Is this mad, Max?

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Just a week after joining Red Bull’s Driver Development Programme, 16-year-old Max Verstappen was announced as Jean Eric Vergne’s replacement at Toro Rosso.

He will be the youngest ever driver to reach F1, a record previously held by Jamie Alguersuari and it’s all happening for him less than 12 months after leaving karts for F3 single-seater car racing. The news has raised many eyebrows within F1 ranks, but Fernando Alonso argued that “age is just a number on your passport”.

Many would say that Max was born to be a motor racing driver. His Belgian mother, Sophie Kumpen, was already a top flight karting star when she married the Dutch F1 driver Jos Verstappen. As a member of the CRG/Rotax team, Sophie finished 17th in the 1994 world championships for Formula Super A, finishing well ahead of Giancarlo Fisichelli who had already signed as a test driver for Minardi. In 1995 she shocked her opponents by winning the prestigious Margutti trophy at Parma, beating many of karting’s top stars at that time including Jarno Trulli, Michael Simpson, Bobby Game and Davide Fore.

Jos, too, had been pretty effective in karting, claiming the 1989 European Championships for 100cc karts. Following the 1990 World Championships at Jesolo, he embarked upon a career in cars. He was chosen by Bennetton as Michael Schumacher’s team-mate for the 1994 season, claiming two podium finishes that year. He subsequently competed in over 100 F1 events. Jos split with Sophie in 2008 but continued to oversee the karting career of their only son.

Max had first started racing karts at the age of seven although his initial involvement dated back several years earlier. He won numerous national championships in Belgium before stepping out onto the international stage with CRG’s factory team four years ago. In the 2010 World Cup for KF3 he took 2nd place behind Britain’s Alexander Albon before claiming the WSK European and World Series crowns. He switched to Intrepid for 2012, racing in the senior KF2 category. Amongst his successes that year were WSK and Garda Winter Cup wins that marked him out as a driver with exceptional talent. In his final season of karting, back with CRG, he became the 2013 world KZ champion, adding two European crowns to his impressive tally. As a FIA European Formula 3 driver in 2014 he has notched up eight impressive victories from 27 starts.

By accumulating more top level wins than Hamilton, Alonso, Button, Vettel or Schumacher ever managed, Max has served a very impressive apprenticeship in karts. My one reservation is that, at just 16 years of age, he has lowered a bar that was already perilously close to ground level. Parents who once believed that they had to get their kids into cars before the age of 16 could now be in an even greater hurry. It’s all adding to more pressure on the shoulders of young drivers who should be taking time to enjoy their childhood. I hope that Max Verstappen’s entry into F1 will be seen as an exceptional development rather than setting down a new target for others.

What do you think? Is Max Verstappen’s move to F1 good or bad for karting? Share your views by emailing news@kartingmagazine.com and we’ll print your comments in the next issue.