August 18, 2022 marks eight years since Max Verstappen was announced as a 2015 Toro Rosso driver, the first step of a remarkable career.
It is easy to forget just how young Verstappen is. He is 16 days older than Charles Leclerc, 138 older than George Russell yet while those two are labelled as the next generation, Verstappen finds himself compared to the likes of Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel, two men both a decade his senior.
Verstappen has been in F1 for eight seasons now, picking up 28 wins, 70 podiums and a World Championship whilst well on his way to a second. His F1 career began on this day eight years ago when Toro Rosso, Red Bull’s junior team, announced the then 16-year-old would be replacing Jean-Eric Vergne for 2015.
Verstappen had by no means come up the traditional way either, he simply didn’t have the time, and was competing in F3, not F2, when he got the nod.
Eight years on and it is a decision that has been more than vindicated. He became the youngest driver ever to start a race, the youngest driver to ever win one and the fourth youngest to win the World Championship.
He may only have been at Toro Rosso for just over a season but had already shown enough for Christian Horner and co. to decide he was ready for the move up. After overcoming a run of errors that saw him retire in four races during the first half of the season, Verstappen found his feet in the latter half, finishing within the points in all but two of the final 10 races.
The following campaign he continued that form with three points scores in the first four grands prix but he soon departed to join Red Bull where he won his very first race with the team and began a partnership that is still going strong today.
Toro Rosso team principal Franz Tost knew what a talent Max Verstappen was
As one of the longest serving team principals of all time and the gatekeeper of talent at Toro Rosso, Tost has seen his fair share of young drivers but his words on Verstappen are striking in their confidence.
Verstappen was 16 with no F2 experience and yet Tost, who had been in place since 2005, recognised the generational talent he was signing.
“We consider Max to be as one of the most skilled young drivers of the new generation and we believe he has the necessary maturity and mental strength to take on this challenge successfully,” Tost said following the announcement.
“We are happy to welcome Max into the Toro Rosso family.
“It’s great to see how the Red Bull Junior Programme continues to find talented young drivers and gives them the opportunity to come into Formula One.”
Tost had first taken notice of Verstappen during his karting days but was left most impressed by a Formula 3 race at the Norisring.
“In the rain, he drove in a league of his own, as if he was the only one who had discovered a dry line,” Tost told F1-Insider earlier this month. “He immediately reminded me of Michael Schumacher.
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“You could see what a mega talent Max was. After all, we took some criticism when we entrusted him with Toro Rosso at the age of 17, someone who didn’t even have a driving licence.
“He also did his first training session at Suzuka, one of the most difficult circuits of all. But Max did it all with aplomb.
“He never had any problems with the great speed of a Formula 1 car, always had everything under control right from the start.”
Verstappen had a well-documented problem keeping his temper in check during his early career but Tost also said that hurdle had been overcome.
“In his first races he was sometimes a little too aggressive,” said Tost. “That sometimes led to a crash, for example in Monaco with Romain Grosjean.
“Today he is driving at an extremely high level. Nevertheless, we haven’t seen the maximum from him yet.
“Only Charles Leclerc can come close. Lewis Hamilton has already suffered too much from the ravages of time.”
As one door opens for Max Verstappen, another closes for Jean-Eric Vergne
As with every new arrival into Formula 1, there is always another side to the story and the man who had the unfortunate accomplishment of being replaced by Verstappen was Jean-Eric Vergne.
The Frenchman had spent three seasons at Toro Rosso having won the 2010 Formula 3 Championship but never seemed in his groove. Each of those three campaigns was filled with retirements a plenty and not the points scores to compensate.
He improved year on year, eventually finishing the 2014 season in P13 but his replacement by Verstappen brought an end to his F1 career.
Season 8 is over. It has been a good year overall but we ll need to come back stronger with #GEN3 Thank you all for the amazing support @DS_Performance @DSTECHEETAH @DS_Official @HUGOBOSS @Michelin_Sport & @TAGHeuer #JEV25 pic.twitter.com/I6QdYgKoHe
— Jean-Eric Vergne (@JeanEricVergne) August 14, 2022
From there he spent a couple seasons as a test driver for Ferrari but made his way back into full-time racing with Formula E where he has found a more natural home.
He made his debut with Andretti Autosport in the 2014-15 season but switched to DS Virgin Racing a year later. A podium finish in London was enough to put him on the radar of newly formed Techeetah who he joined for the 2016-17 campaign.
As a new constructor, progress proved slow but Vergne won the final grand prix in New York and set himself up for a run that would see him finish as World Champion for the following two seasons.
The two-time World Champion is still racing in Formula E today at the age of 32, having just finished fourth in the most recent season.