Helmut Marko still annoyed with Formula 1's age entry restrictions
Helmut Marko thinks it is “nonsense” that a 17-year-old, like Max Verstappen was in 2015, can no longer race in Formula 1.
Verstappen was famously fast-tracked to F1 straight from the European Formula 3 Championship, making his debut for Toro Rosso at the Australian Grand Prix less than six months after his 17th birthday. Two weeks later he scored his first points, finishing seventh in Malaysia.
Marko, of course, as head of Red Bull’s driver development programme, was instrumental in giving the Dutchman his big chance – and now, at 24, Verstappen is the World Champion.
But 2015 was the final year when a 17-year-old, like Verstappen, was eligible to compete in F1. In December 2014, after his promotion had been announced, the FIA changed the rule to a minimum age of 18 for the 2016 season onwards.
That requirement is still written into the rules for obtaining a Super Licence – and Marko vehemently disagrees with it.
“Basically, Max started at the same level as his team-mate Carlos Sainz, who already had more experience in the junior classes,” said Marko in an interview with the Dutch edition of Motorsport.com, recalling the 2015 Toro Rosso line-up. Sainz also made his F1 debut alongside Verstappen, although at the age of 20 rather than 17.
“We have never doubted our own choices or Max’s qualities, although it’s a gamble whether drivers who are successful in the entry-level classes can do the same in Formula 1. You never have that guarantee.”
The story goes that when Marko first met a 15-year-old Verstappen, instead of the 20 or 30-minute discussion the Austrian usually had with prospective drivers, they chatted for more than an hour.
“During the long conversation, I became quite convinced Max was ahead of his time,” said Marko. “He even seemed more mature to me than many 18-year-old drivers.
“My main conclusion was: there is a very young body, but someone who is at least three to five years older in spirit.
“The FIA didn’t see that and was stupid enough to change the whole licensing system, so nobody so young can ever make their debut again.
“I still think that is nonsense – in my opinion you should always look at the personality of a young driver.”
Marko also recalled the moment he decided Verstappen was ready for Formula 1 – in June 2014, halfway through the European Formula 3 season.
“The races at the Norisring were the deciding factor,” said Marko, with Verstappen winning three out of three for the second weekend in a row.
“After what we saw there, age was no longer relevant. I saw someone who was mentally and physically ready for Formula 1 and right away. His age was just an afterthought.”
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