Holder of several Formula 1 'youngest' records and with perhaps the biggest still in his sights, Max Verstappen is an undoubted star of F1 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 – not bad for someone entering just his fifth season in the sport in 2019.
Given how young Verstappen debuted in F1, don't expect a heft entry here, but Verstappen did indeed compete in a few junior categories. Modern contemporaries Alexander Albon and Charles Leclerc were karting rivals in Verstappen's childhood as his father, former F1 racer Jos, took the young Max 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 F1 rival and eventual champion Esteban Ocon and Tom Blomqvist. 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, Verstappen accepted Red Bull's offer and he was confirmed to Toro Rosso's 2015 driver line-up less than a week later. He drove in first free practice for the Japanese GP that year, making him the youngest driver to take part in an F1 session just three days after his 17th birthday.
F1 debut and more records
Verstappen debuted at the age of 17 years and 166 days at the 2015 Australian GP – 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 F1. Mechanical issues dogged Verstappen's start to life in F1, but his potential was clear, as was a penchant for the risky, including 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 undimmed, 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.
Also on show was his knack for the spectacular in overtaking, a pass on Felipe Nasr at the once dreaded Blanchimont corner of Spa-Francorchamps serving notice to his rivals and putting Red Bull's top brass on high alert.
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 – almost certainly in part to protect Red bull from the increased interest being shown in the teenager.
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 served notice of his mastery in the wet, surging 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 and never featuring in contention until the latter stages of the campaign, although victory in Malaysia saw him get the better of Ricciardo in a thrilling battle before another fine drive brought victory in Mexico, on the day Hamilton was crowned a four-time world champion.
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 DNF for Red Bull in Baku, which may have made up the Australian's mind to leave the team at the end of that year. Having seen Ricciardo take a win in China that perhaps ought to have been his, things came to a head for Verstappen when he crashed in FP3 at the Monaco GP, opening the door for the Australian to take victory thanks to Red Bull's strength at the circuit – Ricciardo winning despite suffering engine failure to underline just how great a chance it had been for Verstappen, who started last after failing to qualify and could only recover to ninth.
The Dutchman responded in the best possible way, however, 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.
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