Sensational Verstappen wins on Red Bull debut
Teenager Max Verstappen has won on his debut for Red Bull Racing in a strategically thrilling Spanish Grand Prix.
The race came alive 30 seconds after the lights went out when the leading Mercedes duo collided when a botched Hamilton passing attempt put both cars into the gravel and out of the grand prix.
Rosberg had seized the lead at the first turn, but an apparent incorrect engine setting slowed his car at turn three.
Hamilton saw his opportunity — a flashing red light at the rear of Rosberg’s car was the giveaway — and lunged down the inside.
Rosberg went to defend his position, steering his car towards the edge of the track, and Hamilton found himself on the grass.
The Briton kept his foot in, and as his car rejoined the circuit behind Rosberg it lost control, taking his teammate’s car off track with him.
“Completely unnecessary,” said Mercedes non-executive chairman Niki Lauda. “I would say. for me the disaster is that both Mercedes are out after two corners.
“It was completely unacceptable. Lewis was too aggressive to pass him, and why should Nico give him room? He was in the lead, it was very simple for me. I blame him more than Nico.”
Toto Wolff, Mercedes executive director, maintained a diplomatic stance on the issue ahead of the stewards hearing after the race.
“We spoke to both drivers. It’s not a clear-cut,” he said. “Very difficult situation for the team because we lost 43 points after a huge effort in the last couple of weeks.
“In our opinion we do not want to blame entirely. Niki from his driver perspective has an opinion and this is his instinct. They’re both pretty upset, and of course they have their perspective.”
The stewards, deliberating after the race, decided the crash had been a racing incident and took no action against either driver.
Daniel Ricciardo inherited the lead ahead of teammate Verstappen behind the safety car, with Toro Rosso’s Carlos Sainz separating the leading pair from Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Räikkönen in their Ferraris.
The two cars were evenly matched — Ferrari had superior straight line speed, but Red Bull Racing was faster in through the corners with its Adrian Newey-designed chassis.
Ricciardo pit at the end of lap 11 and Verstappen and Räikkönen stopped one lap later, all three switching to the medium tyre.
Vettel was the first to roll the dice on strategy, staying out in the lead for three more laps in an attempt to run a two-stop strategy.
But the top four ran within three seconds of each other for much of the second stint, making the temptation to pit Vettel in a straight fight against Ricciardo too tempting for Ferrari to pass up.
Red Bull pit Ricciardo from the lead on lap 29, and Vettel followed him in a lap later. Both took softs in apparent commitment
Verstappen was left to lead the grand prix for five laps, and Ferrari left Räikkönen out to guard against him. They took their second stops on laps 34 and 35, committing themselves to two stops against the new leading duo.
But Ferrari had a final strategy to play to overhaul Ricciardo in the lead, pitting Vettel after just eight laps on the soft in an ambitious undercut of the Australian’s lead.
Working in the German’s favour was Ricciardo becoming caught behind Renault’s Jolyon Palmer, preventing him from pressing his advantage on the soft tyres.
Ricciardo stopped for new mediums at the end of lap 43, putting him almost nine second behind his former teammate’s Ferrari.
On lap 44 Verstappen held a slim one-second lead of Räikkönen, but both risked running out of rubber before the end of the grand prix. Vettel was a further 6.5 seconds behind Räikkönen with scarcely better lap times, while Ricciardo was setting about closing the gap from fourth.
It became obvious that both Ferrari and Red Bull Racing had put their preferred drivers on the wrong strategy, but with Ricciardo having chased down Vettel by lap 53 a thrilling 13-lap climax to the race was in store.
Close-quarters racing ensued, but try as they might, neither Räikkönen nor Ricciardo could execute a pass on their respective rivals — and at just 18 years and 228 days old Verstappen became Formula One’s youngest ever race winner.
“it feels amazing, I can’t believe it,” said the Dutchman on the podium. “It was a great race.
“I have to say thank you to the team to give me such a great car to win straight away in the first race, an amazing feeling.”
Verstappen paid tribute to his father, Jos, an ex-F1 driver, who had guided him to his current Red Bull seat and who stepped back from playing a management role this weekend.
“From very young age my dad helped me a lot — to achieve this, amazing.”
Kimi Räikkönen spent much of his race holding Verstappen to account, but was unable to find a way past the recalcitrant Red Bull car.
After congratulation the new winner on the podium, the Finn admitted it had been an opportunity missed for his team.
“Disappointed for myself, but that’s racing,” he said. “We gave our best today after quite a difficult day yesterday and a pretty poor start.
“I was fast, but once I got close I couldn’t follow close enough through the last corners. I tried and tired but wasn’t enough today.
“I think after yesterday we could’ve been happy to take second and third, but we got so close today that it’s more disappointing.”
Vettel, having been a product of the Red Bull young driver programme himself, paid tribute to Verstappen.
“Many congratulations to Max,” he said. “It’s a great achievement and it’s his day.
“As a sportsman I think we have to respect that, so well done to him.”
Ricciardo finished off the podium, but a puncture on the penultimate lap threatened to rob him of fourth place, leaving him less than two seconds ahead of Bottas in fifth.
“It’s hard for me to not be on the podium, that’s the biggest disappointment today,” he said. “I don’t think it’s hard to see max on the podium.”
“We were leading and it was there for us. The race was in our hands.
“We were leading and we went to a three-stop strategy. We did it too late as well, Seb already jumped us. Then not only required to pass Seb but pass three cars on track. It just didn’t make sense.”
Behind Bottas Williams’s Carlos Sainz finished an excellent sixth in front of his home crowd. Sergio Perez brought the sole finishing Force India in seventh with a 1.1-second buffer to a three-stopping Felipe Massa, who recovered from P18 on the grid to take home four points.
Jenson Button finished ninth for two points, while Daniil Kvyat, forced to watch the man who took his Red Bull Racing seat win the race, took home a solitary point in tenth.