Red Bull junior driver Pierre Gasly believes the performances of Max Verstappen in his rookie Formula 1 season show that young drivers can perform at the highest level given the opportunity.
Verstappen made headlines for his daring performances for Toro Rosso in only his second season in single-seaters, having spent his debut car-racing season in European F3 last year.
His young age and inexperience meant he was under immense pressure to live up to the hype, but the 17-year-old has earned plaudits for his maturity and overtaking prowess, as recognised by receiving three awards in the FIA end-of-season prize-giving ceremony on Friday evening.
In an exclusive interview with Motorsport.com, GP2 racer Gasly said he thinks Verstappen's breakthrough year has been a major source of encouragement for young drivers.
"It is good for us to see that young drivers can be fast in F1," said the Frenchman.
"I raced with Verstappen and Carlos Sainz Jr in the last couple of years, so I know what and how they are doing in F1 and I think they are doing a great job.
"Verstappen is a real talent, of course, but to get into F1, you need everything, the support from sponsors, have the luck to come at the right time and the opportunity to have a seat.
"So, it came at the right time for him - I would say, talent, support and a bit of luck, get this mix. He is showing the talent on track.
"It shows that a young driver even with low experience can do well in F1. Does it mean F1 is easy? Maybe, but at least he shows that young drivers can be competitive in F1, which is good."
Red Bull junior programme tough
The Red Bull academy has been a major success, having produced talents like Sebastian Vettel, Daniel Ricciardo and Daniil Kvyat as well as ex-Toro Rosso drivers Sebastien Buemi and Jean-Eric Vergne.
But it has also garnered a reputation for being a very demanding programme - and Gasly agrees with that assessment: "For Red Bull, if you are fast enough, they give you a chance in F1.
"It's a really tough programme because if at one point you don’t do what they expect, then you are out - just like [Jaime] Alguersuari and Buemi, who are really good drivers.
"It is tough and they put quite a lot of pressure but they really want the best drivers all the time.
"So, they put pressure to bring out the best and you need to show everyday that you are the best and you are doing everything to be the best."
He added: "You can do whatever you want, the main thing is to be fast on the track. So the pressure by them is a part of the game."
According to Gasly, one of the main reasons for the junior programme's success is Toro Rosso.
"I think everything is working pretty well; when you are doing well in the junior series, they put you in Toro Rosso and then Red Bull," he said.