- POSTED: 22 Aug 2014 17:54
- UPDATED: 22 Aug 2014 17:56
Max Verstappen, the 16-year-old son of former Benetton driver Jos Verstappen, is expected to make his Formula One debut with the Toro Rosso team in free practice at the United States Grand Prix.
SPA, Belgium: Max Verstappen, the 16-year-old son of former Benetton driver Jos Verstappen, is expected to make his Formula One debut with the Toro Rosso team in free practice at the United States Grand Prix. Toro Rosso team boss Franz Tost, the man who has overseen the early development of both Sebastian Vettel and Daniel Ricciardo before they moved on to 'big sister' team Red Bull, confirmed this was his plan on Friday (Aug 22).
Teenager Verstappen has been signed by Toro Rosso to replace Frenchman Jean-Eric Vergne next season when, aged just 17, he will become the youngest racing driver in the history of Formula One. His recruitment by Toro Rosso has been greeted by a wave of concern and scepticism in the paddock and pit lane with many drivers suggesting it is very risky to throw Verstappen in to F1 at such a tender age.
Tost said Verstappen will have a seat fitting at Toro Rosso's Faenza base in Italy in the near future and then have a demonstration run in Rotterdam before undertaking some testing for his new team in a three-year-old car. He will then be fast-tracked into the race team for some free practice runs at the three final Grands Prix of 2014.
Tost said: "We want to give him as much time and mileage as possible in a Formula One car and expect him to be in a Friday session at least from Austin onwards - Austin, Sao Paolo and Abu Dhabi, and then the Abu Dhabi test."
Verstappen told reporters that he had signed for the Red Bull organisation only after being promised a race seat in 2015. Demonstrating great maturity for a boy of his age, he said he was unfazed by the prospect of stepping up to F1 during his first season of car racing.
"My dad (ex-F1 driver Jos) was always pushing me in the right direction, and in big steps," Verstappen said. "Karting to F3 was a big step, but I adapted quickly so I don't see the problem (going) from F3 to F1. "Once you are in a racing car, a racing car is a racing car, so I think I'm ready for it."
He will become the youngest F1 driver in history by around 18 months. British drivers Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button both said they were not ready at 17, which Felipe Massa said was "a little young". But many said they were pleased Verstappen had been promoted on the basis of talent rather than financial backing.
German Adrian Sutil said the move was a "risk" for Verstappen's career. "It's quite a risky move and a surprise for everyone to be announced as F1 driver after only half a season in F3. "But there are drivers who can manage that, for example Kimi Raikkonen, who did only one season of Formula Renault and performed extremely well."
Button said: "When I was 20, I wasn't ready. I was probably ready at 23, but people are ready at different times." The youngest driver in Formula One to date is Spaniard Jaime Alguersuari who was 19 years and 125 days old when he made his debut at the 2009 Hungarian Grand Prix.
This is Verstappen's first year in Formula Three and he has won eight of 27 races after winning the world KZ karting championship last year.
Ferrari's Fernando Alonso, who made his own F1 debut when he was 19 and went on to become the youngest man to win a race and a world championship, said "age is just a number in your passport". He added: "Before saying anything, we need to see how Verstappen does next year and after six-to-eight races we can see if he was ready or not."