The racing world has turned all eyes on Max Verstappen. Winning the Formula One title for the first time in 2021 and holding on to it in 2022 catapulted him into the ranks of the best drivers currently racing. Time will tell if he has what it takes to enter the realm of the all-time greats.
Driving in motorsport’s elite open-wheel championship is the ultimate test for a driver. Many young drivers may look like potential stars when they’re in their late teens or very early 20s, only to have the weight of expectation or pressure prove to be too much. This is the case with Nicholas Latifi, for example, who seemed like he was on track to being a champion before his career stalled out after only a few years.
That wasn’t the case for Verstappen, though. 2015 was his first year racing on the Formula One circuit, and that year, Verstappen was named both the FIA Rookie of the Year and Autosport’s Rookie of the Year.
Since 2016, he has been driving for Red Bull, and the partnership has been beneficial for both – Red Bull has been able to supply the best cars and engineers, and Verstappen has repaid them in wins and media attention.
Verstappen’s 2021 championship win was slightly tarnished by the circumstances in which he won the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. The drama of this final Grand Prix was frustrating for fans and drivers more interested in the reality of racing. By winning the 2022 title so cleanly, Verstappen showed that he is truly talented.
In the up-and-coming young generation of racers, is there anyone who looks up to the task of stopping Verstappen? Below are some possible future champions.
At only 23, Lando Norris is one of the youngest drivers causing a stir on the track. In fact, he’s been turning heads at the track since he was just seven years old when he first discovered competitive karting. Norris drives for McLaren-Mercedes and has done since he entered Formula One in 2017 as a junior driver.
In 2019, Norris made his official Formula One debut at the Australian Grand Prix. The pressure of the event proved to be the perfect fuel for the young driver, and he came in eighth in his first race. His career since then has been one that suggests that he is a young driver finding his feet and making a name for himself. The 2023 season started badly, but he was able to pull himself out of his funk and came second in the British Grand Prix.
This win shows that Norris has the ability to master the mental side of the game – a key ingredient that pundits often overlook. His participation in endurance racing has also shown that he has the kind of drive and determination that is essential in a future champion.
Like many of the world’s great racers, Charles Leclerc is the son of a driver. He drives for Scuderia Ferrari, and in the short period since his Formula One debut, Leclerc has solidified his position as one of the most competitive young drivers. In 2022, he ended up finishing second in the championship.
Leclerc and Verstappen have already faced one another many times. They have frequently vied with each other for position and even had crashes. One of the reasons that Leclerc has the potential to stop Verstappen’s domination of the sport is that he is incredibly level-headed and patient. His ability to work for his team’s benefit – even when it means letting a teammate win instead – suggests that he has a more strategic approach than Verstappen.
Kids in America who want to grow up to be racecar drivers typically end up in NASCAR. Logan Sargeant is one of the few who chose to pursue a more exciting career in Formula One racing. Between 2016 and 2022, the 22-year-old worked his way up from Formula 4 to Formula One. He joined the Williams Driver Academy in 2021, and in 2023, it was announced that he would be joining the Williams-Mercedes team.
The 2023 Bahrain Grand Prix was Sargeant’s first Formula One race, so it may be too early to predict how his career will shape up. Early indications, however, show that he’s a driver with the hunger and raw talent that is needed to take on a champion like Verstappen.