A few years back I drove a Formula 3 car for a day around Pembrey race circuit in Wales. It rained all day and I wasn’t especially quick but, all things being equal, it was a top day out anyway – for all sorts of reasons.
One, because the car itself had just won that year’s championship and was being run by the extremely decent bunch of blokes at Carlin Motorsport, which is owned by one of the great unsung heroes of British motor racing – and unashamed Autocar fan – Trevor Carlin.
Two, I got to spend some quality time talking with the team about who, out of the various young guns that had driven for them in recent years, they thought might make it all the way to the top.
This was the most intriguing part of the day by far, and two names kept cropping up: Jean-Eric Vergne – who had won the championship that year – and Daniel Ricciardo, who had won it the year before.
When pushed, the lads at Carlin reckoned that Ricciardo might go furthest, although they reckoned that 'Jev' was a pretty damn talented racing driver as well.
A few years later, of course, both would progress to F1. The Carlin lads had been spot on with their observations on both counts. But it was Ricciardo, they admitted quietly, who fried their minds the most. Not merely with his speed – which they said was outrageous – but also his consistency, and the fact that he was 'on it' from the moment he turned up at whatever circuit they were racing at that weekend, in all weathers, in all conditions.
Which is why I was fascinated to hear what Trevor Carlin had to say about Max Verstappen when he was quizzed about Scuderia Toro Rosso’s new signing recently at Spa. He basically told Sky's Anthony Davidson that he thinks 16-year-old Verstappen is "the best he’s ever seen".
As a result, and bearing in mind who Carlin has witnessed first hand over the years, I’d say that makes young Max an odds-on favourite to do the business. And I don’t care if he’s not old enough to drive a road car on the public road for the time being. It’s just a very exciting, if slightly insane prospect, knowing that someone so young and inexperienced will be going head-to-head with the very best.
But at the same time I do feel sorry for Vergne, because he’s been booted from Toro Rosso for being not quite good enough when, in fact, he’s probably quicker – and better – than at least half the grid in Formula One right now.
It's a cut-throat business, is F1. But I’m certain that it’s a business in which Max Verstappen deserves his place – for the time being, at any rate.