Milan: Sixteen-year-old Max Verstappen will become the youngest driver in Formula One history next season after being unveiled as Toro Rosso's new signing. The Dutch teenager, son of ex-F1 driver Jos Verstappen, currently races in Formula Three with the Van Amersfoort Racing team having cut his racing teeth on the karting circuit.
He will partner Russian Daniil Kvyat in the Red Bull feeder team with 24-year-old Frenchman Jean-Eric Vergne deemed surplus to requirements. "Ever since I was seven years old, Formula One has been my career goal, so this opportunity is truly a dream come true,"
Verstappen said on the team's website. Verstappen, who turns 17 next month, will beat by almost two years the age record currently held by Spain's Jaime Alguersuari, who was 19 years and 125 days when he made his debut at the Hungarian GP in 2009, also for Toro Rosso. He won the world go-karting championship last year and has topped the podium in eight out of 27 races since graduating to the highly competitive Formula Three Championship.
"We've all worked tremendously hard to reach Formula One and I will give my absolute best to be successful in the pinnacle of motorsport," Verstappen said, thanking his father for his support. "With the return of the Verstappen name to Formula One, I hope we can relive old memories and I'm hoping to see many fans at all the Grand Prix circuits." Verstappen played down the step up to Formula One, saying that he thought he had already made the hardest transition.
"I think the biggest step I had was karting to F3. I think F3 to F1 will be a smaller step," the teenager told BBC Radio 5 live. "I'm not that worried about it. The cars are really safe. I think it's more dangerous to bike through a big city than race in an F1 car."
Verstappen is following the path of four-time world champion Sebastian Vettel and Red Bull team-mate Daniel Ricciardo, who were also members of the Red Bull Junior Team. Toro Rosso team principal Franz Tost said that despite his youth, Verstappen's skill levels and maturity indicated he could cut it in Formula One.
"We consider Max to be 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," he said. "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 1."
Verstappen also received praise from current Formula Three team boss Frits van Amersfoort. "Max is an exceptional talent and it's great news that Red Bull wants him so dearly," Van Amersfoort said. "Genetically, he is built up right and his preparations are always more than sufficient. His records in karting were outrageous and in single seaters he has possibly been even more impressive.
"Then Red Bull comes along. I can only see positives here and am certain that he is looking at a beautiful future." Verstappen's Russian teammate Kvyat became the youngest driver to earn a championship point at the age of 19 when he finished ninth in this season's opening race in Australia in March.
Come next season's Australian Grand Prix, Verstappen will be 17 years and 164 days of age and hopefully in control of a competitive car in place of Vergne, who has amassed 11 points for Toro Rosso this season after making his Formula One debut for the team in 2012. Toro Rosso's Tost added: "I would also like to thank Jean-Eric Vergne for all his hard work.
He has produced strong performances, but unfortunately he was also hindered by some reliability problems, especially in the first half of the current season. "We hope that we have resolved these problems and that he will be able to end the second half of this season on a high note and thereby show that he still deserves another opportunity in Formula 1."