Were you a believer?
Hindsight – it’s a wonderful thing.
Think back, back to August 2014, and as a keen follower of Formula 1 you’ll no doubt remember Red Bull’s exciting announcement that a 17-year-old Dutch lad called Max Verstappen would be sitting on the 2015 Australian Grand Prix grid in a Scuderia Toro Rosso F1 car.
What was your reaction?
Enthusiasm, elation, anticipation and delight, or maybe, sitting on the wholly negative and unequivocally ageist side of the F1 fence, you were appalled, disgusted, disappointed and downright disillusioned? Many were…
Me? I thought it was an inspired decision, writing – as I did post - Monza 2014 - of the undoubted benefits to the sport as a whole of the elevation to the top tier of a young and talented racer with the potential to engage a market sector apparently uninterested in the old, fussy and often outright decrepit F1 scene.
Heaven knows F1 needs to appeal to a younger audience, and what better way to embrace the fashionable and often fickle youth market than by employing a teenager to race. Especially one who is fluent in multiple languages, has the guiding hand and wisdom of a father well versed in the nuances of F1 life, and who was seemingly born to the job.
You won’t be surprised to learn that – much to my despair – my enthusiasm for Verstappen’s advancement was met in equal measure by disdain and dismissal by untold ‘learned’ and opinionated ‘experts’ in the F1 paddock.
Oh how they moaned, opining that young Max would be eaten alive by his older and unforgiving F1 driver peers, and that with a record of not suffering fools gladly Red Bull would likely dispense of the Dutchman’s services quick-smart should he fail to deliver. Ex-F1 drivers, never afraid to give opinions (though seemingly unaware that they’re now just part of the media circus), while praising Max’s abilities, appeared ignorant of the need for the sport to reach out to a younger demographic.
The result of all this negativity? The sport’s governing body, the FIA, rubber-stamped new legislation that – from 2016 onwards – means no driver under the age of 18 can qualify for a Superlicence or, therefore, compete at a Formula 1 grand prix.
How daft does that decision look now?
Verstappen, now rightly recognised as undoubtedly the finest racing talent to emerge for many a year, is being heralded by all. The doubters? Well, no surprise that they’ve spun completely, conveniently forgetting their deleterious utterances, and are trying to convince anyone who’ll listen that they were believers all along…
Aggressively courted, as one hears Max now is by Ferrari and Mercedes, with Red Bull voraciously insisting ‘he’s ours’, Verstappen will certainly be racing a winning car soon.
World champion before he’s 21? Nah, we can’t allow that…
Where’s the rule book?!