Grand Prix win in just 18 years and 228 days
Occasionally, sport will provide a storyline which defies belief. Max Verstappen has completed the impossible, writing his own fairytale by winning his first Grand Prix at the tender age of 18. He has not only broken Sebastian Vettel’s record as the youngest ever race winner, but managed it in his first race with Red Bull. There is not a superlative to do justice to the scale of the achievement.
It was, however, made possible by the latest drama in the Mercedes camp. Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg collided on lap one, with both ending the race in the gravel trap at turn four, following decidedly aggressive maneuvers.
Absorbing pressure like a champion
Verstappen’s rise to the top of motorsport has been astonishing. Unflustered by making his debut in the sport aged just 17, the Dutchman’s mature demeanor and remarkable talent has seen him launched into the senior team at Red Bull after just 23 races at Toro Rosso.
Race 24 and his very first at Red Bull has brought him his maiden Grand Prix victory. A win precipitated in part, by Mercedes’ first lap drama, but with Verstappen’s quality counting for much more.
After Daniel Ricciardo and Sebastian Vettel made their second stops, Verstappen remained on track and on course for a two stop strategy. It did, however, mean he was required to complete over 30 laps on a set of medium compound tyres. To compound the challenge, Verstappen had Kimi Raikkonen directly behind him on an identical strategy.
The Finn applied significant pressure throughout the second half of the race. Red Bull’s strength in the third sector was integral to his defense of first place. Sunday in Spain was a clear indication of why the team could be strong in Monaco. Both Verstappen and Ricciardo had excellent balance through the slow speed chicane and were able to deliver excellent traction onto the pit-straight.
This meant that Vertsappen was able to keep Raikkonen at arms length. However, with the Finn in what seemed to be marginally faster machinery, and in such close company, a mistake from the Dutchman would cost him the all important track position.
He absorbed the pressure like a champion, maintaining consistent times throughout despite his tyres showing the effects of degradation in the closing laps. All in a car which he has only been driving since Friday.
At 18 years and 228 days old, Max Verstappen is a Grand Prix winner.
Hamilton decided he needed to win the race by turn four
But what of Mercedes? Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg have endured their fair share of controversy during their past two years in F1’s dominant team. The flash-point when the two collided at Spa-Francorchamps in 2014 was the most significant, but Sunday’s drama could prove to rival it.
Deemed by the stewards as a racing incident, blame for the crash has not been apportioned to one side of the garage, and that is a fair judgement. Both Hamilton and Rosberg played their part in what was a disastrous day for the team.
Championship leader Rosberg started the race in the wrong engine setting. His de-rated power map meant that he was harvesting energy in the middle of turn three, which allowed Hamilton to mount a challenge. That was mistake number one. His defensive move was overly aggressive, with the result exaggerated by the speed difference between the two. Mistake number two.
However, Hamilton was far from blameless. The Briton was undoubtedly frustrated to have lost the lead by turn one, but decided that he needed to win the race by turn four. In a 66 lap race, to commit to a gap as small as that at a corner not known for being an overtaking hotspot was reckless to say the least.
Ferrari lost the race due to strategic errors
Whenever Mercedes were compromised in 2015, Ferrari always scooped up the spoils of victory. It seemed likely that they would follow that precedent in Spain. Despite the Red Bull’s leading the field in the opening stint, Vettel had earned himself track position later on.
However, in concentrating on beating Ricciardo – an approach which Ferrari believed would guarantee them victory – they missed the opportunity to move Vettel to the race winning two stop strategy. Track position was key and they ultimately relinquished the opportunity to lead in the closing stages.
Moreover, Ferrari spent the afternoon running the medium compound tyre primarily. This was a strange choice, given that the car historically benefits from softer compounds. Vettel’s pace in the opening stint highlighted this. Once he had cleared Carlos Sainz’s Toro Rosso, he managed to reel in the Red Bull’s ahead.
Once again, Ferrari lost the race due to strategic errors. Just like in Australia, Vettel seemingly ran the wrong compound of tyres. In addition, the team conducted a half-baked strategy in Spain, finding themselves caught between a two and three stop as they essentially covered one Red Bull while ignoring the other.
- Max Verstappen – Red Bull
- Kimi Raikkonen – Ferrari
- Sebastian Vettel – Ferrari
- Daniel Ricciardo – Red Bull
- Valtteri Bottas – Williams
- Carlos Sainz – Toro Rosso
- Sergio Perez – Force India
- Felipe Massa – Williams
- Jenson Button – McLaren
- Daniil Kvyat – Toro Rosso
- Esteban Gutierrez – Haas
- Marcus Ericsson – Sauber
- Jolyon Palmer – Renault
- Kevin Magnussen – Renault
- Felipe Nasr – Sauber
- Pascal Wehrlein – Manor
- Rio Haryanto – Manor