Verstappen remains relaxed ahead of F1 debut at 17

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He may only be 17 years old, but Max Verstappen remains relaxed and unflustered ahead of his Formula 1 grand prix debut in Sunday’s Australian Grand Prix.

Verstappen’s rise to an F1 seat with Toro Rosso has sparked controversy in the sport, with many believing that he is simply too inexperienced and too young to be racing in the premier global single seater series.

The FIA has responded to the Dutchman’s debut by introducing a number of new rules for the 2016 season, such as drivers having to be at least 18 years of age and hold a valid road driver’s license to race in F1.

Verstappen will smash Jaime Alguersuari’s existing youngest driver record by over eighteen months on Sunday, but does not feel under pressure for his debut.

“I hope so!” Verstappen said when asked if he felt ready to race. “We’ll see.

“Compared to last year, I did three Friday practices, the car is a really good step forward, especially on the long runs we did. It was very promising. I felt really good in the car, I could do a lot of laps. I was really happy about that and it gives me a lot of confidence to go into this race.”

Speaking in a press conference on Thursday, the drivers sitting alongside Verstappen were asked to give the young Dutchman some words of advice.

“Just go and enjoy it, I guess,” Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo said. “Get behind the wheel and remember that’s the main reason why you’re here, is to be on track: Friday, Saturday, Sunday. Enjoy those few hours and I think then the rest will come.”

“I think that despite the fact that he’s still young, I think he has a lot of experience,” said Sebastian Vettel, who made his F1 debut at 19 years old. “He’s quick, otherwise he wouldn’t be here, so I don’t think he needs much advice. Take it easy, maybe.”

Lewis Hamilton made his debut back in 2007 for McLaren at the age of 22, and was shocked to realize that he was the oldest driver in the press conference.

“I’ve only just realized, I’m the oldest driver here, for the first time,” Hamilton said. “I’ve kind of only just realized it. Jeez.

“I signed my first contract with McLaren in 1997 [the year Verstappen was born].”

He may be young, but the early signs suggest that Max Verstappen has the makings of a very special driver indeed. However, he will be looking to deliver on this promise from the beginning in Australia on Sunday to silence his critics and prove that he is more than ready for F1.

Valtteri Bottas wins chaotic season-opening F1 Austrian Grand Prix

Mark Thompson/Getty Images
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SPIELBERG, Austria — Valtteri Bottas won a chaotic season-opening F1 Austrian Grand Prix while six-time series champion Lewis Hamilton finished fourth after getting a late time penalty Sunday.

The Formula One race was interrupted three times by a safety car, and nine of 20 drivers abandoned, including both Red Bulls of Max Verstappen and Alexander Albon – who tried to overtake Hamilton on the outside with 10 laps left, touched wheels and flew off track.

Hamilton was given a 5-second time penalty for causing the collision, having earlier been hit with a three-place grid penalty after an incident in Saturday’s qualifying was reviewed by stewards.

SHOW OF SUPPORT: Drivers take knee before race

Bottas led all 71 laps in the eighth victory of his career. It was the second consecutive victory in the season opener for the Finn, though he won four months earlier in 2019 after this season’s start was delayed by the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

Lando Norris of McLaren F1 celebrates after his first podium finish (Mark Thompson/Getty Images).

Bottas started from pole position and Hamilton from fifth, but it looked like a straight fight between the two Mercedes drivers as has been the case so often in recent years.

But late drama in Spielberg ensured otherwise and Hamilton’s time penalty meant Charles Leclerc took second place for Ferrari, and Lando Norris sent McLaren’s garage into raptures – and threw all social distancing rules out of the window amid the euphoria – with third place.

It was the 20-year-old British driver’s first career podium, and his superb final lap was the fastest of a dramatic season opener.

Norris became the youngest British driver to secure a podium finish and the third-youngest ever in Formula One.

Valtteri Bottas leads Mercedes teammate Lewis Hamilton during the Formula One Grand Prix of Austria (Mark Thompson/Getty Images).