F1 record-breaker Max Verstappen has said age is just a number, as he revealed computer games had helped him to prepare for his debut for Toro Rosso in Japan.
The 17-year-old son of former F1 driver Jos Verstappen - the most successful Dutch driver in the sport - has won eight races in this year’s European Formula 3 Championship, and has agreed a deal for a race seat with Italian team Toro Rosso.
He was handed his first running of a 2014-spec car in the practice round at Suzuka, becoming the youngest man to compete in a grand prix weekend.
Despite a mechanical failure forcing him out with just over five minutes remaining, the teen clocked a time equivalent to 12th plce.
His best lap of 1 minute 38.157 seconds was just 0.443sec slower than current Toro Rosso driver Daniil Kvyat - himself only 20 - but he sought to play down speculation over his age.
Verstappen said: “I’m not focused on the age, it doesn’t matter to me.
“I think at the end, age doesn’t make any difference - if you are ready for it and you have prepared well, age is just a number.”
The Dutch driver pointed to the success enjoyed by Sebastian Vettel, who began racing when he was 19, adding: “Some people can make it and some cannot.
“I focus on what I have to do at the moment. I have to prove myself in F1 but it is always nice to hear [comparisons with Vettel].”
And the 17-year-old said he was happy with his debut outing, despite his session ending prematurely.
He continued: “I can’t complain really. I enjoyed it a lot and that was the main thing today - just to get experience and make a lot of laps.
“I think in general it was more about learning the car, there is quite some difference compared to the 2012 car so I just build it up lap-by-lap and by the end you get used to it. It is always good to drive an F1 car.
“I just did what I had to do. I was not even close to the limit. I was just driving safely without doing any crazy stuff.”
Verstappen is aware that the step up from F3 is a big one, but isn’t phased by the enhanced technology, admitting that he honed his skills on the Sony PlayStation.
“I think an F1 car is never easy to drive. At least it is not easy for me. Once you go on the limit it is never easy to drive a racing car.
“The younger generation grow up with [complicated technology], you play it many times on the PlayStation and you can see that all the buttons are there so you already have a feel for it.”
Toro Rosso chief Franz Tost has confirmed Verstappen will compete in free practice in all of the season’s remaining races, aside from next weekend’s Russian Grand Prix.
He told BBC2: “We want to run him in Austin as well as in Sao Paulo and Abu Dhabi - this is how we want to prepare him for next season.
“We all know that this trace track is quite difficult to learn so we gave him the opportunity to go out. He is doing a good job.
“I hope that he can do as many laps as possible. He has to learn the track so when he comes next year he can just go out and knows all the tricks you need to know here.”