Why it was all change in Spain

F1 Racing - - NEWS - Fol­low Anthony on Twit­ter: @Rowl­in­son_F1

We hate to say ‘we told you so’. But, well, we told you so – about Max Ver­stap­pen, that is.

In April, Max be­came our youngest-ever cover star and we ex­plained why he was such a hit in his 2015 rookie sea­son and pre­cisely what it was about his Hamil­tonesque driv­ing style that made fu­ture vic­to­ries in­evitable.

The cover star treat­ment was just one of myr­iad ‘youngest-ever’ records that Max, 18, will doubt­less keep set­ting, hav­ing just be­come the ‘youngest ever F1 win­ner’ and ‘youngest ever podium fin­isher’ at the 2016 Span­ish GP (see race re­port, page 92). And while both of these achieve­ments were bril­liant, sur­pris­ing they were not. In­sid­ers speak of the 0.2s per lap ad­van­tage Ver­stap­pen had in hand over his less flu­ent and now de­moted team-mate Daniil Kvyat. No way was RB’s driver Sven­gali Hel­mut Marko go­ing to let that kind of tal­ent be poached by an ag­gres­sive ri­val, so ac­cel­er­ated pro­mo­tion rep­re­sented the best op­tion for keep­ing the boy won­der in the fam­ily.

Ver­stap­pen’s pol­ished pace was im­me­di­ately ev­i­dent on his el­e­va­tion to the se­nior Red Bull team, even against the swift Daniel Ric­cia­rdo. They’ll give us quite the intra-team bat­tle to savour for the rest of 2016 – and be­yond if Red Bull can find a way to ac­com­mo­date their rac­ing egos with­out blow­ing up the team. Good luck with that one, Chris­tian, al­though it’s surely the kind of prob­lem any team boss se­cretly rel­ishes.

Just ask Mercedes’ Toto Wolff, who’s try­ing to keep a lid on an ever more in­tense feud be­tween Nico Ros­berg and Lewis Hamil­ton. Events in Barcelona were the clear­est ev­i­dence of a new steel to Ros­berg’s ap­proach, with that de­ci­sive open­ing-lap de­fen­sive stance. He knows he still en­joys the best tech­ni­cal pack­age in the field; he knows this could be his one big chance to be­come world cham­pion - just as he also knows that team-mate Hamil­ton is one of the fastest, most com­plete drivers ever to have com­peted in For­mula 1.

So should we be sur­prised that, hav­ing taken ad­van­tage of Hamil­ton’s fail­ure to win over the first four 2016 grands prix, by win­ning them all him­self, Nico should seek to se­cure his ad­van­tage by re­fus­ing to cede ground when Lewis launched his re­flex­ive at­tack into T4 in Spain? Equally, should we be sur­prised that Lewis, ever the in­stinc­tive racer, went for the gap as keenly as he did – fully com­mit­ted and with lit­tle mar­gin for re­cov­ery should his rac­ing op­po­nent play hard­ball?

That first-lap in­ci­dent, for which nei­ther driver was pe­nalised, will surely be looked back on as one of the defin­ing mo­ments of the sea­son and those pro- or antiei­ther driver will con­tinue to air their views via so­cial me­dia. Some of the more vo­cif­er­ous are likely to aim their barbs at Hamil­ton, for, as we ex­plore on page 28, rarely, if ever, has an F1 driver proved so fan-di­vi­sive.

For our money, Hamil­ton is one of the best things to have hap­pened to For­mula 1, and the venom with which he is of­ten at­tacked is as mys­ti­fy­ing as it is ob­jec­tion­able. We only hope Ver­stap­pen is spared such ex­cesses as he pro­gresses through what should be a sto­ried ca­reer.

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