Max Verstappen is relishing Formula 1’s return to Europe and the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya – the site of his maiden grand prix victory – for the Spanish Grand Prix next weekend.
Verstappen became F1’s youngest ever race winner in Spain last year during his debut for Red Bull, having been given a shock promotion from its B-team, Toro Rosso, four races into the season.
The Dutchman was just 18 years old when he swept to victory in Spain, capitalizing on an on-track clash between Mercedes drivers Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg on the opening lap.
“Around this time last year I got the call to join Red Bull Racing, which was a great feeling, and then when it got announced everything happened really fast,” Verstappen said.
“I spent a lot of time in the factory getting prepared in the simulator in order to get used to the car. A lot of media attention, but I wasn’t really nervous, just happy that I was finally driving for a top team.
“Last year was such a special race to me and in the end we managed to pull it off. It was an incredible feeling once I passed the finish line, especially in your first race with a new team.”
While a victory for Verstappen seemed unlikely enough last year, the odds appear to be stacked against Red Bull even more so this time around given the dominance of Mercedes and Ferrari in 2017.
Red Bull is pinning its hopes on a significant update package for the RB13 car, with Verstappen hoping that it will give him the chance to take a step forward.
“We have to wait and see what the updates will bring,” Verstappen said.
“I hope we can be a bit closer to the top teams or that we can at least follow them. That would already be a good step forward.”
Jalek Swoll and Rockstar Energy Husqvarna teammate Malcolm Stewart sustained injury in separate crashes late last week. Stewart missed Anaheim 2 and Swoll will not mount up for the 250 East season opener in Houston on February 4.
“Spent all of yesterday in the ER and today getting surgery so haven’t been able to make an update post,” Swoll posted on Instagram. “Spiral fractured my humorous yesterday and was lucky enough to get into surgery today. Absolutely heartbroken that I couldn’t show all the hard work me, [Mike Brown], [Aldon Baker], and [Joel Perez] were working on truly felt like this year was going to a big one with massive improvements we made but I guess it just wasn’t my time.”
The team announced on Instagram that Swoll underwent successful surgery to repair a broken bone in his arm, sustained in a practice crash on Friday. After missing the division opener, no further timeline has been given for his return.
Swoll made eight starts in the 250 West division last season with a best finish of fifth. In 2021, he scored his first SuperMotocross win in the outdoor Pro Motocross season at High Point Raceway in Mount Morris, Pennsylvania.
Stewart missed Anaheim 2 due to a practice injury. Likewise, the team did not announce a timetable for Stewart’s return.
He showed a lot of speed in the first two rounds before accidents eliminated him from contention in both rounds. He finished 16th at Anaheim 1 and 15th in San Diego, putting him in a points’ deficit that was already going to be difficult to overcome.
Stewart entered the 2023 season with a ton of confidence and believed all he needed was to stack his chips the right way to get this year’s championship.
Husqvarna is now represented by RJ Hampshire in the 250 West division and Christian Craig in 450s.
Hampshire had a rough weekend in Anaheim 2 and finished 11th in the overall standings after scoring a last place result in Race 2 with a bike sidelined by crash damage and a 13th in Race 3 after another fall.
Craig has not yet scored a top-10 on his 450 with a best of 11th at San Diego and Anaheim 2.
The news of these two injuries comes on the heels of the Pro Circuit Kawasaki team losing three of their four 250 riders.
Last week, Pro Circuit Kawasaki announced Seth Hammaker would miss the season opener with a wrist injury. Almost immediately, it was announced Jo Shimoda would also miss the 250 East opener with a shoulder injury.
Chris Blose will serve as a replacement rider in the 250 East division with Carson Mumford scheduled to replace the injured Austin Forkner in the West.