Max Verstappen became the youngest driver in Formula 1 history to win a grand prix after a sensational race in Spain.
The Mercedes drivers of Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg collided on the opening lap to end their races prematurely. With a window of opportunity, Verstappen delivered a faultless drive to claim victory ahead of a fast closing Kimi Raikkonen and Sebastian Vettel.
‘Deeply disappointing’ day for Mercedes
Mercedes easily locked out the front row in qualifying and a nice battle was set up with Hamilton starting on pole in front of Rosberg.
But the contest was over within seconds in amazing circumstances.
Rosberg made a strong start and managed to pass Hamilton around the outside into Turn 1. Focused on regaining the front position, Hamilton was fast through Turn 3 and closed quickly on Rosberg who was struggling in the wrong engine mode.
Hamilton saw a gap on the inside right but as his front nose reached Rosberg’s car the German came across to defend his position. It forced Hamilton onto the grass and losing control he hit Rosberg taking them both into the sand trap and out of the race.
“Coming out of turn three, I was catching Nico really quickly and went for the gap on the right – I had part of my car alongside but then had to take to the grass,” explained Hamilton.
“The gap was there and, if you’re a racing driver, you go for that gap.”
Rosberg responded by saying, “I came out of turn three and realised I was down on power with the wrong mode selected due to the engine mode switch being in the incorrect position.”
“Lewis was closing in, so I decided to make a clear move to the right hand side as soon as possible, to close the door and show him that wasn’t an option.”
“I was very surprised that Lewis went for the inside anyway.”
“The next thing I knew, we were in the gravel trap.”
Amazing seven days for Verstappen
The early exit of the Mercedes cars paved the way for an exciting race between the Red Bull’s and Ferrari’s.
Daniel Riccardo took the early lead and stayed in front of Verstappen for the opening 28 laps. After Red Bull pulled him into the pits on lap 38 and switched to a slower three-stop strategy, Riccardo found himself behind Verstappen and both Ferrari’s on a track where overtaking is difficult.
Riccardo tried desperately to edge past Vettel to get on the podium and he made a bold attempt on the inside at Turn 1. It prompted Vettel to ask on the team radio, “what are we doing, racing or ping-pong?”
Meanwhile, Verstappen nursed his medium compound tyres through an astonishing 32 laps to fend off Raikkonen who got within metres at times towards the end of the race.
Verstappen, the son of previous Formula 1 driver Jos, was understandably excited and remarkably his win came only 7 days after being promoted from the junior Torro Rosso team.
“It’s a very special feeling,” said Verstappen.
“We focused a lot on keeping the tyres alive because at my last stop I still had to do 32 laps until the end.”
“With five laps to the end I saw Kimi was dropping off a bit, he tried a few times and of course it kills your tyres.”
“I will for sure remember this and at the moment it’s just a great feeling. It’s amazing, I have no words for it.”
“I mean Kimi [Raikkonen] even raced against my dad, so it’s very funny!”
Useful points for other teams
On a day where the top four drivers mostly battled it out within seconds of each other, the remainder of the field also delivered some great driving.
Force India’s Sergio Perez finished seventh and collected valuable points for the second consecutive week.
Jenson Button ended in ninth and secured his first points of the season for McLaren.
And at his home circuit, Carlos Sainz turned in a respectable sixth place finish for Toro Rosso well in front of new team-mate Daniil Kyvat in tenth.