Dutch F1 driver Max Verstappen, the son of ‘Jos the Boss’ Verstappen (who raced till the mid-2000s, imprinted into loyalist memories as one of the many mid-table occupiers during the Schumacher era), was 17 when he made his F1 debut last season. He raced for Toro Rosso, the sister outfit of Red Bull Racing, the same way Sebastian Vettel did before embarking on a frighteningly successful career. F1 changed their rules this year after Max’s debut – making 18 the lower age limit to enter the sport – but after Sunday’s Spanish Grand Prix (at the Circuit de Catalunya in Barcelona), one wonders why.
The commentators, as expected, went a bit overboard by declaring Max’s victory as an achievement that eclipses Leicester City’s fairy tale EPL league win. They weren’t too far off. It says something about a sporting era, where an 18-year old’s senior F1 race win – shattering the record by more than two years after Vettel was 20 when he won in 2008 – is not even the most stunning story of the year. 18, that’s right!
To put things into perspective, Kimi Raikkonen – who came second behind Verstappen here – made his debut in the 2001 Australian Grand Prix, and came fourth, ahead of Max’s father in 6th place. Max was three years old back then, and now, he held off former world champion Raikkonen for more than 30 laps to win his first-ever F1 Grand Prix, one of many to come.
Of course, this was helped by the bitter rivalry between the two infamous Mercedes drivers once again. This time, in scenes reminiscent of the 2014 Belgian Grand Prix, both Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg crashed out on the first lap, after which it became the race for the best of the rest.
Max seized the opportunity, further helped by Red Bull’s decision to put his "senior" teammate Daniel Ricciardo on a three-stop strategy to hold off Sebastian Vettel. In the process, Max, on a two-stop strategy, managed to keep calm and stay ahead of the rest, riding his way into the history books. It was, incidentally, his first race for Red Bull after being promoted from Toro Rosso, just four races into the season. Finally, father Jos, who was also known by the unsavory ‘Joss Grindbak’ (meaning Jos Gravelpit – which is the area he usually frequented), will feel vindicated in a way. If he couldn’t do it, he has produced a son who can.
Process your numbers – here’s a lowdown:
- 24 is the number of races it took for Max to win his first; Vettel took 22, Schumacher took 18, and Hamilton took just 6.
- 17 years and 180 days was his age when he scored his first points at the 2015 Malaysian Grand Prix in 7th place.
- 18 years is the age at which Max won his first, a world record that isn’t likely to be broken ever. Schumacher was 23, Hamilton 22, Vettel 20.
- 5 years was Max’s age when his father Jos scored a total of 0 points for perennial backmarkers Minardi Cosworth in 2003, his last F1 season ever.
- 2 is the number of podiums father Jos achieved in his 107-race career. His best qualifying position was 6th.
- 2 is the number of times Max finished fourth in his first season, just off the podium.
- 4th is Max’s best qualifying position, achieved at the Spanish Grand Prix, which he went on to win.
- 49 is the number of points Max scored for Toro Rosso in his first F1 season in 2015. He is now on 38 already, 5 races into 2016.