“Too young, too aggressive, too many risks,” were just some of the criticisms of Dutch driver Max Verstappen when he joined F1 at the record-breaking age of 17. But he has proved his doubters wrong and started to prove legends such as Niki Lauda, who called him ‘the talent of the century’ right.
Born in Hasselt, Belgium in 1997, Max is the son of Jos, who was previously an F1 driver for a number of teams, including Jordan, Benetton, and Tyrell, between 1994 and 2003. After an underwhelming career, Jos made it his mission to make Max a World Champion and achieve what he couldn’t. Max started go-karting at a young age, and he immediately showed that he had natural, raw speed, winning the Dutch Minimax Championship in 2007 and the Belgian Minimax and Cadet championships. The youngster would continue to dominate in the karting scene, beating drivers that he would eventually end up competing against in Formula One.
In 2014, Max came third in the FIA European Formula Three Championship, before his step up to the big leagues in Formula One. In August of the same year, Verstappen joined the Red Bull Junior Team and later in October, participated in free practice for Toro Rosso, before getting the seat full-time in 2015, replacing Jean-Éric Vergne. This meant he became the youngest-ever driver to drive on an F1 race weekend. The Dutchman impressed at Red Bull’s sister team, driving alongside teammate Carlos Sainz, finishing 12th in the Championship in 2015, scoring 49 points. He also won Rookie of the Year, Personality of the Year and Action of the Year, showing off the potential that many believed he had.
Then, in 2016, he got the big move. Following a disappointing time at Red Bull Racing, it was announced at his home Grand Prix that Russian driver Daniil Kvyat was to be replaced by Verstappen. Red Bull team boss Christian Horner seemed to have taken a huge risk but was confident the swap would pay off: “Max has proven to be an outstanding young talent. His performance at Toro Rosso has been impressive so far and we are pleased to give him the opportunity to drive for Red Bull Racing.” And what a debut the youngster would have, winning in his first Red Bull drive at the 2016 Spanish Grand Prix, after Championship favourites Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg crashed into each other. With this victory, Verstappen became the youngest-ever race winner, at 18 years and 228 days.
The victories wouldn’t stop there though. In fact, over the next six years and most probably longer, Max Verstappen has 35 wins, 77 podiums and most importantly, two Formula One World Championships. After an epic battle with Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton in 2021, Max won his first title after a dramatic last-lap overtake on the Brit to take Red Bull’s first driver’s title since Vettel in 2013. In 2022, an aerodynamic rule change set everything back to zero, but the potential of Verstappen’s RB18 was shown under the night-time lights in round two in Jeddah, as he won the second race of the season to try and eat into rival Charles Leclerc’s already 26-point advantage.
Many predicted a strong season for Red Bull with the re-introduction of ground-effect aerodynamic regulations, and their mastermind car designer, Adrian Newey, and it would be just that, with Max dominating the season with 15 wins, and the Championship trophy to show for it.