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Formula 1

Verstappen's F1 advice to Antonelli - and Mark Hughes' take on it

by Josh Suttill, Mark Hughes
6 min read

Max Verstappen has told Mercedes protege Kimi Antonelli "to make mistakes" when he gets to Formula 1.

Verstappen set the template for teenagers racing in F1. Having made his F1 debut at 17 years old at the 2015 Australian Grand Prix, he earned graduation to Red Bull's senior team after just 23 races and won on his debut.

Some have touted Antonelli as 'the next Verstappen' owing to his rapid rise up the junior single-seater ranks. The 17-year-old Italian is racing in Formula 2 this year and is Mercedes' 'Plan A' to replace Ferrari-bound Lewis Hamilton for 2025.

Kimi Antonelli, F2

And when asked about how intimidating it was to be a 17-year-old and firmly within F1's spotlight, Verstappen gave one of the most detailed answers of F1's Thursday media day in Monaco.

Verstappen highlighted two key flaws of his rookie year as a lesson for Antonelli.

'Make mistakes'

Verstappen's 2015 rookie year featured its fair share of mistakes, so too did his pre-championship-challenging Red Bull years. But he's told Antonelli not to fear making them.

“When you are talented - and you can see that with Kimi he's very talented - I don't think he should be too worried, you have to make mistakes. Ideally you like to make those mistakes when you’re not fighting for a championship or whatever, so I also got lucky with that, starting at Toro Rosso at the time," Verstappen said.

“Not many people are looking at you, so you can make some silly mistakes here and there.

“But it’s important to make them because even though you tell yourself all the time 'I cannot do this, I cannot do that' - you will only adapt really if you make them and then move forward.

Max Verstappen, Red Bull, F1

“I mean growing up as a person as well, I guess, even outside the car, knowing what you want in your private life. Then it's just understanding the set-up of a racing car more and more over time.

“Cars evolve but when you are with one particular team, at one point you know more or less what works or not. Being with the same kind of race engineers and people around you, you know, that fine-tune the car for you, all these kinds of things. The more you spend time with them, the more it comes to you.

“But again, don't try to think about it too much, just let it happen. When you're that young, just focus on trying to go as fast as you can, make your mistakes, have good race results and just try not to think about it too much.

“Now, you can explain all of this, but at the time, you don't know that, right? So it's, like- just ease into it. And then you have good people around you normally in the team that will coach you around this.”

Mark Hughes says

Max Verstappen, Toro Rosso, F1

Verstappen's advice about mistakes and how it's necessary just to accept that there's going to be some from such a low experience base and just to learn from them is solid. He makes the point that Toro Rosso at that time was perfect for him because it wasn't a frontrunning car, so took the spotlight off any errors.

There are rookies and rookies.

Antonelli would be arriving in F1, like Max, very raw. Lewis Hamilton as a rookie in a top car was absolutely sensational in fighting for the world championship immediately, but he was a veteran of five seasons in junior categories by the time he made it to F1.

He was much more polished than it would be feasible to be with just a single F3 season (in Max's case).

Antonelli's junior car racing experience is more extensive than Verstappen's, but still less so than Hamilton's. Also, there's no way around the fact that a teenager - no matter how fast - will just not have the same emotional maturity and control over his emotions as even a guy in his early 20s.

The tyre challenge

Max Verstappen, Toro Rosso, F1

Verstappen may now be one of the best at managing his rubber in F1 but he struggled with tyre management throughout his early years in F1, and it's often the biggest stumbling block for drivers in their formative F1 years (see Oscar Piastri).

"You’re such a rookie that so many things that you still have to learn," Verstappen said.

"For me personally, the biggest one was actually doing a full race distance. In F3 at the time, we had 35-minute races, so there’s a lot more involved. Looking after your tyres is a big part of it, these tyres are so particular and sensitive compared to some other categories.

"Of course, In F2 and F3 you're running on Pirellis already but for me at the time that wasn't the case [F3 raced on Hankooks then].

Max Verstappen, F3

"But just going through the good moments, the bad moments, how you come out of these things, difficult weekends where it's just not working for you or whatever, there is so much to learn - but on the other hand also don't try to think about it too much, just let it go."

Mark Hughes says

Max Verstappen and Carlos Sainz, Toro Rosso, F1

Much of what Max says here tallies very well with his own rookie season as a 17-year-old in 2015.

Yes, he initially still had a lot to learn about the tyres in races so much longer than those in F3 (his only other car racing experience before F1), especially in those races where he and Carlos Sainz were pushing each other hard.

It was a skillset he almost seemed to resent needing to have and he railed against it a few times, even early into his Red Bull career. In Austin 2016, after Verstappen radioed 'I'm not here to finish fifth' when his engineer warned him that his tyre temperatures were too high, even his biggest supporter Helmut Marko was quite stinging in his response, saying: "If you cannot look after the tyres you are not going to be winning races and certainly not championships."

Max Verstappen, Red Bull, F1

Yet by '21 Marko acknowledged that Verstappen's understanding of and sensitivity to the tyres was extraordinary. Some of that transformation would just have been fuller personal data banks, but some of it was attitude too, with the maturity to accept something which went against his instincts.

A more reflective Max understands today the weakness that was there and he offers some very sound advice for Antonelli.

Russell’s view

George Russell and Max Verstappen, F1

After his team-mate Hamilton picked Antonelli as his favoured replacement at Imola, George Russell was asked whether he’d like to see Antonelli as his next F1 team-mate.

“Kimi is a fantastic driver, racing in Formula 2 this year but he's no doubt going to be a Formula 1 driver in the future,” he said.

“He's a fellow junior driver as well, come through the ranks as I did with the team. So I think it makes for a great opportunity for Mercedes building into the future.

“But as I said before, I’d welcome anybody as my team-mate. I feel I have a pretty good team-mate right now as it is so welcome anybody.”

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