As coolly composed as he is hugely talented, the unflappable Max Verstappen seems to be handling the pressure well heading into this weekend’s Monaco Grand Prix — where the 18-year-old will be firmly in the spotlight.
Already touted as a future star of the sport since making his F1 debut last year, the Dutch driver became the youngest winner of an F1 race at the Spanish Grand Prix two weeks ago.
He won on his first start for Red Bull after being promoted from feeder team Toro Rosso at the expense of Daniil Kvyat.
Talk of how unfair it was on Kvyat instantly subsided, amid the buzz caused by Verstappen’s win in Barcelona.
Back home in the Netherlands, where football is by far the main sport, the combination of his youth and his success in becoming the first Dutch driver to win a race gave F1 some rare headlines.
“It was pretty crazy in Holland,” Verstappen said on Wednesday at the pre-race news conference.
“Luckily I didn’t go out too much on the streets, just spent my time with family and friends.”
That Verstappen sounds so level-headed about his win is hardly surprising. For it seems, from his ice-cool demeanor at least, that the pressure of competing at such a young age in F1 does not affect him.
“I try and turn it into positive pressure,” said Verstappen, whose father Jos is the only other Dutchman to secure an F1 podium, back in 1994.
“As long as you’re enjoying it and you feel happy, then that’s the most important thing.”
Verstappen’s recollection of his win is unembellished and straightforward: much like his driving style.
“I just put my helmet on, jumped in the car and suddenly I was leading the race,” he said.
“We had good traction out of the last chicane and I knew that was a strong point, so I was always trying to get a good exit.”
Although he hardly made a mistake, Verstappen did not have to contend with Mercedes because Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg both crashed into each other at the start of the race and went out.
Beating Mercedes in Monaco on Sunday — one of the three hardest F1 tracks to overtake on — would almost certainly require getting pole position, or at least getting on the front of the grid.
That is a tall order given how crushingly dominant Mercedes has been in qualifying since 2014.
“Mercedes are very strong, so it will be difficult to beat them,” Verstappen said.
“I’m still getting used to the car. It will take a few races before you’re fully comfortable with the systems.”
Perhaps fittingly, given his fast-growing reputation, Verstappen sat on the front row alongside Rosberg — the runaway championship leader — and four-time F1 champion Sebastian Vettel at the news conference.
“It’s not to be underestimated what he’s done and it’s great for F1 also,” said Rosberg, who won the last three races of 2015 and the first four this season.
“There has been lots of news about that.”
Vettel, the previous youngest winner at the age of 21, when he won the Italian GP in 2008, will be keeping a keener eye on F1‘s rising star.
“Your first GP win, you’re over the moon,” Vettel said.
“I’m sure he wants to feel that again. It’s up to us to make sure that doesn’t happen too often.”