The Inside Line #70: Too young to fly?

TILI Logo PrintThe kid had sleepy eyes, bad acne and had done all of 23 car races, but he was being parachuted straight into an F1 seat. It seemed ludicrous, but in the face of criticism from seemingly all quarters, one wise voice stood out. “If he’s good enough, then he’s old enough,” shrugged the F1 veteran, and as Kimi Raikkonen’s career would prove, the Finn certainly was good enough [1], as Rubens Barrichello suggested he might be.

Raikkonen was 21 when he made his F1 debut in Australia in 2001 after an apprenticeship in the junior formulae that could be best described as brief; for all of the outcry about promoting such a young and unproven driver back then, 21 seems positively ancient this week with the news Toro Rosso will blood Max Verstappen, son of former Grand Prix driver Jos, for 2015 [2]. Verstappen junior will be six months shy of his 18th birthday when the lights go out in Melbourne to start next season; Toro Rosso’s line-up, with 20-year-old Daniil Kvyat as the ‘veteran’, will have a combined age of 37, just two years more than Raikkonen himself if (and that’s a big ‘if’) he stays on the grid next season. How times change in just 14 years … Jos Verstappen was still competing in 2001 when Raikkonen started his career as part of a bumper crop of rookies that included Fernando Alonso and Juan Pablo Montoya; Montoya still probably remembers ‘Jos the Boss’ more than most.

The junior career of Verstappen junior certainly out-ranks anything Raikkonen put together before he started with Sauber, but is the Dutchman ready for F1 yet? What’s the answer? [3] The background to Verstappen’s leap into the big-time is examined on Episode 70 of ‘The Inside Line’ this week, while we also review the Belgian Grand Prix and F1’s annual visit to the second-best race track on the current calendar [4]. The simmering rivalry between Mercedes teammates Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton finally erupted, while Daniel Ricciardo proved – again – that nice guys can finish first after all.

You can watch ‘The Inside Line’ on SPEED TV Australia (Foxtel/Austar channel 512) at 7pm on Wednesday August 27, and/or on ESPN (Foxtel/Austar channel 508 in Australia) at 8.30pm on Thursday August 28.

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[1] ‘Was’, certainly – a world championship and many, many brilliant race wins proves that. ‘Is’, as in good enough in 2014? Theoretically, yes. Raikkonen’s Belgian GP result notwithstanding, would, say, Jules Bianchi or Nico Hulkenberg have scored more points than him this season had they been Fernando Alonso’s teammate at Ferrari? Almost certainly, yes.

[2] Jos Verstappen’s last F1 season came with Minardi in 2003, the same Minardi Paul Stoddart sold to Red Bull that became Scuderia Toro Rosso, and the same Toro Rosso that has just employed Jos’ son. It’s an amazing coincidence anyway, but one that has happened in just over a decade? Unfathomable.

[3] Lyrical link to a song from 22 years ago that inspired my headline. Got it yet?

[4] Off-the-cuff circuit power rankings: (1) Suzuka (2) Spa (3) Silverstone (4) Interlagos (19) Yas Marina.

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