Seventeen years ago a sweeping referendum secured Scotland its own parliament and forever altered the United Kingdom’s political landscape. Princess Diana died, Steve Jobs returned to a struggling Apple and Mike Tyson infamously bit a chunk out of Evander Holyfield’s ear. Britain officially returned Hong Kong to China, ending a 99-year lease of the island and a fresh-faced Tiger Woods became the youngest winner of the Masters aged just 21.
1997 was also the year that Dutch racing legend Jos Verstappen’s first and only son was born.
Max Emelian Verstappen, too young to legally drive in the Netherlands, made his Formula 1 debut at the Melbourne Grand Prix this weekend as the sport’s youngest competitor.
A great deal of concern has been raised by many illustrious figures in the build up to this sporting landmark, with former world champion Jacques Villeneuve decrying Verstappen’s entry into the history books as “the worst thing ever” for Formula One.
The FIA altered the regulations following Verstappen’s signing to ensure that from next year, qualification for a F1 super-licence is reliant on being over 18 and having competed for at least three years in other series.
Of all the illustrious stars that joined Verstappen on the track it is Jenson Button who can best empathise with the young driver. With a successful karting background, Button made his F1 debut 15 years ago at just 20, facing a similarly trepidatious response to his tender age.
Now very much one of the old statesman of racing, the McLaren driver has expressed surprise that Toro Rosso have decided to allow Verstappen to race in Formula One at such a young age, rather than giving him a longer opportunity to build up his experience.
While admitting that the Flying Dutchman is “obviously very talented”, Button believes it is “always best for a driver to have more experience when he jumps into an F1 car.”
Verstappen certainly lacks longevity of experience in racing at such a high level. Despite beginning karting at just four and winning his first race aged seven, he only graduated to racing cars in 2014. However, his debut in Formula 3 has been successful, coming third in the European Championship and winning F3 Masters, if recent.
It goes without saying that safety is vitally important. Allowing an incapable driver on the track endangers all those competing with them as much as the individual themselves.
Nevertheless, the young driver is supported by both his rallycross champion father, and successful kart racing mother, both of whom certainly appreciate the dangers a premature entry into F1 would entail.
Despite the admission that “the most important thing is to be careful,” Jos ‘The Boss’ believes that Max “has the skills and is very good at what he does” and that ultimately “if he gets the right car in the right place at the right moment I am 100% sure he’ll be on top.”
Such faith has been echoed by Toro Rosso. Sky Sports’ David Croft believes the team is “really happy with Verstappen.” The team stand united in their decision, which is more than can be said for Sauber, recently accused of guaranteeing at least three drivers race seats.
Ultimately if they didn’t have confidence in the Dutchman he wouldn’t be allowed to represent them on the track. Given the success of Red Bull’s young driver programme we must respect their judgement.
Despite his age, the 17-year-old is obviously sensible. However, such maturity is matched by an ambition for greatness. “I want to break all the records,” the Dutchman admitted, but is in no rush for the spoils of victory and is willing to take the time to learn. “I’m not bothered about the age I win. I just want to win the World Championship.”
So long as Max’s ability to gain experience and learn continues to equal his resolve to win, there will be no Verstapping him.