Verstappen’s “incredible” F3 drive which told Tost he was a future Schumacher

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It’s 10 years since Max Verstappen’s sole year of competition in junior single-seaters which promoted his swift elevation to Formula 1 and motorsport superstardom.

He has now won three world championships, all with Red Bull, who beat the likes of Mercedes to get his name on a contract. Famously, they brought him into F1 at just 17 years old, prompting the FIA to introduce an age limit soon afterwards to prevent anyone as young as him competing in the top flight again.

But Red Bull’s management had become convinced Verstappen was a star of the future. Franz Tost, then in charge of their junior F1 team Toro Rosso (later AlphaTauri, now operating as ‘RB’), recently identified the race which marked Verstappen out as a potential superstar of the future – a performance which he though stood comparison with the most successful F1 driver at that time, Michael Schumacher.

It came at the Norisring midway through the FIA Formula 3 European championship. Verstappen bypassed several lower categories and made F3 his first major single seater championship, and despite his inexperience collected enough points over the opening 12 rounds to lie fifth in the championships.

But there was clear potential for him to do better. He had only scored in five of those races, and already taken his first win, at the Hockenheimring. In the fifth of the season’s triple-header rounds at Spa-Francorchamps Verstappen hit his stride, becoming the first driver that year to sweep all three races.

The next round took place at a circuit utterly different to the long, sweeping Belgian circuit. The Norisring is a compact street course measuring just 2.3 kilometres. Though it officially has eight corners, realistically only four present a challenge to the driver, even in wet conditions, which made Verstappen’s performance all the more impressive.

Victory in the weekend’s opening race lifted Verstappen to second in the standings. The ultra-consistent Esteban Ocon lay 106 points ahead, having taken five wins and nine further podium finishes up to that point, but with 425 points available Verstappen could still entertain thoughts of mounting a challenge for the title.

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He placed his Van Amersfoort-run car on pole position, pipping Ocon by less than a tenth of a second. As the race began on a damp track Verstappen held his lead while Tom Blomqvist demoted Ocon to third.

Max Verstappen, Norisring, 2023
When rain fell at the Norisring, Verstappen left his rivals standing
Verstappen’s lead was 3.9 seconds when the race was interrupted by a Safety Car period due to a collision. But rain began to fall and the red flags flew, giving teams the chance to switch their cars to wet weather tyres.

When the race restarted a quarter of an hour later Verstappen held his lead while Ocon and Blomqvist tangled. The Safety Car returned once more, and by now it was obvious the race would not run to its 42-lap distance. At the end of lap 23 the Safety Car pitted for the final time and Verstappen streaked away from the pursuing Jordan King.

In the wet conditions, on a relatively simple track, the rate with which Verstappen left his pursuers behind was breathtaking:

Lap 24: 0.485s
Lap 25: 1.847s
Lap 26: 2.835s
Lap 27: 3.590s
Lap 28: 4.707s
Lap 29: 6.511s
Lap 30: 7.896s
Lap 31: 9.004s
Lap 32: 8.827s

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Toro Rosso boss Tost, following proceedings on television between F1 rounds, took note. “The most impressive race, at least in my opinion, was Max’s in Nurenburg at the Norisring,” he told Dutch magazine Formule 1 recently. “I remember it well.

“Wet track, it was raining. As you know, a lap at the Norisring is short: it takes less than a minute. Still Max was one or two seconds faster there than the rest. It was incredible, he just flew off in the rain. Very impressive.

“It immediately reminded me of a race by Michael Schumacher in Formula Ford at the Salzburgring in the 1980s. He won that one in wet conditions and in the process wiped the floor with everyone. It was immediately clear to me that Max is an extraordinary driver: a huge talent with an incredible feel for the car and grip. That’s really a big advantage to him.”

Tost soon spoke to Red Bull’s motorsport consultant Helmut Marko about Verstappen’s potential. “For me, it was clear that I wanted Max in our car, as a driver and not as a test driver,” said Tost.

At the time Verstappen was still two months away from his 17th birthday, but Tost was convinced. “When Max first tested at Friday practice, he was just 17. Many ‘experts’ said it was far too early. To which I said: but not for Max Verstappen.

“Because he is not a passenger in the car, as you often see with newcomers, he is driving the car. The way he controlled the car, completely mastered it. Extraordinary. Believe me, if that hadn’t been the case, he really wouldn’t have been in the car. Then I would have said go and drive Formula 2 for a year first.

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“But I was one hundred per cent convinced that we could take Max straight from Formula 3 to Formula 1. The speed wasn’t a problem for Max at all either, he got used to it straight away. A driver of his level can switch to a faster car without any problem: within 15 laps he has everything under control.”

Just 44 days later, Verstappen was announced as a Red Bull junior driver.

Video: Verstappen’s remarkable 2014 Norisring win

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Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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16 comments on “Verstappen’s “incredible” F3 drive which told Tost he was a future Schumacher”

  1. If there is one driver in history I wouldn’t want to be compared to, it’s Schumacher.

    Such talent, but the over reaching memory is of a ruthless cheat – who would readily put other drivers at risk to avoid losing.

    Still, there is now another driver I wouldn’t want to be compared to.

    1. Nikita Mazepin?

    2. That’s unfortunate. All drivers had their low points, but to take those as reflective of their entire career robs one of enjoying and appreciating the highlights, of which there were a ton in Schumacher’s case.

    3. Michael Schumacher, the guy who put his ego aside and raced karts regularly. Whether it be 2009 SKUSA Supernats, 2001 World Championships, or just standard events at Kerpen? Max reflects this but in the sim world. These guys are so ruthless and would do anything to avoid losing are happy to lose against karters and simmers.

      They are good examples to everyone.

    4. It seems you have missed that it’s a comparison in terms of driving ability.

      You may think whatever you please of the behaviour of these individuals, but this is not the subject matter.

    5. Verstappen also hates losing and you saw what kind of defensive measures he adopted in the end of 2021 when mercedes had a clear faster car to keep hamilton behind, and you also saw he didn’t want to let perez by in brazil 2022, even though they were nowhere in that particular race.

      In case there’s any doubt, I like this, from both schumacher and verstappen, and he already reminded me of schumacher very early in his career.

    6. Clearly talking about the defensive drives ofc, I thought brazil 2022 refusal to help perez was a low point, schumacher helped irvine in 1999.

      1. Schumacher helped Irvine in Malaysia, but I’m not too sure he did his absolute best in Japan. Although to Häkkinnen’s credit, he had a great weekend there. The gap he and Schumacher pulled on the rest of the field was extraordinary.

    7. Not sure what you expect a F1 champion to be, nor what it takes to become one.

  2. To me that F3 season perfectly encapsulated Verstappen in F1 up until 2020. Inconsistent and maybe still too much mistakes for a title challenge, but when he kept his head cool no one could catch him.
    As a Dutchman I remember how worried I was that he might still flop like Frijns or van der Garde did. But after Malaysia 2015 I think it was pretty clear he was a different breed than those guys.

    1. Actually verstappen wasn’t making that many mistakes most of his early years, it was only in early 2018, when red bull had a fairly decent car, not far from being the best, that he lost a lot of points by making a costly mistake every weekend pretty much.

  3. The weeks where Red Bull and Mercedes fought to win Verstappen’s contract is fascinating in hindsight. Very comparable to Schumacher’s contract being snatched by Benneton in 1991. The fact that Red Bull could offer a race seat near-immediately with Toro Rosso was a huge benefit, and IIRC was one of the main reasons the Verstappen family went with them. Looking at how Mercedes struggled to promote George Russell for years, and struggled to place Esteban Ocon in 2016, the decision looks hugely justified.

    If Kimi Antonelli is as excellent as the hype brigade claim, you’d wonder if they’re hoping to gain Red Bull’s favour for the same reason?

    1. True, even if mercedes was by far the best car to be in when verstappen joined red bull, if you’re a generational talent and get into a decent car in f1 (which red bull was), you will be able to show how good you are, and then a door might open in the best team too, if that team keeps being best for long.

  4. José Lopes da Silva
    10th January 2024, 22:42

    Many thanks for this excellent article. This is the purest folklore history of the sport and is vital for its understanding – and I had never heard of it before.

    1. Yes, me neither. Great to watch that young-faced a decade ago.

  5. … while Ocon and Blomqvist tangled.

    Yes, that is a way to describe it. You could also say Ocon pulled an Ocon.

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