Double world champion, Mika Hakkinen, is pleased that Max Verstappen defied the Finn’s criticism of him by winning his maiden world title last season.
Verstappen became the youngest driver in the history of Formula 1 in 2015 when he was signed by Toro Rosso, just a few months after he had completed a practice session with them in Suzuka.
At just 17 years of age, the Dutchman had only completed one season of single seater racing in 2014 in Formula 3 before being launched up into the pinnacle of motorsport.
Verstappen was out-qualified 10 times by fellow rookie Carlos Sainz in the 2015 season at the Red Bull junior side, but out-raced the Spaniard 11 times, scoring points on 10 occasions as he finished ahead in the standings.
Both drivers had an outstanding campaign, but Verstappen’s performances at such a young age were particularly impressive, and he was moved up to Red Bull just four races into the 2016 season.
Daniil Kvyat was demoted back to the junior side after incidents with Sebastian Vettel in Shanghai and Sochi, and Verstappen became the youngest-ever race winner in Formula 1 history when he claimed the win at the Spanish Grand Prix on his Red Bull debut.
He marginally out-performed Daniel Ricciardo before the Australian left at the end of 2018, taking a further four wins during their time together, before holding larger advantages over Pierre Gasly and Alex Albon.
Those two drivers are now at AlphaTauri and Williams respectively, and Verstappen is currently partnered by Sergio Perez, who played an exceptional support role as the Dutchman claimed his maiden world championship in 2021.
When he first arrived in F1, Hakkinen believed that Verstappen was too young, but he is more than happy to accept that he was wrong.
“I criticised him personally when he was entering Formula 1, thinking he was too young,” he said, quoted by Motorsport.com.
“But I was really happy I was wrong, and it has strengthened my understanding that young girls and young boys are much more ready in this world, you have to let them speak, you have to listen to what they have to say.
“Max, obviously, it’s great what he has been doing and when I was a young kid – 16, 17 – when [I was] go-karting, it was amazing.
“It was incredibly competitive: the materials, discipline, physical efforts – what I needed to perform was at a very high level.
“And I was thinking at that time that I was ready for everything, ready to compete at the top of motor racing.
“But at that time, it was not normal that people were looking at you at this age, that a young guy can be ready for big racing categories like Formula 1.
“And time has changed, young people, more and more they are going in higher sport categories, including business, including everything.
“And people are developing much faster by time, simply because of the tools that are available today for them to study and understand what is happening in this world.
“You can go for it and study as much as you want on the internet if you find the right information so the life is much more in the fast lane these days.
“That explains why these young drivers are entering in such high positions.”
While the former McLaren driver observes that the structure of the teams is better today that it was in his career, he reiterates that it still takes a lot of dedication to achieve success.
“Yes, of course, the teams are much more organised today than in the past, more management, the concept is much more organised, it’s a little bit easier to join in this big world,” explained Hakkinen.
“But nevertheless, you need great talent and commitment, great discipline to be successful, Max obviously has done a great job.”
Verstappen has added another eight wins to his tally this season, and leads the championship by 80 points from Charles Leclerc.