The amazing F1 rookie deemed ‘too fast’ to drive debut challenger

Jamie Woodhouse
Restart in Mexico with Max Verstappen pulling away from Charles Leclerc.

Max Verstappen pulling away from Charles Leclerc and Lewis Hamilton.

Former Toro Rosso/AlphaTauri team boss Franz Tost revisited the start of Max Verstappen’s F1 career, explaining how an Abu Dhabi crash demonstrated that Verstappen was in fact “too fast” for the car.

Verstappen re-wrote the F1 history books when he joined the grid as a 17-year-old, spending his first year-and-a-bit in the series with Red Bull’s junior team Toro Rosso, where Tost served as team principal.

Verstappen had wowed Tost and Red Bull driver programme boss Helmut Marko on the junior scene, to the point where Tost desperately wanted him to skip the queue and join Toro Rosso, where even before his full-time debut, he was proving himself to be “too fast” for the Toro Rosso machinery.

Max Verstappen Abu Dhabi crash telling for Franz Tost

Verstappen’s trio of wet-weather victories at the Norisring, as part of the 2014 Formula 3 European Championship, were the performances which got Marko and Tost talking, Tost “clear” at that point that Verstappen had to be driving for Toro Rosso the following year.

Before that, Verstappen had a trio of 2014 FP1 outings in Japan, Austin and Brazil, followed by taking part in the Abu Dhabi Young Drivers’ Test, where it did not take long for Verstappen to find the barriers.

However, rather than this signalling to Tost that Verstappen was out of his depth in the Toro Rosso, instead it told him that actually the car was not up to Verstappen’s level.

“After those races in Germany, we called each other. Helmut and I are of course always in touch about such matters, we discuss at length the performances of young drivers,” Tost told Max Verstappen’s official website.

“For me, it was clear that I wanted Max in our car, as a driver and not as a test driver. You know, when Max first tested at Friday practice, he was just 17. Many ‘experts’ said it was far too early. To which I said: but not for Max Verstappen. Because he is not a passenger in the car, as you often see with newcomers, he is driving the car. The way he controlled the car, completely mastered it… Extraordinary.

“Believe me, if that hadn’t been the case, he really wouldn’t have been in the car. Then I would have said: go and drive Formula 2 for a year first. But I was one hundred per cent convinced that we could take Max straight from Formula 3 to Formula 1.

“The speed wasn’t a problem for Max at all either, he got used to it straight away. A driver of his level can switch to a faster car without any problem: within 15 laps he has everything under control.

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“Max’s first test was at the circuit in Adria to get the feel of a Formula 1 car. In Suzuka, he drove at the Japanese GP in the first free practice, and later it happened in São Paulo and Abu Dhabi.

“I remember exactly what happened in Abu Dhabi in practice: he crashed immediately in one of the first laps there. And I also knew why: Max was simply too fast for the car.

“In São Paulo, he was also going very fast. At one point, I think in the first corner, he almost lost the car. But how he then caught it and got it back was fantastic.

“No spin, nothing at all. For me it became clear there once again that he had the level to drive for us the following year.”

And it is safe to say that taking a punt on Verstappen worked out, the Dutch racer joining the main Red Bull team as of the 2016 Spanish Grand Prix and winning on debut. He has gone on to become a three-time World Champion and the dominant force of Formula 1.

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