Hakkinen claimed that Verstappen was not suitably prepared for his 2015 debut season with Scuderia Toro Rosso, and said at the time: “I would never let a driver as young as that race in F1.”
But since Verstappen has proved himself in F1, and become the youngest-ever Grand Prix winner, Hakkinen is now happy to admit he was wrong.
“I criticised him personally when he was entering Formula 1, thinking he was too young,” said Hakkinen, speaking at an event in Assen today.
“But I was really happy I was wrong, and it has strengthened my understanding that young girls and young boys they are much more ready in this world. You have to let them speak, you have listen what they have to say.
“Max, obviously, it’s great what he has been doing and when I was a young kid – 16, 17 – when [I was] go-karting, it was amazing. It was incredibly competitive: the materials, discipline, physical efforts – what I needed to perform was at a very high level.
“And I was thinking at that time that I was ready for everything, ready to compete at the top of motor racing. But at that time it was not normal that people were looking at you at this age, that a young guy can be ready for big racing categories like Formula 1.
“And time has changed. Young people, more and more they are going in higher sport categories, including business, including everything. And people are developing much faster by time, simply because of the tools that are available today for them to study and understand what is happening in this world.
“You can go for it and study as much as you want on the internet if you find the right information. So the life is much more in the fast lane these days. That explains why these young drivers are entering in such high positions.
“Yes, of course, the teams are much organised today than in the past, more management, the concept is much more organised. It’s a little bit easier to join in this big world.
“But nevertheless you need great talent and commitment, great discipline to be successful and Max obviously has done a great job.”
Additional reporting by Tim Biesbrouck