Rookie Watch: Are Verstappen and Sainz Jnr worthy of their F1 Seats?

The question of whether a driver deserves his drive in F1 is a seemingly obvious one. If a driver is good enough then surely he deserves to be there? That being said, a good driver is often ambitious, ruthless and determined and these qualities are honed through experience of driving at lower categories. Many drivers have been questioned on whether they deserve a place on the grid or not. Paul Di Resta signed for Force India having minimal, if any experience of driving an F1 car but fared ok. In the 1990’s Pedro Diniz paid for his drive with the likes of the Arrows team year on year for virtually no success at all. Danil Kvyat was plucked from the depths of the Red Bull young driver programme and dropped into a Toro Rosso and after a relatively successful first season he’s been promoted to the Red Bull team already. This year we have two new rookies, among others, that have caught the eye due to their names. Did they receive their drives because of talent or the surname on their passport?
Max Verstappen is an interesting one. At 17 he still hasn’t got a driving licence for a road car yet. His name is hardly famed throughout the F1 world either, and I don’t mean to be disrespectful. His dad drove throughout the 1990’s/early 2000’s and is perhaps only famed for the incident at the German Grand Prix in 1994 where his car was engulfed in flames during a pitstop that went wrong when the fuel hose leaked fuel onto his car and himself. He was thankfully un-injured. Jos Verstappen drove for mid to back field teams throughout his 9 year career and scored 17 points in total after 107 races. His son already seems to be a class above him.
Max Verstappen spent the tail end of last year working closely with Toro Rosso and Red Bull and seems to be very keen to learn. Some of his tests at marketing events didn’t go so well and photographs of him clipping wings and skidding into barriers on straight bits of road and un-finished track weren’t very encouraging. At that point it seemed that he may not deserve a drive over seasoned performers such as Jean-Eric Vergne. It seems that after four races Max Verstappen is already causing a stir for the right reasons. He scored a 7th place and a handful of points, also beating his team mate in Malaysia with a steady drive and in China he showed true pace and a race craft way beyond his years. Crucially he seems to be careful, safe but is also beginning to show a natural talent.
His driving is smooth and he seems to be able to think ahead which is rare in a rookie eager to please. At Bahrain he was described by some members of the press as having the skill on track of Lewis Hamilton and the eagerness to learn of Michael Schumacher….all this and he’s still technically only a child. I would say that he deserves his drive, particularly if he keeps his head and rides out the storm of the Toro Rosso/Red Bull exit controversy. He seems well managed by his father who, after a quiet career in F1 does after all have the contacts, vast experience of motor sport and the experience to go with it. If the Hamilton comparison is already being banded about then there is a match in the sense that Hamilton was well managed by a talented father who had virtually no experience of the F1 world.
Carlos Sainz Jr has a name synonymous with motor sport. This can be a blessing as well as a burden. Had Carlos followed his fathers footsteps into rallying and had tried his hand at becoming a WRC champion (like his father) the added pressure of the weight of expectation would be a heavy burden to bear. Interestingly, he seems keen to make his own name which is a positive trait to have and the right one. He’s uncomfortable with the “junior” name and rightly so as the media often read this as “the next one in line” which again adds to the weight of expectation. The fact that he has chosen to make it in F1 rather than rallying shows a huge amount of determination to do what he wants as an individual and not as his father did.
Does he deserve his drive? Carlos did well at a young age and each category he raced in he often outclassed the rest. He won last years Formula Renault 3.5 championship and impressed at Silverstone in a test last year. The Red Bull driver programme has supported him and so far it seems that he, like Max has the pace to race with the car he’s got. It will be an interesting season for him. Currently after four races, much of Toro Rosso’s progress has been marred by unreliability but an incredibly impressive 5th place qualifying position and then a 9th place points scoring position on his debut was a dream start for him; so too was another points scoring position in Malaysia For Carlos, or Carlito as he likes to be called, he will want to beat his highly rated team mate this year which will be tough. The Red Bull young driver programme can be make or break. Despite the uncertainty over the future of both Red Bull and Toro Rosso, there are no doubt other young drivers further down the categories that are already being primed for a drive should either Carlos or Max falter. Vergne, Buemi, Speed, Algusuari are all promising names that have disappeared from F1 seemingly forever.
Despite these two young guys having famous names with doubtless many more important contacts high up in F1 than the average young man, these guys deserve to be there. After all, everyone deserves a chance and with F1 it’s often as simple as right place, right time, but it’s what you make of it and how you commit yourself that is what you will be remembered for. F1 at the moment is highly competitive….more so than it always has been and top drives are scarce, particularly as every team except Mercedes and Ferrari are struggling to challenge for wins. Drivers such as Nico Hulkenberg who were spoken about in high regard seem to have nowhere to go and at 28 years old this year, it seems that he may never have a shot at the title and may have “missed the boat”. Carlos and Max will no doubt be aware of this cut throat nature of the business but hopefully their ability will do the talking.