SUZUKA Japan (Reuters) - Sebastian Vettel lost another Formula One record to the Playstation generation on Friday when Max Verstappen became the youngest driver to take part in a grand prix weekend only days after his 17th birthday.
It was certainly not child’s play for the Dutch youngster, who was 12th fastest in the opening Japanese Grand Prix practice session, but he recognized his task had been made easier by honing his skills in the virtual world.
Verstappen, who next year will become the sport’s youngest ever race driver when he debuts for Toro Rosso, replaced Frenchman Jean-Eric Vergne for the opening 90 minutes at Suzuka.
In doing so, he replaced Red Bull’s Vettel — the previous youngest after making his weekend debut in 2006 at 19 years and 53 days — in the record books.
It was the second record the German four times world champion has relinquished this season, with Toro Rosso’s Daniil Kvyat becoming the youngest points scorer at the age of 19 in Melbourne in March.
Verstappen, son of former F1 racer Jos, took it all in his stride.
Asked whether he had found it hard to cope with the workload imposed on the current crop of Formula One drivers, who must operate a complex array of buttons and knobs on the steering wheel, he smiled: “No, not really.”
“All the different buttons and knobs, I think because the younger generation, you grow up with it, with all that kind of stuff and you play many times on the PlayStation,” he said.
“And then you can see also the buttons — they are all there — so you already like have a first feel for it,” added the Dutchman, who is still too young to drive unaccompanied on public roads.
Verstappen, who this time last year was still racing go-karts, is currently in his first season of car racing and challenging for the European Formula 3 title. He will replace Vergne at Toro Rosso next year.
Given his lack of experience, he has a steep learning curve ahead of him and Friday practice was part of a program to prepare for 2015.
He acquitted himself well, tackling the challenging sweeps and high-speed corners of the 5.8 kilometer Suzuka circuit to end just four tenths of a second shy of Kvyat.
“Yeah, I think I can’t complain,” said Verstappen, who was sidelined by an engine problem towards the end of the session after having completed 22 laps.
“I was just making laps, getting used to the car, getting used to the track because it’s not an easy track, but, yeah when I saw the time on the screens I was happy,” he added, saying his focus was on learning rather than setting a headline lap time.
Verstappen’s arrival has led to criticism that modern Formula One cars packed with all manner of electronic wizardry have become too easy to drive.
But the teenager dismissed the idea saying driving any car on the limit was difficult.
“I think an F1 car is never easy to drive, at least not easy for me,” Verstappen said, dispatching questions from a crowd of journalists with answers that were short and to the point. “I don’t know for other people but you can ask them.
“I think once you go on the limit it’s never easy to drive in a racing car, even F3.”
Editing by Alan Baldwin