Birthplace: Hasselt, Belgium
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Max Verstappen caused a stir by gaining a place in Formula One just eight months after starting his first car race.
The son of Jos Verstappen, who was the first Dutchman to stand on a Formula One podium, Max used a hugely successful karting campaign in 2013 as a springboard to start his single-seater racing career.
The elder Verstappen bowed out of F1 in 2003, and two years later seven-year-old Max scored his first karting victories in Belgium. This began a remarkable unbeaten streak running across three seasons, first in the Belgian ‘mini’ championship for two years, then after moving up to the ‘mini max’ category.
Further titles followed in 2008 including the Belgian Cadet Championship as Verstappen, now 11, began to ascend the karting ladder. A move up to the international level did little to put him off his stride, as he won the WSK World Series KF3 and the Euro title as well – the latter crown he retained the following year.
In 2012 he continued to compete across a variety of karting categories and enjoyed mixed success. But he came of age the following season, amassing a daunting collection of trophies. Among them were the CIK-FIA KZ world championship title, won against several highly-rated rivals including former F1 driver Jaime Alguersuari
Verstappen added the KF and KZ European titles as well, lifted the WSK Euro Series KZ1 and WSK Master Series KZ2 crowns, and added the KF2 Winter Cup too. On the back of one of the most impressive karting campaigns of recent years Verstappen, who turned 16 that September, prepared to move up to slicks-and-wings racing.
His first stop was the 2014 Florida Winter Series, which comprised a dozen races run over four weeks at the beginning of the year. Unusually, the series did not produce an overall champion, having no ranking system. But Verstappen won twice in a field which included drivers who had raced in Formula Renault 2.0 and Formula Three.
Those two categories were potential destinations for his 2014 campaign. Verstappen tested both machines, but following a highly promising run in a German Formula Three Cup car he chose to take the plunge in the most competitive Formula Three championship – the Europe-wide series.
Driving for the same Van Amersfoort team his father once raced for, the younger Verstappen won in his second F3 weekend. Soon after he hit a rich vein of form, reeling off six consecutive victories, all scored at Spa-Francorchamps and the Norisring.
A seventh straight win followed in the prestigious Masters of F3 on home ground at Zandvoort, though it didn’t count towards the championship. Verstappen’s Lotus-backed rival Esteban Ocon retained a 74-point lead in the drivers’ standings, partly thanks to superior reliability from his car. Ocon pulled over 100 points clear with a hat-trick of his own the following weekend in Moscow.
Verstappen failed to capitalise when Ocon endured a point-less weekend at the Red Bull Ring, due in part to a controversial penalty following contact with Antonio Fuoco. Red Bull, however, had seen enough of his potential to make their move.
Mercedes were also showing an interest in the young driver, but on August 12th Verstappen was announced as the latest addition to Red Bull’s junior driver programme. That roster already included two drivers who were leading their championships – Carlos Sainz Jnr in Formula Renault 3.5 and Alex Lynn in GP3 – plus promising Formula Renault 3.5 rookie Pierre Gasly.
But just six days after Red Bull revealed Verstappen had joined their ranks came the surprise announcement that he would race for their junior team Toro Rosso in 2015, replacing Jean-Eric Vergne.