IN GOOD CONSCIENCE

F1 has enough vroom for both Bernie, 84, and Max, 17

Scuderia Toro Rosso driver Max Verstappen of the Netherlands walks in the pits during the third practice session ahead of the Formula One Bahrain Grand Prix at the Sakhir circuit in the desert south of the Bahraini capital, Manama, on April 18, 2015.
Scuderia Toro Rosso driver Max Verstappen of the Netherlands walks in the pits during the third practice session ahead of the Formula One Bahrain Grand Prix at the Sakhir circuit in the desert south of the Bahraini capital, Manama, on April 18, 2015.PHOTO: AFP

DISCOUNTING Fifa where the old ruler Sepp Blatter is still clinging to the ruins of his administration, few things in life embrace a wider age span than that of Formula One.

Maybe this column was guilty of ageism when it smelled danger in Max Verstappen being allowed to drive a 320kmh racing car a year before he becomes eligible to drive on the roads of the Netherlands or Belgium.

In retrospect, the 17-year-old is a breath of fresh air in a somewhat processional season thus far.

Anything and everything about the F1 circus he built up, goes through him. When Putin wants a Formula One race, he calls Bernie. When China wants in, it calls Bernie.

He dares to overtake where older men press the caution button in their minds.

But, hey, young Verstappen so far looks a very capable pair of hands, managing risk and adventure with a cool head in his Toro Rosso machine.

The car, like so many, is a brute that is not truly competitive to the Mercedes cars that dominate from pole to chequered flag.

But Max, son of former F1 driver Jos and a mother who raced go-karts, clearly has that gene of pushing to the limit, for the thrill of it.

His driving reminds me of the credo which Juan Fangio, the great Argentinian racer, once described as "driving on the edge of disaster".

Sure, Max took a penalty after crashing into the rear of Romain Grosjean's Lotus in Monaco. And another driver, Pastor Maldonado, complained in Austria last weekend that Max was "not respecting the rules" when they diced for seventh place.

"It's quite funny that Pastor said that," responded Max. "That's the only thing I say about it - it's quite funny."

He was drawn to say more.

"I don't take it too seriously. I'm enjoying myself, trying to defend my position, and he would do exactly the same."

The lines that he respects are those laid down by his father who, apart from bankrolling his boy through such a rapid rise, is also the hardest taskmaster a boy could have.

It is cute to see Max on the grid before the start.

Where seasoned drivers sometimes switch off and keep their concentration to themselves, he answers questions from the omnipresent TV crews as if to the manor born.

"You see a camera and you think it's normal life," he said last week. "I was brought up with it around my dad."

And dad is there, waiting with advice on "the little questions when I have them".

For some reason, he is not perturbed by not being allowed his driver's licence until next year.

"To be honest," he says, "I'm not looking forward to it because I don't really like driving on the roads."

Too many rules and restrictions, one imagines.

It is a bit rich that Maldonado and Grosjean are his early detractors, given that each of them has a small litany of crashes.

Formula One, it says on the ticket, is dangerous, and it was a couple of the senior citizens - Kimi Raikkonen and Fernando Alonso, both in their mid-30s - who collided dramatically in Austria last Sunday. The Spaniard's car ended up piggy-backing on top of Raikkonen's in a smash that wrecked both cars, and came perilously close to beheading the Finn.

Alonso, by the way, was the inspiration for Max growing up.

For the public at large, it may be that motor racing is not dicey enough.

Even Bernie Ecclestone, the octogenarian who has been in charge of the business of F1 since 1978, has to accept that there has been a turn-off around the world this season.

In part, that is Bernie's fault.

He doesn't make all the rules unilaterally and, in theory, the FIA, motor sport's world body, is the ultimate governor of the game.

That, however, is bunk. Even while Ecclestone was fighting his bribery case in a German court early last year, anything and everything about the F1 circus he built up, goes through him.

When Putin wants a Formula One race, he calls Bernie. When China wants in, it calls Bernie.

And even with talk about a syndicate involving the Miami Dolphins owner Stephen Ross and investors from (inevitably) Qatar, is reported to be considering buying a big stake in the business, the suspicion is that Ecclestone might take their money, but will stay at the controls.

F1 is his baby, his life.

Max Mosley, the lawyer who helped build up Bernie's global entrepreneurial power, said on BBC this week: "He is very amazing. If a takeover is completed, Bernie's role won't change because there's nobody else who does the job as well."

Mosley, 75, said: "I'm sure CVC (the venture capital company that holds a controlling stake in the business) have had thoughts about an 84-year-old chief executive.

"Most of us at a certain time get tired but I said to Bernie the other day - don't you feel tired in the afternoons?

"He said that the phone calls come in, and the e-mails come in, and that gets the adrenaline going."

Age, Mosley concludes, tends to be flexible.

So flexible, in fact, that there is an old age non-pensioner driving the sport.

And a youth below the legal age for the roads driving, competitively, for one of just 10 manufacturers in the business.

One thing is for sure: If F1 is becoming a bit of a bore, it is down to the tinkering of rules and regulations by the old man, not the daring new driver who is following his father's footprint.

stsports@sph.com.sg

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 27, 2015, with the headline 'F1 has enough vroom for both Bernie, 84, and Max, 17'. Print Edition | Subscribe