Analysis: Is it too early for Verstappen to join a top team?

Max Verstappen is often heralded as one of the biggest talents in Formula 1, past or present. But would he be ready to move into a top team as early as 2017?

Here is a driver who has broken convention rather than followed it at every step of his brilliant career.

Verstappen's move up to Formula 1 from F3 prompted the FIA to lay down new criteria for super licences, although at no stage was there any doubt about his amazing talent.

In fact, such has been his immediate impact in F1 that silly season speculation has already placed him at Ferrari, Mercedes and Red Bull for 2017 and beyond.

But, despite the praise, the results and the hype surrounding him, one man who thinks that Verstappen may not yet be ready for an early leap up the order is his boss Franz Tost.

Three-year plan

Toro Rosso's team principal knows a thing or two about the career progression of youngsters, having helped play key roles in the development of Red Bull juniors Sebastian Vettel, Daniel Ricciardo and Daniil Kvyat.

And his experience tells him that it takes drivers at least three years to be able to get to grips with the world of F1 before they are ready to deliver the kind of results top teams demand.

When asked if he feels Verstappen is ready for a top team in 2017, Tost told Motorsport.com: “I don’t know yet.

"Once more I just say a driver normally needs three years to understand Formula 1. If they are ready to jump to another team, it’s in their hands.”

Driving is easy

Tost's perspective on Verstappen is fascinating, because his argument is based not on what the Dutchman is delivering on track – but how he handles work off it.

For Tost says that the actual driving part of F1 is the most natural for youngsters, as it is something they have honed since karting.

“In Formula 1, what drivers sometimes underestimate, is it’s not only driving,” he explains. “I would say driving for this young generation is the easiest part.

“Why? Because most of them have been racing for more than 10 years, because they start when they are four or five years old. So that means from a driving side it’s not a problem. They adapt to this very fast.

“It’s a little bit more difficult with the qualifying. Because to do optimal qualifying you exactly must know which angle you go over the kerbs, how much to use the kerbs, where is the best overall grip, what is the sun doing and so on. This you can tell a driver one hundred times, but he has to experience this.

“Then, races as well. You have to experience how to use the tyres. This is not easy. That’s really difficult. This needs a lot of discipline.

“You can 100 times tell to the driver: in corner seven you must be careful for your front right tyre or whatever. Fine.

"But then he goes out, he closes his helmet and he races, because he wants to catch the car in front of him and then he overdrives it. And this takes time. That’s driving.”

Workflow

Where Tost thinks the challenge of learning how to succeed in F1 comes from, though, is dealing with how to extract the best from the whole team.

Tost added: “What’s much more complicated in Formula 1 is everything around. You have five, six, seven engineers who are working for you.

“You have the data engineer. You have the chassis engineer. You have the engine engineer. You have the power unit engineer. You have the tyre engineer.

“To get the most out of this, you have to get information from every side. How can you get it out to optimize it for your usage? Because not every driver is the same. This takes time.

“Then you have marketing, you have the press. And all this together. And therefore I always say: it’s very, very important that the drivers Sunday at two o’clock are still fresh in their head. That they are not tired. We definitely must take care of this.

“Therefore we always say: marketing events should be on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday. Then also big press conferences should be Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday a little bit less, Friday less and then Saturday and Sunday they can recover and that they are ready to race.

“Because otherwise Sunday when the lights go out they’re tired. This is why Formula 1 is not so easy. The driving itself is not the biggest problem.”

Emotions

One incident that highlighted an aspect where Verstappen can still learn and improve was the radio row in Australia.

He vented his fury at the team over its Melbourne strategy calls in the second half of the race – behaviour for which he later apologised.

For Tost, who has taken the brunt of plenty of youthful fury over the years, what happened in Australia was nothing out of the ordinary, but just a sign that Verstappen had not learned to keep his emotions in check when driving.

“Emotions are nothing negative, it shows just how serious [Max] takes it,” he explained. “In the car you must sometimes keep the emotions under control because otherwise you lose concentration.

“In Formula 1 especially, there is a very high level of concentration necessary, you simply must keep yourself emotionally under control.”

Proof of Tost's stance that letting emotions get in the way of concentration was borne out when Verstappen ran in to the back of team-mate Carlos Sainz, damaging his front wing in the process.

“You know, if you are upset and chatting on the radio, of course you are concentrated on something different, not only on driving,” he said. “But once more, this is part of the learning process.

“Why do I always say a driver needs three years to understand Formula 1? With all the drivers I worked together, it was at one period the same.

"They are emotional and then they come up with this [emotion], and that’s okay. But it shouldn't be in the car, it should be afterwards. But that’s normal. There’s absolutely nothing wrong.

"For me this is part of the education process. You can’t expect that everything, especially in Formula 1 which is high pressure and competition, is smooth. It’s not possible, at least in my opinion.”

And, while having sublime talent in a race-winning machine is a dream, if a team needs to turnaround, the combination of an under-form car and an inexperienced driver – no matter how quick he is – may not be ideal.

“If you are sitting in a fantastic good car, no problem,” added Tost. “If you are sitting in a car that’s maybe more difficult to drive, more difficult to set-up, then of course the more experience he has the easier it is to compensate the deficiencies. Therefore it’s too early to think and talk about this.”

Driver call

Tost knows that the final call on Verstappen will not come down to him alone: as it will involve both what Red Bull's overall drivers plans are and what the youngster himself wants.

“I always say: coming into Formula 1 is one part, but then the driver has it in his hands. And he decides then about his future.

“The job of the team is to provide him with the best possible ingredients, that he can do the best possible job. And then he decides. It’s always the driver.”

All eyes then will be on how Verstappen's 2016 campaign rolls out – and whether he feels that that next big step is needed straight away or if he thinks he is better off holding fire to finish off his apprenticeship.

“Next year he will already have had two years with us,” added Tost. “I hope at least that he learned a lot, and the rest then we will see.”

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About this article
Series Formula 1
Drivers Max Verstappen
Teams Toro Rosso
Article type Analysis