Max Verstappen became the youngest winner in Formula 1 history in Sunday’s Spanish Grand Prix as he stormed to a famous victory in his first race for Red Bull Racing.
After Mercedes drivers Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg were eliminated in a dramatic first lap crash, the race became a straight fight of strategy between Ferrari and Red Bull.
Both opted to split strategy on its cars, with the two-stopping Verstappen making the most of his rival’s errors to take a historic first win.
Mercedes saw its hopes of continuing its 100% record in 2016 end on the first lap when Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg came together, crashing out in a dramatic incident that is set to stoke the fire between the championship rivals.
Rosberg made the better start from P2 on the grid, sweeping around the outside of Hamilton at the first corner. Hamilton fought back and lined up a move down the inside of Turn 4, with Rosberg shifting his car to the right-hand side of the track to block him off.
Hamilton refused to back down though, moving onto the grass and losing control. His car clipped the barrier before then careering into Rosberg ahead, eliminating both drivers on the spot. The fall-out from the crash is set to follow.
The clash allowed Red Bull to seize the initiative early on. Daniel Ricciardo assumed the lead of the race ahead of new teammate Max Verstappen, who found himself running second in his first race for the team. Carlos Sainz Jr. made a rocket start to sit third for the restart after the safety car period, but could not hold back the charging Ferraris of Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen in the first stint.
Ricciardo was the first of the leaders to pit, allowing Verstappen to lead a grand prix for the first time in his career. The Dutchman emerged in second place once he made his stop, with Vettel cutting the gap after a longer first stint to sit third for Ferrari.
Vettel managed to pile the pressure on the Red Bulls throughout the second stint as traffic bunched the front three together: just two seconds separated Ricciardo, Verstappen and Vettel at one point. However, the battle was defused when Red Bull brought Ricciardo in from the race lead earlier than expected, shifting him onto a three-stop strategy.
Ferrari reacted one lap later by bringing Vettel in and fitting his car with soft tires, again notifying a three-stop strategy. This left Verstappen to ease into the lead, seemingly on a two-stop strategy that would give him a real shot at claiming his first grand prix victory.
Red Bull brought Verstappen into the pits just past half-distance, switching him to the medium compound tire that would see him to the end of the race. Ferrari reacted by bringing Raikkonen in one lap later, but now the focus swung to Ricciardo and Vettel at the front as they looked to create a big enough lead over Verstappen to make their final stop work.
Curiously, Ferrari opted to bring Vettel in after a very short third stint, fitting him also with a set of new mediums. The decision left the German with the task of passing both Raikkonen and Verstappen on track, and still with Ricciardo to contend with as he forged a lead at the front.
However, as his tires began to fade, Ricciardo’s hopes of winning the race did also. The Australian found himself losing large amounts of time as the stint wore on, forcing Red Bull into pitting him and putting him on mediums with 22 laps to go. This allowed Vettel to move into P3, leaving Verstappen to contend with Raikkonen at the front of the pack.
Raikkonen was able to close up on Verstappen at the front as the stint wore on, making use of DRS when running within a second of the leader. However, Verstappen managed to pull away once again through the longer corners thanks to the Red Bull’s aerodynamic advantage, leaving the Finn to toil in P2.
All the while, Ricciardo was on a charge. The Australian put his new tires to good use to carve into Vettel’s advantage in P3. Like Raikkonen ahead, he found himself struggling to make a pass as the race entered the final 10 laps. As both he and Vettel caught the leaders at around half a second a lap, the stage was set for a nail-biting finish.
Verstappen was able to keep cool at the front, though. Although Raikkonen continued to lurk around a second behind, the Dutchman did enough to cross the line first and pick up his maiden grand prix victory, becoming the youngest race winner in the history of F1. Red Bull’s decision to drop Daniil Kvyat in favor of Verstappen had immediately justified itself.
Raikkonen crossed the line less than one second behind in P2, while Vettel managed to hold on to the final podium position after Ricciardo was hit with a late puncture, forcing him into a late pit stop. He held on to P4 at the flag, though, such was Red Bull’s pace.
Valtteri Bottas had a lonely race en route to P5 for Williams ahead of Carlos Sainz Jr., who was impressive in his home race, finishing sixth. Sergio Perez finished seventh for Force India, while Felipe Massa recovered from his Q1 exit on Saturday to finish eighth. Jenson Button was McLaren’s sole scorer, finishing ninth as teammate Fernando Alonso retired, while Kvyat rounded out the points for Toro Rosso in P10.