There is one Formula One record, set by the former Toro Rosso and now Red Bull driver Max Verstappen, which will stand forever.
By Graham Duxbury
Verstappen, who recently became the youngest driver to win a F1 race (at 18 years and 227 days) will always be recognised as the youngest driver to enter a F1 race. He made his debut at the Australian Grand Prix in 2015 at the tender age of 17 years and 166 days.
The record is unlikely to be broken because F1 rule makers subsequently set a minimum age limit for F1 drivers at 18 years in line with a new ‘super license’ system that came into force in 2016.
Verstappen is one of a number of young drivers who have made appearances at the sport’s highest level in recent years. They include Daniil Kvyat and Jaime Alguersuari who were both 19 years old on debut and Mercedes junior Esteban Ocon who was 18 when he drove for Lotus in the first free practice session at Abu Dhabi in 2014.
Driving talent is burgeoning early thanks to the highly competitive world of karting which is now recognised as a prime F1 feeder. Max began his racing career in karts shortly after his fourth birthday and only contested a handful of car races before he had a F1 steering wheel firmly grasped in his hands.
F1 cars are also easier to drive which has opened the door for less experienced drivers to shine.
Martin Brundle, a respected race commentator and former F1 driver, says that while today’s F1 cars are physically easier to drive they’re not easier to keep on the track.
Drivers, he says, must exhibit extraordinary car control and an understanding of the characteristics of the modern hybrid power delivery systems. Verstappen’s innate ability to pass in difficult circumstances clearly supports this principle.
Last year Max was presented with the “Action of the Year” award by the FIA, F1’s governing body, for his overtake on Felipe Nasr through the fearsome Blanchimont corner at the Belgian GP.
From F1’s earliest beginnings, youth has always been admired. Insiders, fans and casual spectators alike are attracted by the charismatic appeal of a daring young racing driver. As a result, young drivers will always hold a special place in the annals of the sport.
The Mexican Riccardo Rodrigues was just 19 when he made his debut in Italy in 1961 guest driving for Ferrari. He qualified on the front row of the grid for his first race and remains the youngest driver in history to achieve this feat.
Unfortunately, he died after a suspension failure-induced crash in practice for his home GP later that year.
Chris Amon was 19 years and 324 days old when he started the Belgian GP in 1963. He would go on to be recognised as one of the sport’s unluckiest drivers, never claiming a win despite driving for some of the greatest teams, including Ferrari and Matra.
In the 1970s and 1980s experience in F1 seemed to be prized, with the sport dominated in the main by the ‘old hands’ like Jackie Stewart who was 30 when he won the first of his three world championships, Mario Andretti who claimed his title at 38, and Nelson Piquet – 29 when he took the first of his three championships.
There were exceptions. Emerson Fittipaldi became world champion in 1972 at the age of 25, the youngest to-date. He held this record for 33 years.
We have to fast-forward to the modern era before youth began to consistently trump experience behind the wheel of a F1 car. It began in the early 1990s with the arrival of Rubens Barrichello who made his debut in 1993, aged 20.
Later, Fernando Alonso cemented his place in history when he started his F1 career in Australia in 2001 at 19 years and 218 days, while Sebastian Vettel, at 19 years and one month became the (then) youngest driver to take part in an official practice session in Turkey in 2006.
At 23 years and 300 days, Lewis Hamilton claimed the “youngest F1 world champion” title in 2008. It was a record that Vettel broke two years later and holds to this day. He was 23 years and 134 days when he won the first of his four titles in 2010. He remains the youngest double, triple and quadruple world champion.
Interestingly, Vettel was also part of F1’s youngest-ever podium when he shared the 2008 Italian GP rostrum with Heikki Kovalainen and Robert Kubica. Their average age was just short of 24 – almost 23 years younger than Giuseppe Farina, Luigi Fagioli and Louis Rosier whose average age was 46 (and combined age over 140) when they stood on F1’s oldest podium at the 1950 Swiss GP.