Why it was all change in Spain
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.