YOUNGEST EVER: 16-year-old Max Verstappen will become the youngest driver in Formula One history in 2015 after being unveiled as Toro Rosso's new signing. Image: AFP/Sandra Koning
LONDON, England - Red Bull has defended sister team Toro Roso's decision to sign teenager Max Verstappen as Formula 1's youngest driver yet, stating the 16-year-old has already proven he is championship material.
Helmut Marko, motorsport consultant to the champions, told the official F1 website on Tuesday (August 19) that Toro Rosso was not taking a risk in putting him in their line-up for 2015.
Verstappen, who will be 17-years-old in September 2014, is still too young to drive on public roads in his home country and will have experienced only a year of single-seater racing when he makes his first grid appearance in 2015.
He was little more than a toddler when some of the other drivers, such as McLaren's Jenson Button, were racing against his father Jos at the start of the century.
Marko said: "He will be 17 when he has his first race, which is pretty young, but I don't think it is a risk. He proved in various races that he can use his head. I had quite a few conversations with him and you can see how mature he is.
"Toro Rosso is well known for educating and training young drivers, so he comes into (that) environment... I think he'll go into the season well prepared. We can't see any risk doing it like that."
Jaime Alguersuari, holder of F1's previous youngest driver title, made his debut with Red Bull-owned Toro Rosso in 2009 when he was 19-years-old.
Before him, Kimi Raikkonen was a controversial signing by Sauber at the age of 21 in 2001 with only 23 single-seater races to his credit but the Finn went on to become 2007 World champion with Ferrari.
Verstappen, whose father raced in F1 between 1994 and 2003, said he would be training hard to ensure he was physically ready and shrugged off the age concern.
The European Formula 3 title contender told BBC radio: "I'm a relaxed guy, I will handle it. I think the biggest step I had was karting to F3. I think F3 to F1 will be a smaller step. I'm not that worried about it. The cars are really safe. I think it's more dangerous to bike through a big city than race in an F1 car."
Toro Rosso's announcement is sure to be a major talking point in the paddock at this weekend's Belgian Grand Prix at Spa-Francorchamps.
While there have been similarly precocious athletes in other sports, with Wayne Rooney making his senior England soccer debut at 17, they have rarely been in a position where a mistake carries potentially lethal consequences.
When Alguersuari was announced in 2009, drivers were quick to voice concern in that area. One British newspaper went so far as to ask whether the Catalan - who had only driven a grand prix car in a straight line up to that point - was the most dangerous man on the starting grid.
Marko has no doubt Verstappen would be ready, quick enough and also safe: "I think he has unbelievable speed. For his age he is very mature and he is a hard worker. He has all the necessary ingredients you need to be an absolute champion."
Alguersuari lasted just two full seasons before he was discarded at the age of 21, the downside to a Red Bull junior path that has unearthed talents like four-times champion Sebastian Vettel and current team mate Daniel Ricciardo.
Vettel also made his debut aged 19 in 2007 and went on to become the youngest race winner at 21, and then the youngest World champion at 23. Frenchman Jean-Eric Vergne, who will be replaced by Verstappen in 2015, is still only 24 but already looking like he belongs to a different generation.
Verstappen's 2015 team mate will be 19-year-old Russian Daniil Kvyat, who became the sport's youngest ever points scorer on his debut this season.
Verstappen told Formula1.com: "I think the age doesn't really matter. You want to be fast of course but the main goal is just to try and be consistent and not make too many mistakes." Stay with Wheels24 for the 2014 Belgium GP this weekend.