Max Verstappen became the youngest driver to take to the wheel of a Formula One car on Friday in the first practice session for the Japanese grand prix in Suzuka. Just 17 years and three days old, his run for Toro Rosso eclipses Sebastian Vettel, who was the previous youngest driver at 19 years and 53 days when he ran in practice for BMW in Turkey in 2006.
The Dutch driver, who will replace Jean-Éric Vergne at Toro Rosso next year, completed a creditable performance for almost all of the session before he was forced to retire with an engine failure ten minutes from the end. He finished 12th on a leaderboard topped by the Mercedes of Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton, but was crucially only just over four-tenths of a second down on his team-mate Daniil Kvyat.
But despite his pace, Verstappen insisted he had not been really pushing the car on his first run. “Of course I was not even close to the limit,” he said. “I was just driving safely without doing any crazy stuff. For me the main thing today was just to try to make a lot of laps.”
He was granted his super licence by the FIA in September after a 300km test in the 2012 Toro Rosso in Italy but running at Suzuka had been a step forward from that he admitted. “I was getting used to the car, getting used to the track – because it’s not an easy track. When I saw the time on the screens I was happy. The biggest challenge was just getting used to the car really – it’s a bit different to the 2012 car,” he said.