F1 Racing - - CHEQUERED FLAG -

Brab­ham, Jim Clark, Mika Häkki­nen, Niki Lauda, Nel­son Pi­quet, Alain Prost and Se­bas­tian Vet­tel, all had less suc­cess­ful starts – usu­ally be­cause of rel­a­tive in­ex­pe­ri­ence or be­cause their cars failed to match their tal­ents. Even Ayr­ton Senna and Michael Schu­macher, who won no fewer than ten world cham­pi­onships be­tween them, failed to win in their first years. In Senna’s case be­cause his Tole­man car wasn’t up to it, although he so very nearly brought it home first at that amaz­ing Monaco GP of 1984.

Max Ver­stap­pen may not have been a firstyear win­ner with Toro Rosso in 2015 but, at his ten­der age, with his lack of F1 ex­pe­ri­ence and the com­pe­ti­tion he faced, you’d hardly ex­pect him to have been. But look where he is now after just one sea­son in which he drove mag­nif­i­cently and made him­self the hottest prop­erty in F1. That he is very spe­cial has al­ways been clear, but his in­cred­i­ble win on his first drive for Red Bull puts him right up there with the greats of the past.

Like Jac­ques Vil­leneuve, Da­mon Hill and Nico Ros­berg he is a sec­ond-gen­er­a­tion F1 racer, with com­pet­i­tive genes in­her­ited from his ex-Benet­ton F1 driver Jos, and his mother, So­phie, a Bel­gian karting cham­pion. Hav­ing started in karts aged four-and-a-half and gone on to be­come a mul­ti­ple cham­pion, guided ev­ery inch of the way by his de­mand­ing fa­ther, Max by­passed GP2 and reached F1 at the un­prece­dented age of 17 thanks to hard-nosed favour­ing by Red Bull’s for­mi­da­ble tal­ent spot­ter, Hel­mut Marko. Now, just one year on, with his pro­mo­tion from Toro Rosso to the elite Red Bull team, he is not just a win­ner but the youngest win­ner in the 66-year his­tory of F1. In­cred­i­ble. An amaz­ing achieve­ment.

Prior to Spain and with an eye to the past, I would have been tempted to re­mind us all that although Ver­stap­pen has made an awe­some start, any­thing can hap­pen in F1 – and it usu­ally does – and con­tin­ued suc­cess is by no means a for­gone con­clu­sion. How­ever, with youth on his side, a ma­ture per­son­al­ity, im­mense tal­ent, a place in a top team on the cusp of re­gain­ing ti­tlewin­ning abil­ity and a de­ter­mined fa­ther to guide him, it is surely only a mat­ter of time be­fore he be­comes Hol­land’s first-ever cham­pion – although his mum main­tains that he is Bel­gian!

What­ever, I’m mighty glad I’ve been there to en­joy such a dev­as­tat­ing tal­ent.

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