Max Verstappen’s first lap in China was straight out of a video game. Not only does he make it look easy passing 8 cars, but it’s interesting that he starts the race in 2nd gear and also that he gains at least 100 metres on Dani Kvyat under braking for the final hairpin.
Data was released earlier this week confirming Max Verstappen made more overtaking manoeuvres than any other F1 driver in 2016, which perhaps isn’t a surprise (he held the same record last year too). In this brilliant video Verstappen tells Martin Brundle how his work behind the Safety Car, and his experience on a quadbike, helped him climb 13 places in 14 laps at the end of the Brazilian GP.
In 1994 the Benetton Formula One team dropped an underperforming driver halfway through the season in favour of a young charger called Jos Verstappen. Jos was hugely talented but the sudden opportunity with a winning team was arguably too much too soon. Despite his natural speed, Verstappen struggled with inexperience and was dropped by Benetton 4 months later.
Fast forward to 2016 and Red Bull are taking a similar chance with Max Verstappen. The youngest driver in F1 history is a champion in the making but competing alongside Daniel Ricciardo without much preparation will expose him to a lot of pressure and expectation very early in his career. Red Bull have shown they don’t offer many second chances so Verstappen’s big opportunity is also a big risk. Thankfully Max can ask his Dad for advice.
Max Verstappen will race with Toro Rosso in 2015 but even if Red Bull have a superstar on their hands they risk his long-term career by rushing him into F1 too quickly. Verstappen might be better off racing in GP2 for a season because there is evidence to suggest an extra year of preparation is very beneficial.
Lewis Hamilton and Marc Marquez are two great examples of the value of competing in junior categories. Both enjoyed instant success at the top level of racing because they took their time getting there. Hamilton was forced to spend an extra season in Formula 3 (McLaren wouldn’t let him move out of a category until he won it) whilst Marquez opted to stay in Moto2 during 2012 despite the opportunity to move upwards. Those extra years of development allowed Hamilton and Marquez to make the most of their potential and shine on the world stage when they arrived.
On the flip side of the coin are young stars that don’t get the chance to fully develop their skills. One current example is arguably Kevin Magnussen. Although hugely talented, Magnussen hasn’t looked as comfortable in Formula One as many expected and McLaren’s bosses are yet to extend his contract. A season of GP2 in 2014 might’ve been better for his long-term career prospects. Formula One is too unforgiving for it to be treated as a finishing school.
Max Verstappen is only 16 years old so time is on his side. There is no need to rush him, so why not prepare him? He might be ready for F1 but he might not be ready to succeed. A year of GP2 isn’t going to make him a worse driver is it?