A new hope
Let’s face it, the 2015 Formula 1 season was not that interesting. Ferrari and Mercedes were almost untouchable in the fight for podium places. Manor were so far behind the midfield that they might as well not have been there at all. The gaps between the top, the midfield and the bottom were so huge that there was barely any racing going on. In this desperate time, the sole glimmer of hope for Formula 1 fans was Scuderia Toro Rosso’s Max Verstappen.
Changing the record books
Verstappen started putting his name in the record books as soon as the season started. He is the youngest driver to start a Grand Prix and to score points. Verstappen will get to keep these records for a good long while as the regulations from 2016 onwards do not allow teenagers under 18 to participate in Formula 1 races. Now, Verstappen’s sights are set on a few additional youngest records, currently held by ex-Toro Rosso driver Sebastian Vettel: youngest pole-sitter, youngest Grand Prix winner and youngest world champion.
Verstappen breaking a bunch of youngest records is no surprise, of course. Getting teenage talent into Formula 1 is Scuderia Toro Rosso’s reason for existence. The team’s limited budget makes it impossible to make any real strides in the constructors’ championship. Though, a 2015 Ferrari power unit, rather than a reworked Renault engine, might make the junior outfit a lot more competitive than Red Bull Racing in the early stages of 2016.
Just to keep the power unit contract going forward, STR might just not fight too much with Ferrari on this issue.
There is more to Max than his youth
Yes, Verstappen is a talented young driver, but the European Formula 3’s field is filled with talented drivers. There is a reason why the Dutch prodigy made it to Formula 1 so fast. Verstappen possesses the unique vision and style that separate good drivers from great ones. He overtakes at places where no other driver is brave enough to. He finishes fourth with a car that is only lower-top-10 capable (and an engine that is barely able to take him to the finishing line).
In a season defined by Mercedes 1-2s, Verstappen was one of the few drivers that kept us awake and excited during the races. Next year with a Ferrari engine, he will certainly do even better. Then, his star will be too big to keep at STR. Red Bull have a big problem as neither Daniel Ricciardo nor Daniil Kvyat are exactly dismissible material and they might not be able to promote Verstappen fast enough. With Kimi Raikkonen most likely retiring for good post-2016, Ferrari will probably try to poach him. And just to keep the power unit contract going forward, STR might just not fight too much with the bigger Italian team.
Beware of the dark side
A seat at Ferrari alongside Sebastian Vettel is one possible future for Max Verstappen, but it is not set in stone. Verstappen’s talent is still a bit unpolished. Over the 2015 season, he managed to score eight penalty points. This puts him on top of the “Bad boys” list, ahead of Pastor Maldonado, whose nickname is “Crashtor”. What is even more worrying is that Verstappen has been penalised for causing a collision (in Monaco), speeding under safety car (in Hungary), overtaking by going off-track and ignoring blue flags (in Abu Dhabi).
The infringements alongside the Dutch driver’s refusal to comply with team orders in Singapore suggest there is a negative underlying trend. Verstappen’s driving is brilliant but he spaces out occasionally and goes for the wrong kind of crazy moves. Romain Grosjean and Sergio Perez exhibited the same behavior early on in their careers and they are now unlikely to become true stars of the sport. Verstappen’s marketing power at Scuderia Toro Rosso is so big that the team’s management might be afraid to rein his disobedient nature in.