SUZUKA, Japan (AP) — For someone not yet old enough to have a drivers’ license, Max Verstappen looked remarkably at ease when he made his first official Formula One outing on Friday.
Verstappen, who turned 17 on Tuesday, became the youngest driver to take part in an F1 Grand Prix weekend when he piloted a Toro Rosso in Friday’s first practice session at the Japanese Grand Prix.
The Dutchman — or, more correctly, Dutch boy — completed 22 laps at the demanding Suzuka circuit, setting the twelfth-fastest time, lapping within four tenths of a second of his teammate Daniil Kvyat, then calmly saying he wasn’t even trying that hard.
“I was quite relaxed,” Verstappen said. “I just did what I had to do. I was not close to pushing the limit, just driving safely without doing anything crazy and trying to make a lot of laps.”
“The biggest challenge was getting used to the car,” Verstappen said. “The systems, the button on the steering wheel…”
Verstappen is close to two years younger than the previous record holder Jaime Alguersuari, who was 19 years and 125 days when he contested the 2009 Hungarian Grand Prix.
The teenager handed back the car to senior teammate Jean-Eric Vergne for the afternoon’s practice session and will be a spectator for the race, though with a keen eye as Suzuka will be one of the tracks he will race on next year, when he replaces Vergne.
Current F1 champion Sebastian Vettel — who made his race debut at 19 — joked on Thursday that the biggest difference between himself and Verstappen when they started their careers was that Vettel was able to drive himself to the track.
When asked if he was bothered by good-natured ribbing about his age, Verstappen had a quick response.
“Not really, I enjoy sitting in the passenger seat, I can get a little sleep,” said Verstappen, adding he plans to get his license next year.
Verstappen drew on some valuable advice from his father before going out on the demanding Suzuka circuit. Jos Verstappen competed in 106 F1 races from 1994-2002.
“He just told me to build up confidence lap by lap and it’s not about lap times,” Verstappen said. “He seemed pretty pleased.”
Verstappen has been competing in this year’s European Formula Three season for Van Amersfoort Racing. He racked up the necessary mileage to qualify for a FIA license in a test earlier this month.
Several drivers, including Felipe Massa, Daniel Ricciardo and Adrian Sutil, have questioned whether Verstappen is old enough to compete.
“For me it’s not about age, age is just a number,” Verstappen said. “Sebastian (Vettel) started at 19 and look where he is now.”
Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.