Less than eight months after passing his driving test on his 18th birthday, Max Verstappen raced into the record books as Formula One’s youngest winner.
“It feels amazing,” the Dutch youngster said on Sunday after finally coming down from the top of the Spanish Grand Prix podium. “I can’t believe it.
“I was targeting a podium but then to win straight away, it’s an amazing feeling,” said Verstappen, who likened the last 10 laps with Ferrari’s 2007 champion Kimi Raikkonen in his mirrors to “driving on ice”.
He suffered some cramp, as well as rising excitement as he saw his name on the big screens, but made himself focus on the tyres and taking a car – that he first drove only on Friday – to the chequered flag.
“I’m still learning the car,” he said. “Before I got into the car, I didn’t even have a hole for my drink tube. I still had to make it.”
The son of former grand prix driver Jos, Verstappen has racing in his blood and the confidence and maturity of someone who has been on and around wheels for as long as he can remember.
He has also had to prove more than once that he is the exception to the rule.
When Red Bull signed the then 16-year-old for their Toro Rosso junior team in 2014, ahead of his debut in 2015, the sport was so concerned that it introduced a minimum age rule to keep out other such precocious talents.
In future, they decided, drivers would have to be at least 18 with sufficient experience demonstrated by points acquired in other series.
That rule would have barred him from competing in 2015 had it been in force at the time.
Verstappen ended that season with two fourth places and three awards from the governing International Automobile Federation (FIA) – for Rookie of the Year, Personality of the Year and Action of the Year.
There were those who felt Red Bull had been callous when they dropped Russian Daniil Kvyat this month and promoted Verstappen in his place alongside Australian Daniel Ricciardo.
Verstappen, once again did his talking on the track with a measured drive as the strategy played into his hands and the dominant Mercedes drivers cleared the way by crashing into each other on the opening lap.
Red Bull principal Christian Horner, celebrating his team’s first win since 2014, said he had been most impressed by Verstappen’s calmness.
“No agitation in his voice, no panic, no tension. He was a young man completely in control of what he was doing.”