Max Verstappen will celebrate his seventeenth birthday tomorrow (Tuesday) in great style later this week after getting the nod to drive for Scuderia Toro Rosso in the opening Friday practice session at this weekend’s Japanese Grand Prix.

The Dutch teenager will take over the controls of the team’s Renault-powered STR9 at the Suzuka Circuit, having secured his FIA Super License after completing the required testing mileage in a private test session at the Adria International Raceway earlier this month. Verstappen Jr will make his Grand Prix debut next year, replacing Jean-Éric Vergne.

“I am very much looking forward to taking part in a practice session at a Grand Prix for the first time,” Verstappen said ahead of his maiden outing at a Grand Prix.

“For me, it will be a very valuable experience, spending some time in the car and getting used to working with everyone in the team, to prepare myself for next year. I am not going there to break any records, I just want to gain experience. I have spent one day driving this track on the [Red Bull Racing] simulator, but it’s no substitute for driving for real.

“My first impression is that it’s not an easy track; for example, it looks hard to get the combination right in the first esses. I have one and a half hours to drive and I’m looking forward to doing a good job, for myself and the team.”

This will be the first of four Friday practice sessions for Verstappen, who is also set to drive at the United States, Brazilian and Abu Dhabi Grands Prix.

Verstappen won;t be the only driver in Toro Rosso colours who will be sampling the Japanese circuit for the first time. F1 rookie Daniil Kvyat will also be having his first hit-out at the figure-of-eight circuit, and it’s an experience he’s looking forward to.

“I’ve never even been to Japan before, so this week will be a very interesting experience for me. From what I hear the other drivers say, Suzuka is a very exciting track, so I’m looking forward to discovering it for myself,” he said.

“Certainly, from the simulator, I’d say it’s going to be very enjoyable to drive and extremely challenging. It has a lot of fast corners, which is what I like best, so hopefully it will be a good race weekend for me. I like Japanese food and I am looking forward to experiencing it in its home environment. I’ve also read a bit about Japanese culture, which has made me curious to see the country for myself.”

Teammate Jean-Éric Vergne arrives at Suzuka on a high, following one of the best drives of his career last time out at Singapore. The Frenchman finished sixth, despite copping two stop-go penalties during the race.

Suzuka is one of the best tracks on the calendar. The fans really make it something special, with an unbelievable atmosphere,” he said.

“A combination of that and the track itself, makes this one of the best Grands Prix of the year. I’m looking forward to it. I don’t expect this year’s new technical regulations to require much of a change in terms of how we approach it. I am not sure how it will suit our car. If I have to pick one part of the circuit I like best, it would be the high speed esses that start the lap and, with having less downforce this year, the 130R might be more of a challenge than in the past.”

Image via Red Bull Media

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Richard Bailey

Founder & Chief Editor at MotorsportM8
Hasn't missed a Grand Prix since 1989. Has a soft spot for Minardi. Tattooed with 35+ Grand Prix circuits.

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