Engineer recalls Max’s ‘frightening’ first F1 outing

Finley Crebolder
Max Verstappen smiling at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. Abu Dhabi November 2014

Max Verstappen smiling at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. Abu Dhabi November 2014

Max Verstappen’s former race engineer Xevi Pujolar says the Dutchman was “frightening” in a good way when he first drove an F1 car.

Verstappen was given his first chance to drive an F1 car at an extremely young age, testing for Toro Rosso at the age of 16 two years after joining the Red Bull academy.

Pujolar was an engineer for the team at the time and was present at the circuit. Looking back at the day, he remembers being blown away by how well the Dutchman handled the car, especially as it had been raining.

“Seven years ago we did a 148-lap test at the Adria circuit in Italy, over 500km in total with the 2012 STR7,” he told

“Even then, he went very fast. I also remember for most of that day the asphalt was wet, especially in the morning. And for a rookie driver, it’s never the best thing to be in a single-seater on a track as treacherous as that one.

“But he mastered the car in a frightening way.”

It did not take long for the 2021 World Champion to get a chance in the team’s up-to-date machinery after that, for he became the youngest ever driver to participate in an official race weekend just over a month later in Japan.

While he had already been very impressed by the driver outside of the car, it was on that day at Suzuka that Pujolar really started to take notice of him as he went less than half a second slower than the other Toro Rosso of Daniil Kvyat.

“Then he got on track at Suzuka and when I saw the times in the first sector of FP1, I said to myself ‘I like this guy’,” he added.


“A few months earlier, we had taken him to Spa so he could better understand the dynamics of a team. Then after Japan, we did all the winter testing before the 2015 debut.

“In Belgium, the way he studied the details of the track, where he could pass and where not, left us very surprised. He was analysing everything, things others couldn’t even imagine, even aspects related to other drivers on the track.

“I noticed in him the same way Jos prepared for races. Things I had never seen in other drivers. An impressive dedication that I have not seen in anyone else in my career.”