Verstappen growing in confidence during testing

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Max Verstappen has revealed that he is feeling increasingly confident and comfortable behind the wheel of the Toro Rosso STR10 ahead of his full F1 debut at next month’s Australian Grand Prix.

Verstappen, 17, is set to become the youngest driver in the history of F1 to start a race, smashing the existing record held by former Toro Rosso driver Jaime Alguersuari.

His move into F1 after just one year in single seaters sparked concern in the sport’s community, prompting a raft of new requirements to race from the FIA.

As of 2016, drivers will have to be at least 18 years of age when making their debut and hold a valid driver’s license in their home country.

In Barcelona today though, Verstappen enjoyed a very successful day, finishing second on the timesheets after leading for most of the day and completing 129 laps.

“A good session and the first time I’ve done over a hundred laps in a single day,” Verstappen said. “We got through a lot of items on the job sheet, with some faster runs in the morning. The car felt really good and it seems we are improving the car step by step.

“Compared to after the first test in Jerez, I feel more confident and more comfortable with the car, as I start to learn about every aspect of the job. Now, I’m really looking forward to seeing what the engineers can come up with for the final test here next week.”

Verstappen’s day came to an early end due to a clutch problem, forcing him to park his car up at the side of the track with 20 minutes remaining in the day.

“He had plenty of pit stop practice and that’s what caused him to stop just before the end of the day, as the clutch had had enough,” Toro Rosso chief race engineer Phil Charles explained. “It was a case of having worn the car out with all that work rather than a technical problem.”

Carlos Sainz Jr. will take up the reins of the STR10 for the final day of the second pre-season test in Barcelona tomorrow.

Max Verstappen, Sergio Perez and Formula One embrace the United States

Verstappen Perez United States
Jared C. Tilton / Getty Images
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Last week, Red Bull Racing revealed their new car, the RB19, and a new relationship with US-based Ford Motors in a press event in New York City complete with drivers Max Verstappen, Sergio Perez and Team Principle Christian Horner. They are the only Formula 1 team to launch in the United States, but even that small move of the needle reflects a major shift in the attitude of both F1’s management and their teams – and the extent to which the American audience has fully embraced the sport.

“It’s something fantastic and unique, for the sport to be able to break it into the U.S,” Perez told NBC Sports. “The market is huge and it’s a huge opportunity for everyone involved, for the drivers, for the team. It’s always a huge market.”

Verstappen Perez United States
Sergio Perez finished fourth in the Unites States Grand Prix, but he was first with the fans.  – Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

In 2023, Formula 1 will race three times in the United States and five times in North America. The Circuit of the Americas will host their 11th consecutive race in October before heading south to Mexico City. Miami returns for a second time in May on a temporary street course around the Hard Rock cafe and the third addition is in downtown Las Vegas in November.

With the Canadian Grand Prix on the schedule for June and the Brazilian Grand Prix in November, American fans are now in the ballpark of Europeans, who have eight events on the continent and one in England.

In 2022, Verstappen won every race in North America. He was kept from sweeping the hemisphere only by George Russell, who won in Brazil. That fact is less remarkable when one considers that Verstappen won 15 times in the season – nearly two-thirds of the races on the schedule.

By the time Formula arrived in Austin for Round 20 of 23, Verstappen had already wrapped up his second consecutive championship.

“Sometimes it can be hard to replicate the season, but I think it’s the same as with the car, right? You always try to improve it,” Verstappen told NBC Sports. “And I always look at the little details that even when you have had a good race, you could have done better. And then of course you also learn from the bad races. So we always try to look for these little improvements and general experience you gain year after year.

“You try to do better, but of course it also depends a lot on the package you have.”

Verstappen Perez United States
Max Verstappen United States Grand Prix win was one of 15 for the drivers and 17 for Red Bull.
(Gongora / NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Now Verstappen’s thoughts will inevitably turn to establishing a dynasty – and America will again play a pivotal role.

“I just enjoy what I’m doing,” Verstappen said.  “After the years in Formula One, when you have to be on top of your game and you gain a lot on your experience – in that sense nothing really can get to you anymore. Every year you just try to do the best you can. But a lot depends on the material around you. It’s always a bit of a guess. Start the season as fit as you can be and be well prepared. But if you don’t have the car, you’re not going to win the championship.”

Perez added two wins to Red Bull’s total, at Monaco and the Marina Bay Street course. With two of the US 2023 races on street courses, Perez hopes to close the gap on Verstappen and potentially be his principle rival for the championship.

“The strategy is clear; it is to maximize the potential of the car – and we believe we have a good car, but how good?,” Perez said “We don’t know what the competition is doing. We just give our best in building this car and we hope that it’s good enough to get us to win races.

“I think we have to work together as a team. At the same time. We both want to win the championship. It’s just having good compromise. The competition will be really strong out there, so we really need everything we possibly can get from each other.”

Formula One returns to the United States for Round 6 and the Miami Grand Prix on May 7.