BARCELONA, Spain — Report by Race Chaser Online Managing Editor Jacob Seelman — Mark Thompson/Getty Images Europe photo —
In a Formula One Grand Prix that will be remembered for two of the biggest moments of the season, and perhaps ever in the history of the World Championship, 18-year-old Max Verstappen took his maiden victory with a masterful drive in Sunday’s Pirelli Spanish Grand Prix as both Mercedes were eliminated in a shocking first lap crash.
The race for the win saw Verstappen hold Kimi Raikkonen’s Ferrari at bay for nearly 30 laps on the final sprint, as the Finn threw everything he had at the Dutchman to no avail.
The top-runners all ended the race on medium tires, with Verstappen making his Pirellis last 32 laps from his last pit stop just after halfway, and the young superstar held the Iceman’s advances off lap after lap down the main straightaway as the latter attempted to overtake entering turn one.
Verstappen was simply too strong off the final corner of the circuit and would always scoot away just enough to keep Raikkonen from having enough of a run to get to his inside entering the opening corner — even with the aid of DRS for the Finn.
That meant that the final gap for Verstappen was a 0.616-second victory at the checkered flag, as he scored his maiden F1 victory in his debut for the Red Bull ‘A Team’ after being promoted from Toro Rosso just a week prior.
“It feels amazing. I cannot believe what’s just happened,” the teenager, who becomes the youngest winner in F1 history at 18 years and 227 days old, said from the podium. “It was a great race. I have to say thanks to the team for giving me such a great car. To win straight away in the first race (together) is an incredible feeling.”
Young Max’s victory is the first for a Dutchman in the history of the World Championship, with his father Jos having the previous best finish for a driver from the Netherlands — placing third in the 1994 Hungarian and Belgian Grands Prix.
But the story begins far from the end, as the drive was set up following the elimination of both Silver Arrows in one fell swoop on the first lap of 66 at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya on Sunday.
Lewis Hamilton led the grid away from the pole position, but his teammate, four-time season winner Nico Rosberg, got a better start and stormed up the outside on the exit of turn one to assume the top spot. Not to be outdone, Hamilton dogged Rosberg through turns two and three before getting a huge run exiting the third turn — making a run to Rosberg’s inside up the short chute towards four.
Rosberg threw the block to protect his lead, forcing Hamilton wide and into the grass, where the three-time World Champion lost control of his Mercedes and spun across the track into Rosberg. The two shunted off the track and into the gravel pit at the apex of the corner, both with massive damage and both eliminated in a dramatic twist of fate.
The incident marked the team’s first double retirement since the 2011 Australian Grand Prix, and Sunday was the first time that the team failed to score a point with either driver in four years (2012 Brazilian Grand Prix).
However, team boss Toto Wolff was quick to refrain from casting the burden of responsibility exclusively on either driver.
“Of course both Nico and Lewis were both upset after the incident, both for themselves and for the team,” Wolff said to the media. “They were both apologetic to the team. We lost a potential one-two finish and 43 points along with that. A lot of effort going into the cars was all thrown away very quickly today.”
“I have not apportioned any blame. I think it is a very difficult situation and a very difficult incident to analyze. There is definitely not a clear-cut explanation and I wouldn’t want to blame either of them at this stage.”
A safety car period followed as a result of the incident and from there, the race became a clash of the titans between Red Bull and Ferrari. At one point following the restart, Red Bull-sponsored cars controlled the podium, as Carlos Sainz sat third behind leader Daniel Ricciardo and Verstappen.
Eventually, however, the Ferraris came calling to contend for the top step. With split strategies for Raikkonen (two stops) and Vettel (three stops), just as for Verstappen and Ricciardo, the game was on whether tires or track time would ultimately be king.
Verstappen and Raikkonen won out. The pair made their second and final stops on the 35th and 36th circuits, respectively, while Vettel (lap 37) and Ricciardo (lap 43) came in later with hopes of running the top duo down.
It never worked out, though, as Verstappen led the final 23 laps en route to victory, fending off Raikkonen time and time again over the last 16 laps after the Finn had caught him with slightly less-worn tires and validating Red Bull’s decision to promote him to the main squad.
“We’re in shock from our side,” expressed jubilant team principal Christian Horner of young Verstappen’s triumph. “We know this year that our races have been reasonably competitive, and the updates we brought have done their job … but to see this kind of result is a dream come true, a dream debut for Max.”
“We took the opportunity with Mercedes not being there, but we had to cover Ferrari today — and they probably had the faster car in clean air. So for Max to soak up all that pressure … he didn’t make a single mistake, not just today but all weekend. And at only 18, to win? Unbelievable.”
Raikkonen settled for the runner-up position, just ahead of Vettel, who had simple words and a mass of congratulations for the young upstart who didn’t just break his former record for youngest F1 winner — he shattered it.
“It’s a great achievement, what Max has done today,” the four-time champion said. “In the end, this is his day. For sure, for us, we would have loved to have been a little closer and ultimately in front, but we tried everything we could and the strategy just didn’t quite work for us.”
“A great effort by the team, to come back and recover, but as I said this is Max’s day and as a sportsman I think we can all respect that.”
Ricciardo hung on for fourth despite having to pit coming to the white flag for a punctured left rear tire, with Valtteri Bottas completing the top five for Williams.
Carlos Sainz notched his career-best Grand Prix finish with a sixth in his home race, ahead of Sergio Perez, Felipe Massa, Jenson Button and Dany Kvyat, who notched a top 10 in his first race back with Scuderia Toro Rosso since his move to the Red Bull main team prior to the 2015 season.
Aside from the Mercedes, only three other retirements occurred during the race. Nico Hulkenberg pulled off with flames licking from the rear of his Force India machine on lap 22, Fernando Alonso’s home race ended with power loss for his McLaren on lap 47 and Romain Grosjean brought his Haas car into the garage on lap 58.
The Formula One World Championship resumes on Sunday, May 29, with the 65th running of the Monaco Grand Prix.
RESULTS: Formula One World Championship; Pirelli Spanish Grand Prix; Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya; May 15, 2016
- Max Verstappen
- Kimi Raikkonen
- Sebastian Vettel
- Daniel Ricciardo
- Valtteri Bottas
- Carlos Sainz
- Sergio Perez
- Felipe Massa
- Jenson Button
- Daniil Kvyat
- Esteban Gutierrez
- Marcus Ericsson
- Jolyon Palmer
- Kevin Magnussen
- Felipe Nasr
- Pascal Wehrlein
- Rio Haryanto
- Romain Grosjean (DNF)
- Fernando Alonso (DNF)
- Nico Hulkenberg (DNF)
- Lewis Hamilton (DNF)
- Nico Rosberg (DNF)
About the Writer
Jacob Seelman is the Managing Editor of Race Chaser Online and creator of the Motorsports Madness radio show, airing at 7 p.m. Eastern every Monday on the Performance Motorsports Network.
Seelman grew up in the sport, watching his grandparents co-own the RaDiUs Motorsports NASCAR Cup Series team in the 1990s.
The 22-year-old is currently studying Broadcast Journalism at Winthrop University in Rock Hill, S.C., and is also serving as the full-time tour announcer for the Must See Racing Sprint Car Series.
Email Jacob at: [email protected]
Email Race Chaser Online: [email protected]
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