17-year-old Max Verstappen has gone a long way to silencing many of his critics by putting in an impressive display during practice for the Japanese Grand Prix at Suzuka today.
Less than one year after racing in a single seater car for the first time, and just three days after his 17th birthday, Verstappen got behind the wheel of the Toro Rosso STR09 for practice at one of Formula 1’s most famous circuits.
The Dutchman has been subject to a fierce debate about the experience and maturity required to race in the sport. Most have welcomed him into the paddock, whilst others have been less receptive – Jacques Villeneuve labelled him “the worst thing ever to happen to F1”.
Verstappen’s practice debut was brought forward to this weekend in order to prepare for his first race start next March in Australia, and he quickly set about silencing his critics with an impressive display.
Although there is plenty of room for improvement in terms of his driving style, Verstappen’s pace was good as he finished 12th on the timesheets, just four-tenths shy of regular Toro Rosso driver Daniil Kvyat.
Verstappen’s session came to an early end when his turbo blew in the final few minutes, but he was very pleased with his running at Suzuka on Friday as he became the youngest driver to ever take part in a grand prix weekend session.
“Today for me it was all about getting experience in the car, especially on a difficult track like Suzuka,” he said. “I was impressed with the engine power. The car is bigger compared to the one I’m used to in Formula 3 and there are a lot more things to think about while you’re driving, so I had to use some laps to get confident with such a different car.
“I was not taking any risks and I drove within my limits for all the session, doing as much mileage as possible. I have to thank Red Bull and Scuderia Toro Rosso for giving me the possibility to be in the car already this year on Fridays and get well prepared for next year.
“I find myself very comfortable in this team and I like my working group. I hope to drive also in Austin, Sao Paolo and Abu Dhabi. Now that I know what it means to drive a Formula 1 car, I’m looking forward to it even more.”
Verstappen will return to his Formula 3 racer next weekend for the penultimate round of the FIA F3 European Championship at Imola in Italy.