11 days ago rumours were circulating that Red Bull were considering replacing Daniil Kvyat with Max Verstappen. The day after, the switch was confirmed. Now, Max Verstappen is the youngest ever race winner. We take a look at his Spanish Grand Prix weekend and why this was one of the most sensational wins in the history of Formula One.
Just last week the big news was that Max Verstappen would be driving for Red Bull from Spain onwards. Very few could’ve predicted what would come next. The 18 year old Dutch driver’s rise to Formula 1 glory has been rapid and remarkable.
Born in 1997, the son of former F1 driver Jos Verstappen began karting when he was 4 years old. After competing in the Rotax Max Minimax class and winning the Belgian championship, Max went on to win the 2007 Dutch Minimax championship. In 2010 he made the step up to international karting, finishing second in his first year to Alexander Albon, a current GP3 driver, at the KF3 World Cup. He continued in karting until 2013.
On 11th October 2013- less than three years ago- Verstappen had his first taste of a ‘proper’ racing car. After testing a Formula 3 car in the December, and going faster than regular Formula 3 drivers, he stepped into the European Formula 3 Championship for 2014. While on his way to third in that Championship, Max joined the Red Bull junior team, after refusing an offer from Mercedes. Six days after joining, on the 18th August 2014, it was announced that Max, who was 16 at the time, would become a Toro Rosso driver in 2015.
Many said he was too young and too inexperienced. Formula One even introduced a rule in January 2015 that drivers could only enter the sport once they were 18. But nothing phased the now 17 year old Verstappen.
After running in the Top 10 in his maiden race he was forced into retirement by engine troubles. He qualified 6th in his second Grand Prix at Malaysia and finished the race 7th, becoming the youngest F1 points scorer. The season progressed and, despite some rookie errors such as a dramatic crash with Romain Grosjean in Monaco, the points kept coming. He scored points in 10 of the 19 races in 2015 and won a number of awards at the FIA Prize Giving ceremony at the end of the season. He would stay at Toro Rosso for the next season, alongside Carlos Sainz.
2016 got off to a shaky start for Max. Many believed that he was showing signs of immaturity with his radio messages in the first Grand Prix demanding to be let past his team-mate Sainz. But after that messy Sunday afternoon, he has barely put a foot wrong. There was disappointment in Russia as his engine gave way with few laps to go. The disappointment of that race though was soon forgotten about when he got the call from Red Bull – he was moving to the main team.
The decision was met with outrage by some F1 fans online, seeing the decision as unjust to Daniil Kvyat, the man he replaced and the man who had scored Red Bull’s only podium of the year so far. After a busy week of seat fitting and settling in with his brand new team, Verstappen came to Spain expecting a weekend of getting to know his surroundings. Indeed, he was happy after his first turn in the car in Friday practice in Spain:
“I’m happy; for a first day you can’t complain! We got through a lot of work and did a lot of laps and I think that’s the most important thing for me at the moment. I’m still getting used to the car, I don’t feel its full limit yet. It’s a new car, but I wasn’t nervous this morning, I just wanted to experience the car, I was eager to just go out and drive. I’m still learning a lot about the car; the seat position, the steering wheel position, all the switches and the procedures are all completely different to the Toro Rosso, but we are working on it and it’s getting better and better. Red Bull Racing is a good team and I enjoy working with them. If we have a good feeling tomorrow I will do my best and from there on we will see what happens; for sure you need a few weekends to be fully comfortable.”
Saturday came and Max impressed once again in Qualifying. He couldn’t beat his team-mate but managed to line up fourth on the grid, ahead of the two Ferraris.
Even pre-race drama couldn’t distract Max from the job at hand:
1/2 VES had a glitch before the race when he put his helmet on and there was no hole in his balaclava for the drink bottle tube!
— Adam Cooper (@adamcooperF1) May 15, 2016
Verstappen was aided on the way to his maiden victory by Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg colliding on the first lap and also by his pit strategy which saw him do two stops- his team-mate and Sebastian Vettel did three stops. Max’s main rival for most of the race was Kimi Raikkonen, who had also followed a two stop strategy. Despite the Finn being under a second away from him through the closing stages, Verstappen held him off to become the first Dutch driver to stand on the top step of the podium in what will surely go down as one of Formula One’s most memorable Sunday afternoons.Embed from Getty Images
After the race, Verstappen spoke about his victory:
“It’s a very special feeling. Of course I didn’t expect to win. After the Mercedes pair crashed then you’re targeting a podium, but in the end to come out on top, it’s incredible. To hear the Dutch national anthem for the first time in Formula One, I have to think about my dad for sure and I heard he was crying, so yeah it’s unbelievable. He invested a lot of time in me and this achievement is also because of him. I wasn’t nervous during the race, I was just trying to focus and drive the best I could. We focused a lot on keeping the tyres alive because at my last stop I still had to do 32 laps until the end, but it worked out well. With five laps to the end I saw Kimi was dropping off a bit, he tried a few times and of course it kills your tyres and from there I just like ‘okay, focus on the tyres now and bring it home.’ I will for sure remember this and at the moment it’s just a great feeling. It’s amazing, I have no words for it. It was very good company on the podium, I mean Kimi even raced against my dad, so it’s very funny!”
With Monaco, a track that should suit Red Bull, up next – can he do it again in Round 6? Today proved that next to nothing can deter Max Verstappen and you’d have to say, at just 18 years old, he is the driver to watch for the future. The 15th May 2016 will be a day that we will, most likely, look back on in the future as the real emergence of an F1 superstar.
— Max Verstappen (@Max33Verstappen) May 15, 2016
After graduating in 2015 with a First Class honours degree in English Language and Literature, Nicky Haldenby, a lifelong fan of Formula 1, founded the Lights Out F1 Blog in 2016. Now in its sixth season, the blog has become a firm fan-favourite, delving deep into the sport’s history books and lifting the cover on unusual F1 statistics. Nicky also writes at F1Destinations and Motorsport Guides. In 2017 and 2018, he wrote for Badger GP. Nicky is also the host of the F1 Rewind Podcast and can be heard as the resident stats man on the 2 Soft Compounds Podcast.