LONDON (Reuters) – Formula One’s first 17-year-old racer became the sport’s first 18-year-old driver on Wednesday and Toro Rosso’s Max Verstappen celebrated his birthday by passing his test at the first attempt.
As he said on his Twitter feed: “Legal to drive, born to race #driverlicense.”
“It’s great to be 18 and to have a driving license,” the Dutch teenager added on his personal website.
“That I’m finally allowed on the road on my own gives me more independence, which is great. I have to say it’s a relief to pass the test. I was a bit nervous to make mistakes, but the exam went well.”
Verstappen, who scored points in Japan last weekend with ninth place at Suzuka from 17th on the starting grid, had told reporters then that he would have to wait to sit his test because of his intense schedule.
The desire for secrecy clearly had more to do with it, however.
He had passed his driving theory test before the start of the season but still needed to do mandatory lessons at home in Belgium before taking the test.
Flying straight back from Japan, the son of former racer Jos took his first lesson on Monday.
Despite his success, Verstappen insisted he still preferred to be a passenger on public roads: “It’s a moment of peace and I still think that way,” he said.
On track, Verstappen has disarmed his critics entirely in just 14 races.
Those who said he was too young, and pushed for the super-licence qualifying criteria to be changed to prevent anyone under 18 racing in Formula One, now have to admit he is a phenomenon.
The youngest driver ever to score points — seventh place in his second outing in Malaysia — Verstappen has a string of other records in his sights and plenty of time to achieve them.
No teenager has ever led a race or set a fastest lap and no driver under 21 has ever started on pole position, stood on the podium — though Verstappen came close with fourth in Hungary — or won a grand prix.
The youngest world champion was Sebastian Vettel at the grand old age of 23.
Red Bull and sister team Toro Rosso have yet to secure an engine supplier for next season, with Ferrari the most likely candidate, but Verstappen’s future looks bright regardless.
Already there has been speculation about where he might end up and how soon.
The Italian media and others have linked him to Ferrari, who are likely to have a vacancy in 2017 when Kimi Raikkonen reaches the end of his contract, possibly as part of a deal for competitive engines.
(Reporting by Alan Baldwin, editing by Ken Ferris)