Max Verstappen’s dream of scoring points on his debut as Formula 1’s youngest ever driver went up in smoke on Sunday.
The 17-year-old son of former F1 regular Jos ‘the Boss’ held his own for more than half of the 58 laps of the season-opening Australian Grand Prix before his Toro Rosso team ordered him to stop as smoke wafted into the cockpit.
Verstappen had deserved better after moving up the order in a depleted field with only 11 finishers.
“There’s smoke in the car,” the teenager reported over the team radio shortly before his race ended on lap 34.
After stopping, it was a trudge back to the garage accompanied by a warm applause from fans behind the safety fences for a driver who has time on his side.
The previous youngest driver was Spaniard Jaime Alguersuari in 2009 at 19 years and 125 days.
Verstappen was left a spectator as world champion and winner Lewis Hamilton led a Mercedes one-two.
“Bit unlucky,” Verstappen said of his day. ‘I think the first stint I had on the mediums (tyres) was quite good. I could reasonably stay with the pack in front of me on softs. And behind me I didn’t really have big pressure.”
“Until the pitstop everything was going very well. Unfortunately, I saw some smoke coming out of the car and reported it to the pitwall and they said to stop the car.”
Despite the retirement it was a positive day for Toro Rosso, with Spanish rookie Carlos Sainz holding on for ninth position to grab points on his debut after bumping into the back of Ferrari driver Kimi Raikkonen during a chaotic start.
Sainz might have had a better run but for a very messy tyre-change that saw precious seconds eaten as mechanics struggled to secure an uncooperative wheel.
“It was a great race, I was enjoying it a lot and with the front wing damage that we had to be fighting with a Red Bull in my first race was amazing,” he said. “From that (pit-stop) problem onwards it was just about bringing it home and being safe.
“We had a lot of problems with fuel consumption and all that so to finish ninth in my first race, I would have signed for it before. I know there is a lot more potential than P9 but we need to keep positive and look forward.”