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Spanish GP 2016

MAY 16, 2016

Race Report - Controversial, Sensational and Unbelievable

Max Verstappen, Spanish GP 2016
© The Cahier Archive


By Dan Knutson in Barcelona

A controversial accident between Mercedes teammates Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg set the scene for teenager Max Verstappen to score a sensational and unbelievable maiden grand prix victory in his first race with Red Bull Racing.

At 18 years and 227 days, Verstappen is the youngest ever Formula 1 winner as he beat Sebastian Vettel's record by over two years.

Verstappen held off Ferrari driver Kimi Raikkonen who finished second. Ferrari's Sebastian Vettel fended off Red Bull's Daniel Ricciardo to take third place.

"It's amazing," Verstappen said. "I mean, this race felt like an endurance race to me, especially the last 10 laps. I couldn't believe that I was leading the race. And today just everything went well. I could hold on to the tires and I think we did the best strategy possible and unbelievable, I can't believe it."

After his engine woes in China and Russia, Hamilton had a trouble-free qualifying in Spain and earned his 52nd F1 pole. Rosberg joined him on the front row of the grid.

Red Bull's new recruit Verstappen had been sensational in qualifying, but when it mattered most - Q3 - he was unable to go faster than teammate Daniel Ricciardo who grabbed the third spot.

The Ferraris were quick in practice but a bit off the pace, with the result that Raikkonen and Vettel lined up fifth and sixth. Valtteri Bottas (Williams), Carlos Sainz (Toro Rosso), Sergio Perez (Force India) and Fernando Alonso (McLaren) rounded out the top 10. This was the first time that the new McLaren Honda partnership had made it into the top 10 on the grid.

All the drivers started the 66-lap race on Pirelli's soft compound tires except Rio Haryanto who had the medium compound slicks on his Manor.

After the five red lights went out to start the grand prix, Rosberg went around the outside in Turn 1 to take the lead. Hamilton went to the inside on the straight into Turn 4, Rosberg moved over to defend; Hamilton went onto the grass, got sideways and collected Rosberg.

They collided and went off into the gravel trap.

"Basically from me I got a good start," Hamilton said. "I just got slipstreamed into Turn 1 and then through Turn 3 I was a lot quicker than Nico. Nico just happened to be in the wrong engine mode and he de-rated, which I didn't, and I was gaining at him at fairly decent pace.

"Where he positioned the car, I was a car width to the right of the racing line and at the speed I was catching him I had to decide whether to go left, which is a small gap, or right. The inside line is always the one you'd go for, there was a much bigger gap and I went for it.

"I got there and I had part of my wing and part of my wheel alongside within the white line and then that diminished pretty quickly. I did what I could to avoid an incident pretty fast by going on the grass. But it all happened pretty quickly."

Rosberg's view: "I had a great start and was really excited about the first corner move and getting the lead and then I was sure it was my race to win. Coming out of Turn 3 I noticed I was down on engine power - which now I know it was because I was in an incorrect engine mode - I saw Lewis closing in and as soon as I could, I closed the door, I went to the inside.

"It was a clear, strong move, to make sure he understood there was not going to be any space there and I was very surprised he went for it anyway. That's it; then we're in the sand trap. I wasn't surprised because I didn't see him, I was surprised he still went for the inside gap."

Out came the safety car. The order was now Ricciardo, Verstappen, Sainz, Vettel, Raikkonen, Bottas, Perez, Jenson Button, Alonso and Romain Grosjean.

The restart came at the start of lap four. Ricciardo kept the lead and soon pulled out a 1.4 second advantage over his new Red Bull teammate. Verstappen, in turn, was 1.8 seconds in front of Sainz by lap five. And Vettel was attacking Sainz, and Raikkonen was right behind Vettel.

Vettel passed Sainz into Turn 1 at the start of lap 8. Raikkonen tried and failed to overtake Sainz a lap later and went off the track. The Finn finally made the move stick on lap 10.

At the end of lap 10, Ricciardo pitted for the medium tires, so Verstappen led on lap 11.

Rosberg and Hamilton, both still wearing their helmets, headed into the Mercedes debriefing room in the transporter where Mercedes bosses Toto Wolff, Paddy Lowe and Nike Lauda joined them.

"It's not a clear cut... a very difficult situation for the team," Wolff said after he emerged to talk to the media. "But we let the drivers race and sometimes this is what happens. In our opinion we don't want to blame. They are both pretty upset because they know about the effort. We need to look at the pictures, look at the data, and avoid this in the future."

Verstappen stopped at the end of lap 11 for a set of the mediums, so Vettel led lap 12. Raikkonen and Bottas also pitted.

Vettel stayed out on his soft Pirellis until he pitted at the end of lap 14. Ricciardo and Verstappen swept past to reclaim first and second places.

With the first round of stops over, Ricciardo was 2.3 seconds ahead of Verstappen who was 2.4 seconds ahead of Vettel who was 3.8 seconds ahead of Raikkonen who was 5.4 seconds ahead of Bottas.

Verstappen began to chip away at Ricciardo's lead. And Vettel was closing in on Verstappen.

Next Nico Hulkenberg's Force India caught fire and he pulled off the track. He then had to grab the fire extinguisher from the incompetent marshal and put the fire out himself.

Lap 25: Verstappen was now 0.76 of a second behind Ricciardo who had been held up by Haryanto. Vettel was 1.3 seconds behind Verstappen. Raikkonen was fourth, and this group was pulling away from Bottas in fifth.

Ricciardo pitted at the end of 28 for 2.9 seconds and got a set of the soft tires. Vettel stopped a lap later for 3.5 seconds and got a set of the softs.

Verstappen led lap 29. Ricciardo set the fastest lap of the race so far on lap 30, and Vettel beat that on lap 31.

Verstappen was nearly two seconds a lap slower than Ricciardo and Vettel on his well worn medium tires. So was Raikkonen in second place. Yet they did not pit. Finally Verstappen stopped for 2.7 seconds at the end of lap 34 and left with a set of the medium Pirellis. Raikkonen did the same a lap later. So both Red Bull and Ferrari split their strategies.

Now, on lap 36, Ricciardo was 1.1 seconds ahead of Vettel. But Vettel stopped one lap later for the medium tires.

So Verstappen was now back in second place and 10.6 seconds behind Ricciardo. Raikkonen was third and Vettel fourth. Verstappen then started closing in on Ricciardo who pitted at the end of lap 43 for the medium Pirellis.

With 20 laps remaining, Verstappen led by 1.2 seconds over Raikkonen. They had both stopped twice. Raikkonen was 6.8 seconds in front of Vettel who was 5.1 seconds ahead of Ricciardo. The latter two had pitted three times.

As it turned out, the two stop was the winning strategy as Verstappen and Raikkonen finished ahead of Vettel and Ricciardo.

Then, much to the disappointment of the Spanish fans, Alonso stopped at Turn 3. At least Sainz was still running sixth, and he finished sixth.

"I did one of the best race starts of my life to be honest, running in a podium position and battling with Ferrari," Sainz said. "Those first laps were really nice! I felt comfortable during the rest of the race, the team did a very good job with the pit stops and I had a big smile on my face when I crossed the line in sixth position."

Raikkonen reeled in Verstappen and had the gap down to 0.9 of a second at the end of lap 50. And Ricciardo was now 2.0 seconds behind Vettel.

But, as hard as Raikkonen tried, he could not get close enough to make a pass for the lead.

"I had a poor start," Raikkonen said. "When I released the clutch I got wheel spin and it's impossible to recover from the first part of wheel spin when that happens. Luckily, I managed to go around the people in Turn 3 and I didn't lose too badly. It could have been an awful lot more worse.

"I think speed-wise it was pretty okay. I was able to catch the three guys in front of me. But in the end when I got to Max, I got close but I could not follow close enough or get a good enough exit in the last corner because I was close and obviously I gave quite a hard time to my tires to following him for so many laps."

With 10 laps to go, Ricciardo was 0.6 of a second behind Vettel. He almost got passed him on lap 59. Then with just a couple laps to go, Ricciardo got a puncture in his left rear tire. He made it back to the pits and held on to finish fourth.

"The three stop strategy - I'm still not really sure why...I think if everyone did it it makes sense," Ricciardo said. "To do it, and to do it after Seb (Vettel) had already committed, it meant that not only did we have to pass Seb, but we had to pass Kimi (Raikkonen) and Max (Verstappen) as well.

"When you are leading the race, to then say alright let's still try and win but pass three cars, when you don't have the quickest car down the straight, and it is not the easiest place to overtake. I am not really sure why that was the case today."

Red Bull Team Principal Christian Horner explained what happened.

"Once Vettel passed Carlos Sainz and was running in clean air, you could see that his pace was stronger than ours," Horner said. "And the obvious way that they were going to try navigate their way past us was through a three stop. So we had to take a tactical decision at that point to say do we try and cover Vettel with one of our cars? Therefore the best car that we feel has a chance of winning the race - which is the leading car (Ricciardo) - and we elected to go for the three stop. And it looks like Ferrari made that same choice at that point in time."

All that left Vettel clear to claim third place.

"Obviously we tried everything," Vettel said. "We tried to get ahead. In the end I think we were surprised at how superior the two-stop was, but from their (Red Bull's) point of view, they tried to cover as much as they can. They tried to cover with the lead car, which made sense, but I think you could see for both of us, Daniel and myself, that the three-stop wasn't really superior.

"Then I had an interesting race trying to hold him off. They were quite competitive on the medium tires. Bit quicker than us in the last sector, so bit difficult to hold him off. Once it was very hairy, it was quite close into Turn 1; if I didn't open up we just crash."

Bottas had a lonely afternoon on his way to fifth place.

"We could recover two places because of the first lap incident - we got lucky because of that," Bottas said. "I think we did a job, overall, as after the two Mercedes were out we only had two other teams ahead of us. But we just didn't have enough pace today, so I think we maximized what we had today. I think we had a very good strategy, we had very good pit stops, again, so this was all we could get today."

Perez also took advantage of the Mercedes crash as it moved him up two places to seventh place. Felipe Massa went from 18th to eighth in his Williams. Jenson Button was in the points for the second race in a row, finishing ninth in his McLaren.

Daniil Kvyat, the man who was demoted back to Toro Rosso to make room for Verstappen at Red Bull, rounded out the top 10.

"We had to give two positions back at the restart of the race, so we lost a bit of time there," Kvyat said. "But apart from that, the pace was strong and we were competitive. It's positive to be back and to finish in the points straight away. The car felt good and it didn't take me a lot of time to get used to it. The second half of the race was fun, following the leaders without interrupting their fight, and I was able to overtake Gutierrez and get back into the points."

Out in front, Verstappen managed his set of well worn Pirellis - he did 32 laps on one set of tires - along with the pressure from Raikkonen and went on to win. It was, as Red Bull boss Horner said over the radio: "Unbelievable!!"