REUTERS: Max Verstappen’s sensational first Formula One victory, at just 18 years of age, had former champions and grandees of the sport casting around for superlatives at the Spanish Grand Prix on Sunday.
Already seen as the next big star, the Dutch teenager made the hype seem almost under-stated with a composure that belied his years as he became F1’s youngest ever winner.
“It’s been an unbelievable performance, from the moment Max stepped into the car until the chequered flag, he’s been exemplary. He’s not put a wheel wrong,” said his Red Bull Principal Christian Horner.
Horner hailed a Formula One fairytale, with Verstappen promoted from the junior Toro Rosso team little more than a week earlier in place of Russian Daniil Kvyat.
He also saw signs of a rare but familiar talent.
“It’s quite uncanny really,” said Horner. “There’s an awful lot of similarities from when Sebastian (Vettel) joined the team.
“The mechanics were telling me that even the way he gets in the car is similar, the same side, the way he pulls his knee up to get in the chassis.
“But he’s his own man as well. He’s a very together young guy. You’d never think he was 18. He’s the first driver I’ve had that legally I could be his father.”
Vettel, winner of four titles in a row with Red Bull before joining Ferrari, won his first race at 21 with Toro Rosso before moving to Red Bull.
Ferrari’s race runner-up Kimi Raikkonen, twice Verstappen’s age, recalled competing against the youngster’s father Jos in the early 2000s.
Asked where he was when Raikkonen won his first race, Verstappen said he had been six – and probably in kindergarten.
Retired four-time world champion Alain Prost, who did not start racing cars until he was 19, said Verstappen looked “so mature, so calm and so strong.
“At the end of the day, he did a perfect weekend with absolutely no mistakes. And that is really impressive,” added the Frenchman.
Canada’s 1997 world champion Jacques Villeneuve said Verstappen had made the most of the opportunity presented by dominant Mercedes drivers Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton crashing into each other.
“That’s what champions do,” he added. “You have to seize the opportunity when it’s there and then he drove with amazing maturity. He’s really stepped up.”
Asked whether Verstappen reminded him of seven-time champion Michael Schumacher, Jos’s old team mate and Villeneuve’s title rival, the Canadian shrugged.
“You always want to say OK, that’s the new (Ayrton) Senna. That’s the new Michael. He’s Verstappen.
“He’s won a race, so let’s see how it goes to his head. Will it make him slower or faster. The way he’s been acting, it should make him only better.”