Kimi Räikkönen & Sebastian Vettel

Kimi Räikkönen & Sebastian Vettel

sunnuntai 31. elokuuta 2014

Max Verstappen -too young for Formula 1?

Max Verstappen has recently been confirmed as Toro Rosso´s new driver for 2015 and the 16-year-old Dutchman will replace the Frenchman Jean-Eric Vergne in the team. There´s no doubt that Verstappen is one of Europe´s hottest racing talents at the moment. Still, the news of Verstappen´s step into Formula 1 has raised lots of contradictory talks. No one denies the exceptional talent that Verstappen has: as 16 years old this young man is already world champion and multiple European champion in karting! He´s currently competing  in European F3 championship and has already won 8 races in his maiden season!

So the question isn´t about his talent but his age: he´ll only turn 17 at the end of September. Verstappen is about to become the youngest F1 driver in history. Alguersuari made his debut with the same Red Bull -owned team in 2009 aged 19 years, which was also considered a very young age. So the question is: can a 16-year-old ever be ready for the pinnacle of motorsport, no matter how talented he is? The exceptional ability of both Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel were identified at similar ages but both of these skilled drivers had to wait for their F1 debut. I admit there is a controversy: Max Verstappen is still so young that he can´t legally drive on the roads of his native country! But the Toro Rosso team principal Franz Tost considers the Dutchman ready for the most challenging, most sophisticated form of motorsport there is.

Partly it´s question of F1´s credibility. Will F1 lose its image as the pinnacle of motorsport if a 16-year-old youngster is able to step into the F1 world? F1 is considered to be the toughest and the most dangerous racing category there is and it takes a huge amount of experience and skills to be able to be part of it. Can a 16-year-old youngster even be physically fit enough to race in F1? I would say most racing drivers of his age can´t! But there´re always exceptions. And these exceptions are so rare that I don´t think they actually decrease the plausibility of F1. You have to go over 10 years back in time to find an exception like Verstappen: Kimi Räikkönen made his debut in F1 in 2001 as "an inexperienced" driver as well. Many people thought he didn´t have enough experience to race in F1 but all those odds proved wrong! I agree that most drivers should step into F1 after competing in GP3 and GP2 categories, that´s what those lower categories are for. I would be worried about F1´s credibility if every year there was "an amazing driver" coming into F1 straight from karting tracks at very young age. But that´s not the case. Max Verstappen is a very rare exception and him stepping into F1 as 16 years old doesn´t undermine the credibility of the F1 world!

Then there´s the other question: can a 16-year-old ever be mentally ready for the cruel world of F1 racing? There certainly are demanding mental challenges awaiting him in the world of F1. Sometimes I feel also the current and some quite experienced drivers face difficulties to cope with the pressure: Hamilton for instance has shown signs of cracking under pressure at difficult times. Maturity often comes with age but I still think that age is just a number. Mental skills are individual, such as racing skills. And Verstappen certainly has an advantage as his father Jos is an ex- Formula 1 driver, who knows what it´s like to race in the pinnacle of the motorsport so he´s the best person to make his son adapt to the F1 world. So I would say that Verstappen has all the preconditions to success.

Many people seem to be worried about the risk that this unique possibility involves. What if Verstappen fails and his racing career will be over before he even turns 20? When you step into F1 the risk is always there. No matter how much success and glory you´ve achieved in lower racing categories, succeeding in F1 can never be taken for granted. So the risk would still be there if you waited for some years before making the debut in F1. And if Verstappen hadn´t seized this opportunity, how could he have been sure that there was going to be a chance to step into F1 later? If you´re offered a chance to race in Formula 1 and you´re considered to be ready to do that, you should seize the opportunity! Risky or not.

It takes a lot of self-confidence to put other people´s talks aside but I think Verstappen has every chance to succeed in F1, if only he is able to keep his head together. And what if he fails? Like Alguersuari, who previously held the record of being the youngest F1 driver. In spite of being considered as an extremely talented driver he never grew up to a GP winner. But it wasn´t the end of the world for Alguersuari, who now races in Formula E championship for Virgin Racing. Risks are not only a part of the F1 world: life in general is full of different kinds of risks. But when one door closes, another one opens, I believe in this philosophy.

For one particular reason I´m extremely happy that Max Verstappen will race in F1 next season. And that´s because he was confirmed to the team due to his exceptional talent, not because of his sponsors or the amount of money he would bring to the team! If there´s something that undermines the credibility of F1, it´s the pay drivers! There´re too many teams which are forced to choose their drivers on the basis of their sponsor packages, which is not good for the image of Formula 1. And this is why I end my blog post by saying that no, Max Verstappen isn´t too young for F1!

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