The Ferrari Owners’ Club
of Great Britain

GRAND PRIX : Spain : Trashed Mercs and a Young Lad…

30-05-2016

Report by Jack Target

 

There is impressing your new employers in your first weekend, and there is what Max Verstappen did.

The young Dutch driver, who has impressed ever since he surprisingly got a seat with Torro Rosso as a 17 year old, jumped straight in his new Red Bull, out-qualified two Ferrari’s and won the Spanish GP. Not bad kid, not bad at all.

It was a race weekend that got fans talking again, for all the right reasons this time. The last time I wrote a report the word on everyone’s lips was ‘qualifying’ after a shambolic start to the season with a ridiculous qualifying format. Going into this race we were finally back to talking about racing. This was a big weekend for Lewis Hamilton, after Nico Rosberg’s four wins from four, the Ferrari’s looked like they could mount a challenge and then there was Red Bull’s decision to drop Danil Kvyat and replace him with Verstappen. What ensued was quite remarkable.

Not only did the youngest person to win a grand prix stand atop the podium at the end, he did it entrenched in a good old fashioned battle with three other cars. In the end there was only five seconds separating the top three with Kimi Raikkonen hot on the heels of the Red Bull. It was quite a remarkable end the to race where the two drivers who had used a two stop strategy held on as their teammates opted for the three stop only to run out of time to catch up. All of this intense battling for 1st place was excellent viewing and it all came thanks to an incredible start.

Yes, you may have read that there was a crash in lap one. It would have been mentioned much higher up but what followed was too magical for me not to give it proper attention. At turn three on the first lap, the two Mercedes, who had locked out the front row in qualifying, collided and skidded off the track ending both their races. Cue throwing of steering wheels, shaking heads and some stern faces in the Mercedes garage.

This was another ideal opportunity for the German team to pull away from Ferrari in the constructors championship and most likely have two drivers once again on the podium. This was meant to be a big weekend for Lewis Hamilton who would convert his pole position from the day before into his first win of the season and begin a fight back in an attempt to eat into Nico Roseberg’s title lead. Instead both drivers had to face the wrath of Niki Lauda and Toto Wolff as their races finished in a blink of an eye. It has to be said though, that this has been a long time coming. We saw it a few years ago with Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber in the Red Bull’s and the Mercedes pair have had a few close calls before. With Lewis’ aggressive driving style added to the mix it was only a matter of time that they would collide. If anything it is a surprise it has taken this long to happen.

At first it looked like Nico had blocked Hamilton leaving him nowhere to go, but after a couple of viewings it may go down as a racing incident in which both drivers need to accept some of the blame but not all of it. Lauda was quick to give his opinion blaming Hamilton, much to the annoyance of the British press and fans, but Toto ‘the Wolfinator’ Wolff seemed to calm things down during the in-house inquest stating that no one pointed a finger of blame at the other and they would await the report from the stewards. My cents, for what is worth, is that Hamilton may have gone a bit too gun-ho too early but that is what fans love about him. Nico may have blocked the Brit off but it didn’t seem like he was forcing Hamilton off the track maliciously. Both cars went off in what will now create more drama at Mercedes and by doing so it made this race a spectacle like we had not seen in some time.

The race was set up to be another battle at the front for the silver arrows as they outshone again in qualifying, with Hamilton recovering from a lock up to pull out a great flying lap to snatch pole. However, the wheels where set in motion for Sunday’s outcome when the Red Bull pair of Daniel Ricciardo and newbie for the team Max Verstappen out qualified the Ferrari’s. The dutchman, who had not driven his new car till this weekend, was at one point looking like he could be the fastest driver not in a Mercedes until his Australian teammate just about beat him as the checkered flag came down.

Behind them Kimi was faster than Vettel, in what would be a fairly disappointing weekend for the German, considering the circumstances. After getting to within a second of the Mercedes in practice earlier, this was turning into another missed opportunity for Ferrari.

Further down Felipe Massa was left frustrated when his Williams team messed up their timings leaving the Brazilian no time to get out of Q1. He was joined by Briton Jolyon Palmer in Renault’s first qualifying session of the year with a driver not making it into Q2. There was some hope going forward for McLaren though, who finally got a car into Q3 for the first time with a Honda engine thanks to home town boy Fernando Alonso.

The Spaniard does enjoy coming back home, being the most successful driver in terms of points in Spain and also holding the record for the most wins there alongside Michael Schumacher. It was 20 years ago when Schumacher, the then two time world champion, overcame the rain in a poor car for a team that was struggling for so long to win his first race in a Ferrari and start a dynasty. On the BBC sport website there is a video of Chris Rea talking about that race, which shows you why Ferrari as a team means so much to the fans and why you will always see a prancing horse galloping as it flitters on a flag in the stands. When it comes to F1 everyone supports their favourite driver, unless you support Ferrari. I can’t imagine any other F1 fan talking about a team using the word ‘we’ as Chris does here unless it was when talking about Ferrari. We hope Michael is still on his way to recovery so we can share these moments with him again.

Back to the race and we had not seen one have this close and tense a finish between so many drivers in a long time. How refreshing it was to see the graphic in the top left of the screen say ‘Battle for 1st’ as we headed into the final laps rather than the usual ‘Battle for 9th’ or something equally depressing. With both teams splitting the tyre strategies for their drivers no one watching could confidently predict what the podium would end up looking like.

With around 25 laps to go Red Bull blinked first when they put Ricciardo on another pair of soft tyres, hoping to set some quick times and get ahead of the pack. Ferrari acted quickly, doing the same with Sebby but in the end they would both be left disappointed as they couldn’t pick up the necessary time to keep up with their teammates.

After the pit stops it was 18 year old Verstappen who would find himself leading the race. As the end drew closer it was starting to become clear that the front two were keeping good care of their tyres trying to make it home. Kimi was practically on the tail of the Dutchman till the end, always staying within a second of the leader, but a move never came from the Finn to try and grab victory.

With two laps to go history beckoned for the new Red Bull driver, however it would be heartbreak for his teammate as Ricciardo caught a puncture and had to settle for 4th.

In the end Max Verstappen crossed the line for a famous victory. Records were smashed as he became the youngest winner of a Formula 1 race and the first from the Netherlands. The achievement was even more remarkable after only being with the team for the shortest amount of times since being promoted from Torro Rosso. There was some criticism going towards Red Bull after they hastily ushered in their boy wonder and dropped Kvyat but it has all come up roses for Christian Horner and co. as they bagged their first win of the season.

We all knew this kid was good but this was remarkable. It is such an incredible achievement for someone of just 18 years of age (shall we all just skip past the part where were think back to what we had achieved at that age? Good).

It seems like nothing can faze him. There are many similarities here with when Vettel won in Monza with Torro Rosso. It was a sign of things to come then and the story is the same for this young man. He has looked like a future world champion since day one.

Hopefully people will not dwell too much on the fact that the Mercedes crash made this story come to fruition. We all know that if the Mercedes drivers would not have crashed we wouldn’t be gushing over Verstappen and talking about what an exciting race this was. Credit has to go to Max and how he still held his nerve and drove beautifully and intelligently to get the win.

As for Ferrari they must feel like Arsenal at the moment. The last day of the Premier League season took place on the same day, with Arsenal finishing once again without the title. Mistakes form other teams left the door open for them to finally win league again, just like Ferrari in the first few races, but when they had their chance someone like Leicester City won it. For Ferrari in Formula 1 however, their Leicester was an 18 year old in a Red Bull. Yet another remarkable sporting story in 2016.