LONDON (Reuters) - Red Bull have defended their decision to make Dutch teenager Max Verstappen Formula One's youngest ever driver and say the 16-year-old has already shown he is championship material.
Helmut Marko, motorsport consultant to the champions, told the official formula1.com website on Tuesday that Red Bull's sister team Toro Rosso were not taking a risk in putting him in their lineup next year.
Verstappen, who will be 17 next month, is still too young to drive on public roads in his home country and will have experienced only a year of single seater racing when he makes his first grid appearance in 2015.
He was little more than a toddler when some of the other drivers, such as McLaren's Jenson Button, were racing against his father Jos at the start of the century.
"He will be 17 when he has his first race, which is pretty young, but I don't think it is a risk," said Marko.
"He proved in various races that he can use his head. I had quite a few conversations with him and there you can see how mature he is.
"Toro Rosso is well known for educating and training young drivers, so he comes into (that) environment...I think he'll go into the season well prepared. We can't see any risk doing it like that."
The previous youngest Formula One driver was Spaniard Jaime Alguersuari, who also made his debut with Red Bull-owned Toro Rosso in 2009 as a 19-year-old.
Before him, Kimi Raikkonen was a controversial signing by Sauber at the age of 21 in 2001 with only 23 single seater races to his credit but the Finn went on to become 2007 world champion with Ferrari.
Verstappen, whose father raced in Formula One between 1994 and 2003, said he would be training hard to ensure he was physically ready and shrugged off the age concern.
"I'm a relaxed guy, I will handle it," the European Formula Three title contender told BBC radio. "I think the biggest step I had was karting to F3. I think F3 to F1 will be a smaller step.
"I'm not that worried about it. The cars are really safe. I think it's more dangerous to bike through a big city than race in an F1 car."
Toro Rosso's announcement is sure to be a major talking point in the paddock at this weekend's Belgian Grand Prix at Spa-Francorchamps.
While there have been similarly precocious athletes in other sports, with Wayne Rooney making his senior England football debut at 17, they have rarely been in a position where a mistake carries potentially lethal consequences.
When Alguersuari was announced in 2009, drivers were quick to voice concern in that area.
One British newspaper went so far as to ask whether the Catalan - who had only ever driven a grand prix car in a straight line up to that point - was the most dangerous man on the starting grid.
Marko had no doubt Verstappen would be ready, quick enough and also safe.
"I think he has unbelievable speed," said the Austrian, himself a former racer. "For his age he is very mature and he is a hard worker. He has all the necessary ingredients you need to be absolute champion."
Alguersuari lasted just two full seasons before he was discarded at the age of 21, the downside to a Red Bull junior path that has unearthed talents like four-times champion Sebastian Vettel and current team mate Daniel Ricciardo.
Vettel also made his debut aged 19 in 2007 and went on to become the youngest race winner at 21, and then the youngest world champion at 23.
Frenchman Jean-Eric Vergne, who will be replaced by Verstappen next year, is still only 24 but already looking like he belongs to a different generation.
Verstappen's 2015 team mate will be 19-year-old Russian Daniil Kvyat, who became the sport's youngest ever points scorer on his debut this season.
"I think the age doesn't really matter," Verstappen told Formula1.com. "You want to be fast of course but the main goal is just to try and be consistent and not make too many mistakes."
(Reporting by Alan Baldwin, editing by Pritha Sarkar)