Race

Motor Sport News - - Spanish GP Report -

Ver­stap­pen has Ros­berg’s left hand to thank for mak­ing him the youngest ever win­ner of a For­mula 1 grand prix. For it was with this hand that Nico was at­tempt­ing to make some kind of en­gine ad­just­ment just as Lewis Hamil­ton launched an op­por­tunist at­tack­ing move into Turn 4, on lap one of the Span­ish Grand Prix. Quite what Ros­berg was do­ing, whether or not he was dis­tracted by hav­ing to make the ad­just­ment and why his en­gine mode was any­way in­cor­rect, are points ex­plored else­where ( see col­umn, page 3). But what­ever the cause and ef­fect, the re­sult­ing shunt be­tween Ros­berg and Hamil­ton that wiped out both Mer­cedes, cleared the way for a fierce Fer­rari-red Bull clash that was ul­ti­mately re­solved in Ver­stap­pen’s favour.

In win­ning the 2016 edi­tion of the race, he low­ered the ‘youngest ever win­ner’ mark to an al­most un­fea­si­ble level. At just 18 years and 227 days old, he blitzed the pre­vi­ous record of Se­bas­tian Vet­tel, who fa­mously won the 2008 Ital­ian GP for Toro Rosso, aged 21 and 73 days. A 10-year old Ver­stap­pen was likely watch­ing that grand prix, con­fi­dently ex­pect­ing to one day be do­ing some­thing sim­i­lar. Maybe not quite so soon, how­ever.

This win, like his stun­ning qual­i­fy­ing per­for­mance a day ear­lier, has now been perma-etched into the F1 an­nals, as a ref­er­ence point for all fu­ture re­port­ing of what must surely

be­come an epochal ca­reer. In 20 years’ time, aged 38, Ver­stap­pen could eas­ily re­main fit enough to be a front­line grand prix driver. Who knows how many race wins, ti­tles and mil­lions he’ll have earned by then?

There was a de­gree of good for­tune about Ver­stap­pen’s vic­tory, although that should not de­tract from the scale of his achieve­ment; nor is it a com­ment on the flaw­less, ut­terly com­posed man­ner of his per­for­mance. He ben­e­fited, as al­ready noted, from the re­tire­ment of two faster Mer­cedes. He also had the ad­van­tage of be­ing left on a two-stop strat­egy (soft-medium-medium), while his marginally quicker team-mate Ric­cia­rdo ran a nom­i­nal three-stop­per: soft-medium-soft-medium (there was an ad­di­tional lap 65 stop af­ter a late-race tyre fail­ure, but this had noth­ing to do with race strat­egy).

Max, though, was al­ways in the mix and proved him­self well ca­pa­ble of re­sist­ing heavy late-race pres­sure from Raikko­nen, whose SF16-H was quicker ‘down the chute’ and al­lowed him to close to within a car length of Ver­stap­pen’s RB12 at T1 for most of the last third of the race. Max was too cute for that: he used the RB12’S bet­ter trac­tion and bal­ance from Turns 2 through 16 to draw away around the lap and pre­vent Kimi from leav­ing the last cor­ner close enough to mount a suc­cess­ful main straight pass. Had Raikko­nen been able to get ahead, he would likely have pulled away, but un­able to pass, he re­mained bot­tled up. It was a clas­sic chas­sis-ver­sus-power con­fronta­tion, neatly also be­ing played out be­tween the old­est and youngest driv­ers. “I raced against his dad in F1,” joked Kimi later.

So much speed and com­po­sure in one so young: phe­nom­e­nal, in the truest sense of the word. And Ver­stap­pen made it all seem so easy, so mat­ter-of-fact. Fac­ing the press post race, there were wide smiles, of course, and talk of “sur­prise”. Yet the over­whelm­ing im­pres­sion was of a young man who was sim­ply ful­fill­ing the des­tiny that had been charted since his F1 driver dad hooked up with his kart­ing champ mum.

“On the last laps I got a bit of cramp,” he said. “I was get­ting very ex­cited with 10 laps to go, when I started to watch the pit­board. But then I stopped so that I could just fo­cus on the tyres and bring it home. A great feel­ing. I ab­so­lutely didn’t ex­pect this.”

The noise and fuss of his el­e­va­tion to the se­nior Red Bull team, at the ex­pense of the de­moted Kvyat – him­self a podium fin­isher only a few weeks ago – had for­ever been erased.

Only marginally less com­pelling than the tus­sle up front was the fu­ri­ous bat­tle that raged al­most race-long be­tween Ric­cia­rdo and Vet­tel.

Ric­cia­rdo led early (and would lead 30 laps in to­tal), sprint­ing away at the head of a Red Bull train that in­cluded Ver­stap­pen and Car­los Sainz – up to third af­ter the early-race yel­lows prompted by the Mercs’ self-de­struc­tion. The Fer­raris were faster, though, and by lap 10 a clear Red Bull-fer­rari run­ning or­der had been es­tab­lished that looked likely to par­lay into a top-four re­sult of Ric­cia­rdo, Ver­stap­pen, Vet­tel, Raikko­nen.

That changed when Fer­rari rolled the dice on lap 37 and brought Vet­tel in for a sec­ond set of medi­ums. This third stop was in­tended to un­der­cut Ric­cia­rdo (which it did) and put Vet­tel in po­si­tion for vic­tory (which it didn’t). Why not? Be­cause when Ric­cia­rdo was brought in on lap 43 to cover Vet­tel’s strat­egy both nom­i­nal ‘team lead­ers’ were doomed to slug it out for third and fourth. The medi­ums fit­ted to Ver­stap­pen and Raikko­nen at their sec­ond (and fi­nal) stops on laps 34 and 35 would prove good enough to hang on till the che­quered flag, more than 30 laps away.

That didn’t stop Ric­cia­rdo from hav­ing an almighty go at Vet­tel though and on lap 59 he did spear his way past into T1, although he over­ran and Vet­tel re­gained the po­si­tion.

Vet­tel was un­happy at the the move, feel­ing he’d been the vic­tim of ‘neg­a­tive op­tion­ing’: “If I don’t play ac­cord­ing to his move then I crash,” he noted. Both could feel ag­grieved that their duel wasn’t for the lead.

But nei­ther could deny Max Ver­stap­pen his mo­ment of his­tory.

Perez im­pressed for Force In­dia

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