Verstappen rules: The impact of F1’s youngest superstar

On May 15 2016, Max Verstappen rewrote Formula 1's history books by winning the Spanish Grand Prix at the age of 18. In the five-year period since his stunning maiden win, the Dutchman has continued to make a mark on the sport.

Verstappen rules: The impact of F1’s youngest superstar
Listen to this article

Record books inevitably get rewritten every so often, but only rarely do entire pages get ripped out at once. Yet that’s exactly what happened when Verstappen entered the sport.

Just three days after his seventeenth birthday, the Dutchman made his official grand prix debut at the wheel of a Toro Rosso in practice for the 2014 Japanese Grand Prix.

Read Also:

Groomed by his father, former F1 driver Jos Verstappen, Max was clearly destined to reach the highest echelons of motor racing. After achieving success in karting, Verstappen immediately jumped up to Formula 3 in his first season in cars.

At the age of 16 Verstappen finished third in the 2014 Euro F3 championship behind Esteban Ocon and Tom Blomqvist, picking up 10 race wins along the way.

Red Bull won the battle for Verstappen’s services when it managed to offer him a 2015 F1 drive at Toro Rosso, which would make him by far the youngest and least experienced F1 driver ever.

Max Verstappen celebrates his first F1 win with Red Bull

Max Verstappen celebrates his first F1 win with Red Bull

Photo by: Zak Mauger / Motorsport Images

The Verstappen Rules

In response to Verstappen’s early rise, the FIA issued its first “Verstappen rule” by raising F1’s age limit to 18 from 2015 onwards. It would mean the Verstappen would remain F1’s youngest driver for the foreseeable future.

In Melbourne Verstappen eased any worries the FIA may have had about his maturity by impressing with a solid performance. The Dutchman was only denied points on his debut by an engine failure, but points would arrive in Malaysia with a stunning seventh place.

That set the tone for a remarkable debut season in which he compared favourably to teammate Carlos Sainz, but it would pale compared to what the 2016 season had in store.

When Red Bull’s Helmut Marko decided to demote Daniil Kvyat just four races into the 2016 season, Verstappen’s promotion to the A-team was a shock but at the same time fully in line with his meteoric rise in the sport.

At the Spanish Grand Prix Verstappen wrote history again, holding off Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen to become F1’s youngest-ever winner.

Overnight Verstappen had become a frontrunner in Formula 1. A new contender the likes of Lewis Hamilton, Sebastian Vettel and Raikkonen had to reckon with.

Verstappen reintroduced a more aggressive style of racing and soon came to blows with some of his rivals, particularly Raikkonen after incidents in Hungary and Belgium.

The FIA issued a rules clarification in Austin, clamping down on the dreaded moving under braking which Verstappen had been found guilty of.

Ironically, the second “Verstappen rule” caught out Ferrari to Red Bull’s benefit, when Sebastian Vettel was penalised in Mexico for his defensive actions against Ricciardo.

The second Verstappen rule didn’t last long. The FIA relaxed the rules again ahead of the 2017 season in a bid to give drivers more on-track freedom and reduce the pressure on its stewards.

In his early days Verstappen certainly made the odd mistake, but it would have been short-sighted to chalk off his driving tactics as youthful exuberance.

Verstappen seemed to have taken a page out of the late Ayrton Senna’s book, who was known for a similar aggressive style of racing.

From his early F3 days in England Senna established himself by trying to get into his opponents' heads, bullying them into either yielding or risking an accident.

In similar fashion the 2016-spec Verstappen tried to show he is no pushover, backing up his occasional brash moves with fiery post-race comments.

Verstappen notched up two more wins in 2017, but on occasion the impatience of youth would still shine through with several on-track incidents, which would draw criticism from mentor Marko and team boss Christian Horner.

That all seemed to change in 2018 after a troubled Monaco Grand Prix weekend, in which Verstappen failed to make qualifying following an FP3 crash and his teammate Ricciardo ended up winning the race.

Verstappen bounced back with a brilliant run of measured performances, finishing on the podium 10 times in the remaining 15 races. With new-found consistency Verstappen beat Ferrari duo Vettel and Charles Leclerc to third in the 2019 championship. At the same time, a heated confrontation with Esteban Ocon in Brazil showed Verstappen's quick-tempered side is still there.

Dutch fans storm the Red Bull Ring to celebrate the victory of Max Verstappen

Dutch fans storm the Red Bull Ring to celebrate the victory of Max Verstappen

Photo by: Glenn Dunbar / Motorsport Images

Rekindling a dormant flame

The two "Verstappen rules" aren’t the only way in which the now 22-year-old Dutchman impacted the sport. In his native country of the Netherlands he rekindled the flame of a sports-crazed nation, which had been dormant after lacklustre performances by its football team.

By the time Verstappen took his maiden win in Barcelona, the bandwagon had well and truly started rolling and Verstappen quickly became a household name just like father Jos used to be.

Armies of Dutch supporters quickly spread around European race tracks, colouring grandstands orange and providing a much-needed shot in the arm for several grands prix.

The Belgian Grand Prix at Spa-Francorchamps was the biggest beneficiary of Max Mania. After a couple of difficult post-Schumacher years, Spa started selling out again thanks to the massive influx of fans from nearby Holland.

Spa’s success was an inspiration for the Netherlands to connect with history and bring back a true home race for Verstappen and his legions of fans.

The Dutch Grand Prix at Zandvoort was a pillar of the Formula 1 world championship between 1952 and the race's demise in 1985.

Using the momentum of Verstappen’s rising popularity and a growing interest in F1, both Zandvoort and Assen battled to bring the race back to the country.

In the end Zandvoort prevailed. Exactly one year ago the race’s sporting director Jan Lammers and F1 CEO Chase Carey announced Formula 1 would return to the Dutch dunes on a renovated circuit, a comeback delayed by the COVID-19 crisis.

Charles Leclerc leads Max Verstappen at the 2019 British Grand Prix

Charles Leclerc leads Max Verstappen at the 2019 British Grand Prix

Photo by: Gareth Harford / Motorsport Images

Triggering the Twitch generation

Verstappen’s popularity has also seen a dramatic increase outside his own country. At the age of 22, Verstappen and Ferrari rival Leclerc are the faces of a new generation of F1 superstars.

Verstappen and Leclerc already went head-to-head on track on several occasions, producing one of the sport’s most memorable duels in recent years at a riveting 2019 British Grand Prix.

Both youngsters have been snapped up by their respective teams on long-term deals, providing the mouth-watering prospect of two of the finest talents of their generation doing battle in competitive machinery for years to come.

In the age of social media, Verstappen and his peers are also invaluable in bringing Formula 1 to a new generation of fans. During the coronacrisis lockdown, esports and sim racing have seen an enormous increase in popularity.

Along with the stellar efforts of McLaren star and Twitch king Lando Norris, Verstappen’s sim racing exploits can go a long way in building a bridge between two different worlds which Formula 1 can capitalise on.

At the age of 22 years and seven months, Verstappen already had 102 starts, 31 podiums and eight wins under his belt, roughly at the age at which Lewis Hamilton won his maiden grand prix in 2007. He has since broken into double figures in race wins.

In five-and-a-bit years of Formula 1, Verstappen has come a long way but his journey has only just begun. Who knows what his impact on the sport will end up being, with a lot riding on how his rivalry with seven-time champion Hamilton pans out from here. 

Shane van Gisbergen and Max Verstappen in a virtual Supercar race

Shane van Gisbergen and Max Verstappen in a virtual Supercar race

Photo by: Supercars

shares
comments

Related video

How F1's new sprint qualifying races will challenge teams
Previous article

How F1's new sprint qualifying races will challenge teams

Next article

How F1 has made itself battle-ready for calendar shocks

How F1 has made itself battle-ready for calendar shocks
Why Mercedes believes it can make the step F1 needs to fight Red Bull Prime

Why Mercedes believes it can make the step F1 needs to fight Red Bull

The 2022 Formula 1 season was Mercedes' leanest for a decade, achieving just a solitary pole and grand prix win. Yet the team is confident it has got the tools it needs to cast that disappointment aside and return to the front of the field again next year.

How BRM's one-off F1 double defied its rollercoaster history Prime

How BRM's one-off F1 double defied its rollercoaster history

It’s 60 years since BRM achieved its goal and Graham Hill led the team to a world title double. But that was just part of the remarkable story of a unique team that at times overstretched its resources and had its fair share of disappointments.

Formula 1
Dec 8, 2022
The bold F1 DRS experiment that could end the debate forever Prime

The bold F1 DRS experiment that could end the debate forever

OPINION: The effectiveness of DRS in Formula 1 remains a topic of debate as the winter break gives a chance for reflection on the racing we saw in 2022. For all of its detractors, perhaps an experiment where DRS is cast aside and the impact this has on racing is in order to truly understand its merits in modern F1.

Formula 1
Dec 8, 2022
The sliding doors moment that saved Red Bull and Porsche Prime

The sliding doors moment that saved Red Bull and Porsche

OPINION: Everything looked set for Red Bull and Porsche to join forces for the 2026 season, before the marriage between both parties was called off. While at the time it looked like a major coup for Formula 1 in gaining both VW Group powerhouses Audi and Porsche for 2026, Red Bull and Porsche have really been spared a potentially fractious relationship.

Formula 1
Dec 7, 2022
How Tyrrell’s post-Stewart era descended into a fight to survive Prime

How Tyrrell’s post-Stewart era descended into a fight to survive

Glory days for Tyrrell became increasingly infrequent
 after Jackie Stewart’s retirement. But in the latest instalment of his history of the team for Autosport's sister title GP Racing, 
MAURICE HAMILTON recalls how Ken Tyrrell’s plucky and defiantly small team stayed bold enough to innovate – springing a surprise with F1’s first six-wheeled car

Formula 1
Dec 6, 2022
How departing F1 boss Brawn views F1’s new rules - and the future Prime

How departing F1 boss Brawn views F1’s new rules - and the future

Multiple-title-winning designer and team boss Ross Brawn is finally leaving Formula 1 after nearly 50 years in motorsport. But he still has plenty of insights on what’s working and what comes next, as he revealed to Motorsport.com in a far-reaching exclusive interview in Abu Dhabi.

Formula 1
Dec 2, 2022
The key F1 management call Ferrari must make to avoid more defeat Prime

The key F1 management call Ferrari must make to avoid more defeat

OPINION: Mattia Binotto’s departure from Ferrari will naturally bring a range of changes across the Formula 1 team. But how the changes shape up and the impact they could have is set to be dictated by a key direction Ferrari’s top dogs will need to pick

Formula 1
Nov 30, 2022
The difference between Mercedes’ stumble and the fall of F1 giants Prime

The difference between Mercedes’ stumble and the fall of F1 giants

OPINION: Mercedes endured its worst season of the hybrid Formula 1 era, but was mercifully spared its first winless campaign in over a decade late on. It has owned up to the mistakes it made which led to its troubled W13. And while its task to return to title-challenging contention is not small, its 2022 season seems more like a blip than the beginning of a downward spiral.

Formula 1
Nov 29, 2022