Max Verstappen came into F1 so young, he did not have a license to drive a regular car back home in Netherland. A 17 year old F1 driver. It was unheard of. Yet the talent he possessed warranted a place in F1 and it was pretty clear the moment he got into his fir Toro Rosso car that he was destined for bigger things.
After spending his first year of his F1 career in Toro Rosso, he was yanked mid-way through his second season to switch places with Daniil Kvyat in the Red Bull as the team could no longer justify keeping the Flying Dutchman in the slower car.
Verstappen won his debut race in Spain for Red Bull and while there have been many ups and downs, as is the norm for a sport like F1, Verstappen has continued to provide thrilling entertainment that some fans believed had become too mechanical before the mercurial Dutchman showed up.
Now as the 2019 season is about to roll out, Verstappen was asked if he continues to see himself as a promising young driver of if he considers himself a veteran of F1 and with a 100th GP in sight this season, Verstappen no longer considers himself a young talent. He is an experienced hand at F1 racing and he wants to use this season to prove as much.
Verstappen will continue to drive at Red Bull but for the first time this season he will be the clear no.1 in he team. While Red Bull traditionally haven’t gone with a 1-2 for their drivers, Daniel Ricciardo was already an established and well-liked figure in the Red Bull backroom and a brilliant racer himself.
Red Bull had no guilt-free way of prioritizing Max over Daniel and had no reason to. But this season with new man Pierre Gasly taking a step up from Toro Rosso Max Verstappen is the clear 1st driver for Red Bull. Whether they give him priority calls on strategies or not is yet to be seen.
But at just 21 years old, Verstappen has become the leading guy on a team that can challenge Mercedes and Ferrari for the status of top dog on the F1 circuit.
Verstappen’s ascent isn’t just down to the move from Ricciardo though. When he came in to the F1, Verstappen was an exciting driver who’s overtaking abilities meant no one was safe in his wake. But he was also a driver that did not know when and where to pick his battles.
Far too often he relied on other drivers moving out of his way and took lines in racing that required the other drivers to completely move out of the way to be safe from him. But this is a sport where every driver has been an alfa through their lives.
Not many are willing to give Max the space he seemed to expect to be given. And this resulted in many a crashes across various circuits through the first 3&1/2 seasons of his F1 career. It earned him the nickname Mad Max, and while many drivers admired his skills, most started to resent the attitude with which he drove.
The 2018 season started in a very similar way for Max. After 6 crashes through the first 6 races, most notably the spectacular crash with teammate Ricciardo at the Azerbaijan GP that ruled both of them out of the race.
But as more and more media pressure mounted and fans of other teams started calling out Max for his racing antics, there was a sudden maturity that came into his driving. No longer was he pushing the edges too hard and relying on other racers to come out of moves clean. While he was still fast and flashy, he finally decided to calm down and not force issues where he previously would have.
All of it lead to an extremely successful second half of the season where he gathered 123 points (2nd only to Hamilton) and was one Esteban Ocon moment of hilarity from getting more.
As 2019 rolls around, Verstappen is happy about the car and his new found peace. If he continues to show growth on the circuits, he has enough talent and a good enough car to finally be a constant podium getter and a serious contender for the drivers championship.
And at just 21 years old, you would be silly to expect anything but major growth in the man who’s gone back to being referred to as the Flying Dutchman, instead of the infamous Mad Max.