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2016

Why we're mad about Max

Never has one so young made such a dramatic impact on Formula 1. As Max Verstappen, now just 18 years old, settles into his second season, Matt Youson analyses what makes him such a knock-out hit

There's a methodology for easing a rookie into F1. The trick is to lift the weight. Expectations must be lowered, hope downplayed. It's a tough job and a tough environment. The emphasis should be on the learning curve, not the results. Failures are to be expected. This is, after all, a novice - not someone who should be expected to pull up trees from the get-go.

Or you could take the approach chosen by Red Bull motorsports advisor Dr Helmut Marko, in the case of Max Verstappen: announce that your new charge should be competitive from his first lap and compare him to a young Ayrton Senna. Off you go Max, no pressure.

The belief that the usual rules do not apply to Max Verstappen has spread through the F1 paddock. There are always rumours of a 'next Senna' or a 'next Schumacher' tearing up the junior formulae, but they rarely gain traction. Reality eventually catches up and the driver finds their level. That hasn't yet happened with Max.

"You're looking at a future champion," is the view of grand-prix-winner-turned-commentator David Coulthard. "In his rookie season what really stood out was his racing. There are lots of quick racing drivers who can turn it on for one weekend, but his wheel-to-wheel combat racing was exceptional. There's no doubt he'll win grands prix and championships in the future."

Coulthard's is not a lone voice. "To be honest, I'm flabbergasted," says Damon Hill. "If you had put me, aged 17, in F1, I would have looked a complete twit. I hadn't got a clue what I was doing, or where I was going. Max's debut has been stunning, it really has."

The show needs heroes to sell, and were these comments coming from the usual purveyors of hype they could be ignored. But they're not. They're coming from serious voices and serious racers; people who have made their judgements watching Verstappen attack a corner, not a photocall.

Verstappen is frequently described as "mature" - usually with the attached caveat "for his age". It's a term that does him a disservice. His maturity is personal, rather than professional, exhibited in the wry confidence with which he speaks when out of the cockpit. In the seat, however, the speed and ability he demonstrated in 2015 wasn't the manifestation of a maturity beyond his years. What gets the paddock salivating is that the speed and car control come from what is still a very raw package. Already good enough to compete at the sharp end of F1, imagine where he'll be once he develops his race craft, learns about cars and circuits and becomes a more cunning animal.

READ THE FULL ARTICLE IN THE APRIL 2016 ISSUE