The sports press never fails to glorify the very young athletes who make a big impact in their respective disciplines. In basketball, an 19-year old Lebron James in 2003 showed that teenagers out of high school can literally fly high in the basketball court and lead a team into the National Basketball Association finals a few years later, while in boxing, numerous 19-year olds like Manny Pacquiao, a 20-year old Mike Tyson and a 17-year old Wilfredo Benitez showed that very young fighters can become among the greatest in the sport’s history.
On May 16, Mars Verstappen, the son of Jos who started in 106 races in F1 but did not win one, scored his very first victory in his two-year F1 career at 18 years and 228 days old, beating the record set by Sebastian Vettel who was 21 years and 74 days old when he won his first F1 race on September 14, 2008.
Verstappen was promoted to the Red Bull F1 team from the Toro Rosso developmental team after Daniil Kyvat was demoted to Toro Rosso from Red Bull after the Russian Grand Prix, where Kyvat bumped into Vettel’s Ferrari twice in the first lap of the race. Vettel’s car crashed out of the race as a result while Kyvat of Russia, forced to pit for repairs, ended up with no points in the race.
In the next race at Spain, Verstappen qualified at fourth that did not raise eyebrows because many expected him to show his wares with a better race car.
But when he won the Spanish Grand Prix after Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton both of Mercedes AMG crashed out during the first lap, the world of F1 agreed the future of the sport has arrived.
Verstappen also became the sport’s youngest race leader and youngest podium finisher – accomplishments he can add to his existing records as the youngest F1 points scorer and the youngest driver to start a Grand Prix, both achieved last season, according to F1.com
Verstappen is also the first Dutch driver to win an F1 race, and just the second to stand on an F1 podium. The other happens to be his father, Jos, who scored two podium finishes in 1994 with Benetton. The 18-year old is also the first F1 driver to win in his first race with a new team since two-time champion Fernando Alonso won on his Ferrari debut in 2010.
If there is anybody who is proud of Verstappen, it his father Jos, who was a team-mate of F1 legend Michael Schumacher at Benetton.
Jos reflected on how his son had resisted all attacks to win ahead of Ferrari’s two world champion drivers, Kimi Raikkonen and Vettel, on his debut with the Red Bull team at the Spanish Grand Prix.
“He’s cool, he knows what to do, but this is his life,” he told Agence France-Press in an interview. “He has been racing his whole life, so it’s quite normal for him, but to win a Formula One race will always be very special, particularly with the way he won it.”
“He was always in control, he didn’t make mistakes, and he deserved it,” Jos added.
A strategy switch, taking him from three stops to two and doing the reverse for his more experienced Australian team-mate Daniel Ricciardo, was also instrumental.
But it was down to the driver to take his opportunity to win just 10 days after being promoted from the junior Toro Rosso team to replace Kvyat.
“A lot has happened in the last two weeks [prior to the Spanish Grand Prix], but the most important thing is Max can cope with it all,” said Jos.
“He has put in a lot of hard work with excitement for himself to be driving a top car and for a top team. He’s very flexible and he’s shown that again,” he added.
THE TIMES WITH REPORT FROM AFP