Max Verstappen has shocked the world of Formula 1 by becoming the youngest ever Grand Prix winner at the age of 18, in his very first grand prix racing for Red Bull Racing. The young Dutchman held off the faster Ferrari of Kimi Raikkonen to take his first win, and the first win for his team since the 2014 Belgian Grand Prix. This grand prix will surely go down as one of the defining races of the season – and not just due to the popularity and historic significance of its winner.
The two Mercedes drivers of Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg could only look on as Ferrari and Red Bull battled for the lead as they both ended up in the gravel trap at turn 4 after colliding. The Mercedes had locked out the front row of the grid, with Hamilton starting on pole for the 52nd time in his career. It was his team-mate who was quicker off the line, passing Hamilton on the outside of turn one. Rosberg had chosen the wrong engine setting, and on the straight after turn three he found his Mercedes 180bhp down on power. Hamilton attempted to capitalise and dart down the inside of his team-mate. Rosberg was aware of Hamilton’s attempt, and offered a robust defence, shutting the door on Hamilton’s overtaking attempt. Hamilton ended up on the grass, and spun violently, collecting the sister Mercedes as it made its way into turn three. Both Mercedes were out. For the first time in ten races, the winning car would not be silver.
The safety car was dispatched and the field circulated behind it: Ricciardo and team-mate Verstappen, followed by the Dutchman’s former team-mate Carlos Sainz driving the Toro Rosso. Sainz had beaten Raikkonen off the line and passed Vettel on the opening lap. Both Ferraris made their way past the Spaniard in the early laps of the race to set off after the two charging bulls. Verstappen was holding station, 1.5 seconds behind Ricciardo. Vettel was a further three behind. The first round of pit stops kept the order. Ricciardo encountered traffic, allowing Verstappen and Vettel to close in. Red Bull decided to pit Ricciardo early, committing him to a three stop strategy. Vettel was into the pits on the following tour. Verstappen and Raikkonen were on two stops.
Vettel was in a mere eight laps later, but the undercut worked and he found himself ahead of Ricciardo when things shook out. The German was on fresher medium tyres with a gap of some seven seconds to close on the leading pair of Verstappen and Raikkonen. Surely the medium tyres of the front two could not last over thirty rounds of the Circuit de Catalunya? They did. Vettel could not close in on the leading pair fast enough, and Ricciardo could not find a way past Vettel. He did attempt to, including one dive down the inside of the Ferrari at turn one that you could charitably describe as brave. Vettel did well to get out of the way of Ricciardo as he ran wide at turn one and avoided a collision. They squabbled for third place, all the while the leading pair were embroiled game of cat and mouse. Raikkonen had closed up within to one second of Verstappen. He could get as close as a car length behind the lead car at the end of the main straight, but Verstappen had superior traction and mechanical grip out of the long right hander that is the last corner. The teenage ace was faultless and did not crumble to the pressure exerted by the world champion twice his age pursuing him.
Verstappen took the flag, and with it an historic maiden win. He managed his tyres and the pressure exerted upon him during the race faultlessly. It is hard to believe that it was only his third day driving a Red Bull. A great future beckons for the young man. A thrilling intra-team battle awaits between himself and Ricciardo. Another intra-team battle that has been simmering so far may just have boiled over. The fallout from the Hamilton-Rosberg incident should be immense, and could well define the destination of this year’s Drivers Championship.
Formula 1 returns for the most glamorous and iconic race on the calendar, Monaco.