Rarely has there been as much excitement about a new F1 driver as there was when Max Verstappen joined the grid in 2015, and since then, that excitement has proved to be very much justified.
The Dutchman became the youngest driver in the sport's history when Toro Rosso gave him a seat at the age of 17, but he quickly proved that age was just a number, qualifying in P6 and finishing in P7 in his second race weekend.
That would prove to be a sign of things to come in an immensely impressive rookie season. In midfield machinery, he finished in P4 in Hungary and USA and scored a total of 49 points, finishing inside the top-10 in the majority of rounds.
He then picked up where he left off in 2016, scoring points in each of the first three rounds, and he got his reward for that form when Red Bull opted to give him Daniil Kvyat’s seat for the Spanish Grand Prix and beyond.
What followed was one of the sport’s greatest performances as, after qualifying in P4, ended up in the lead due to incidents ahead of him and held off the Ferrari of Kimi Raikkonen to become F1’s youngest ever race-winner and the first man from the Netherlands to claim victory.
While he didn’t win another race in his first season with Red Bull, he did finish on the podium six more times to secure P5 in the standings and firmly establish himself as one of the best drivers around, with a stunning drive to P3 at a wet Sao Paulo being the highlight.
He’d carry that form into the start of 2017, fighting his way up to P3 after starting in P16 at the second round of the year, the Chinese Grand Prix. However, that’s as good as things would get for a while as poor reliability and first-lap incidents saw him retire from half of the next 14 races.
The final six rounds of the campaign were far better though with him winning in Malaysia and Mexico, finishing in P2 in Japan and inside the top five at the other three races. During that period, he was also given a new three-year contract by Red Bull.
At the start of the first of those years, he suffered perhaps the lowest point of his F1 career to date, making numerous mistakes and being involved in incidents in each of the first six rounds.
That led to him receiving an enormous amount of criticism with many, including his own team, feeling he was far too aggressive, immature and impatient.
It’s fair to say he learned from his mistakes though, with the remainder of the season containing some of his best-ever drives including victories in Austria and Mexico and eight further podiums. Thanks to that run of form, he finished the season in P4 in the standings with 278 points.
Things only got better from that point onwards with him being near-flawless in both 2019 and 2020.
In the first of those two years, he finished inside the top five in each of the first 12 races of the season, picking up two wins and three further podiums in the process before claiming one of his most memorable victories at a chaotic penultimate round in Brazil.
He followed up that excellent campaign with an even better one, standing on the podium in all but one of the races that he finished and taking multiple wins for the fourth season in a row.
In both years, he finished ahead of everyone except the Mercedes drivers in the final standings - there was little doubt that he was good enough to challenge them if he had a good enough car, and in 2021, he finally got it. What followed was arguably the greatest title fight the sport had ever seen between the Dutchman and Lewis Hamilton.
The two, both producing remarkable performances race after race, battled it out all year long, regularly going wheel to wheel and occasionally coming together. Neither could pull away from the other though, and they entered the season finale level on points.
There, it looked like Verstappen’s first title challenge would end in defeat as, with a stronger car, Hamilton comfortably led for most of the race, but then a late Safety Car gave the Red Bull man to chance to put on fresher tyres and close up to his rival.
It still seemed unlikely that the 24-year-old would be able to get past the seven-time World Champion with multiple lapped cars between them in the queue, but then race control made the controversial decision to have those cars unlap themselves but no other backmarkers.
As a result, Verstappen was right behind the leader at the restart on the final lap and was able to overtake him and become the Netherlands’ first-ever World Champion. While many felt the circumstances in which he prevailed were unfair, nobody could deny that, with how well he’d performed all year - he only finished a race outside of the top two once - he deserved the title.
While accusations that he’s too aggressive and can be a dangerous driver remain, they’re far less widespread, and there’s little doubt that, with his blistering pace and thrilling overtakes, he’s already one of the most talented drivers to ever drive an F1 car.
And with him still only 24 years of age, his story is only just beginning.