Christian Horner has praised Max Verstappen’s growth during his first season with Red Bull, saying the Dutchman just got “stronger and stronger” as the year progressed.
Verstappen started the 2016 championship as a Toro Rosso driver before he was, still just 18 years old, promoted to senior team Red Bull Racing.
He immediately vindicated the decision to promote him by winning his debut race for Red Bull, the Spanish Grand Prix.
There were other outstanding displays as the teenager earned a reputation as a hard, and extremely skilled, racer.
“Hats off to Helmut Marko for initially pushing very hard for Max to give him a junior contract, for nicking him from under the noses of Mercedes,” Horner told RACER.
“People thought we were mad at the time to put him in a Formula 1 car at the age of 16. Then of course what he delivered in his first season was already outstanding, and he only built on that in his second year.
“I think the timing was just about right for him to be honest with you. He’s grown into that role incredibly well and you can see as he’s gained more experience his performances have just got stronger and stronger and stronger throughout the year.”
The Red Bull team boss concedes the decision to promote Verstappen to Red Bull was a risk but one that he is delighted to say paid off.
He added: “Inevitably with all these things there was a risk and of course there was an awful lot of criticism at the time surrounding it.
“But, you know, Red Bull is different to other teams, we have four cockpits, all four drivers are contracted to Red Bull Racing and we could switch them around every race if we so wished, which is a privileged position that we’re in.
“But why wouldn’t you put your best foot forward in your first team? Of course then by Max going out and delivering the performance and victory that he ultimately did, which was a fairytale start, totally vindicated that decision.”