed surplus to requirements.

Watson said: "The concern some of the more established drivers might have is are we bringing in drivers who are not emotionally or mentally mature to deal with difficult judgments, which they've got to make in milliseconds and it's got to be the right judgment. He's got a remarkable degree of self-confidence and assurance.

"I don't think the driving bit will be an issue whatsoever, but it might be more difficult in dealing with the enormously high expectation Red Bull place in their young drivers, which can be a huge pressure. He will have to grow up really quickly."

In Verstappen's favour is the current generation of Formula One cars, which do not demand the same physical strength required when Jenson Button and Lewis Hamilton first entered the sport in the 2000s.

Daniil Kvyat, a remarkably skinny figure who will partner Verstappen next year, has also enjoyed an incredible start to his F1 career in 2014 despite concerns that the 19-year-old was too young.

Like Kvyat, Verstappen will be following in the footsteps of the four-time champion Sebastian Vettel and Daniel Ricciardo, the surprise package of this year, in moving through Red Bull's junior programme.

Toro Rosso team principal Franz Tost said that Verstappen had the "mental strength" to prosper in Formula One. "We consider Max to be one of the most skilled young drivers of the new generation," he said.

Vergne, who becomes the latest in a string of drivers to fall out of favour with Red Bull, said he still had "a lot to show in F1".

-Telegraph Group Ltd

- Daily Telegraph UK

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