Holder of several Formula 1 'youngest' records and with perhaps the biggest still in his sights, Max Verstappen is an undoubted star of Formula 1 present and future. Having exploded onto the scene, the Dutchman's style has arguably done as much to shake up the sport as any other innovation or introduction made to the grid since his debut. In 2019, he added maturity to his ruthlessness in order to lead Red Bull to three victories and six further podiums alone. Will 2020 be his opportunity to become world champion.
Given how young Verstappen debuted in Formula 1, the Dutchman did indeed compete in a few junior categories. Modern contemporaries Charles Leclerc and teammate at Red Bull, Alexander Albon, were karting rivals in Verstappen's childhood with his father, former Formula 1 racer Jos, taking him across Europe competing.
At the age of 15, Verstappen won the World KZ Championship, karting's highest category, in France. The following year he entered European Formula 3, driving for Van Amersfoort and finished third in the standings behind another future Formula 1 rival and eventual champion Esteban Ocon. At the start of 2014, a highly publicised tug-of-war between Red Bull and Mercedes had begun to play out in an attempt to get Verstappen into their junior programmes. In August that year, Verstappen accepted Red Bull's offer and he was confirmed as a Toro Rosso driver for 2015 shortly after. He took part in his first free practice session at the Japanese GP that year, making him the youngest driver to take part in an official Formula 1 session just three days after his 17th birthday.
Verstappen debuted at the age of 17 years and 166 days at the 2015 Australian Grand Prix – a record that will likely never be broken. Just a fortnight later he finished seventh in Malaysia to break Sebastian Vettel's record for youngest points-scorer in Formula 1. Mechanical issues dogged Verstappen's start to life in Formula 1, but his potential was clear, as was his punchy racing style, evidenced by a collision with Romain Grosjean in Monaco which earned a five-place grid penalty and saw the experienced Felipe Massa brand him "dangerous".
Verstappen was unfazed, though, and he took points in nine of the final 12 races of the year, including a pair of fourth-place finishes in Hungary and the USA, to prove that the hype was worth believing in.
Promotion and stunning Red Bull debut
Having started 2016 with a solid if unspectacular trio of points finishes, the Russian GP of that year was to prompt a massive acceleration in Verstappen's career, despite his lap-nine retirement with engine trouble. Vettel had been punted out of the race on lap one by Red bull's Daniil Kvyat, snapping the patience of Helmut Marko, who swapped the Russian and Verstappen around immediately – almost certainly in part to protect Red bull from the increased interest being shown in the teenager from other outfits.
His first race for the senior team was the Spanish Grand Prix in Barcelona, Verstappen qualifying fourth behind new team-mate Daniel Ricciardo. But things soon opened up as Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg – in the dominant Mercedes – crashed into each other on lap one, suddenly putting Verstappen into second, with he and Ricciardo now in possession of the quickest car in the race.
Verstappen pitted one fewer time than Ricciardo, a decision that went strongly in the Dutchman's favour as he was able to cling on to victory ahead of Raikkonen on his Red Bull debut.
In the process, at 18 years and 228 days, Verstappen became F1's youngest race winner, podium finisher and race leader, as well as the first grand prix winner from the Netherlands.
It was Verstappen's sole victory of the season, but further podiums followed in Austria, Silverstone, Germany, Malaysia, Japan and in Brazil, where Verstappen put on a masterclass in the wet as he surged from 14th to third in 16 laps - a performance reminiscent of both Ayrton Senna and Michael Schumacher.
Verstappen's luck was out the following year, suffering seven retirements in the first 14 races, never being in contention for victories until the latter stages of the campaign. Victory in Malaysia saw him get the better of Ricciardo in a thrilling battle, with another fine drive leading to victory in Mexico.
Verstappen breaks through again in 2018
Despite the circumstances of his debut in F1 and that maiden race win, it is perhaps the 2018 campaign that will be remembered as pivotal if Verstappen does go on to fulfil his enormous promise.
Once again the season began in tough circumstances, Verstappen colliding with a rival or a part of the circuit in each of the first six races of the season. Among those he hit were title rivals Hamilton and Vettel, as well as team-mate Ricciardo in an infamous double non-finish for Red Bull in Azerbaijan. Another mistake followed for Verstappen when he crashed in Free Practice 3 at the Monaco Grand Prix, opening the door for the Australian to take victory thanks to Red Bull's strength at the circuit. Ricciardo's victory was in spite of a power-unit issue, underlining the opportunity that Verstappen had squandered.
The Dutchman responded in the best possible way though, shrugging off media criticism to finish third in Canada, then second in France and then first in Austria – securing Red Bull's first win at their home race in Spielberg.
Another win in Mexico as Hamilton secured another title followed, and back-to-back victories ought to have been bagged in the next race in Brazil, only for a collision with back-marker Ocon to ruin his race – with Verstappen shoving the Frenchman in an angry post-race confrontation that sparked huge controversy. Verstappen ended the season fourth in the championship, but only champion Hamilton was in better form come the end of the year, raising hope that Max would bring a sustained title challenge in 2019.
Unfortunately for Verstappen, Hamilton and Mercedes were still in imperious form, and new teammate Pierre Gasly was struggling to get to grips with the Red Bull. The team were unable to deploy their usual punchy strategies with Gasly so far behind Verstappen, which potentially hindered the team's chances of reeling the Mercedes' in at the start of the season.
Nevertheless, Verstappen opened the season with a podium at Melbourne and going on to take victories in Austria, a wild German Grand Prix and Brazil. His strong form and consistent point scoring - only non-scoring twice - bagged third in the championship ahead of both Ferrari drivers who were touted as possible champions ahead of the season.
Verstappen has shown that he has the talent to be world champion, will he have the machinery to challenge in 2020?
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