The Spanish Formula 1 Grand Prix of 2016 not only brought us a new winner this year, but also a first time winner, and youngest ever winner in F1. Max Verstappen claimed victory in his first outing in the Red Bull senior team, benefiting from the Mercedes duo tangling at turn 4 on the opening lap of the race.
Polesitter, Lewis Hamilton got off the line well initially, but then got wheel spin through 3rd/4th gears allowing team mate Nico Rosberg to clean drive around the outside of the Briton at turn 1. As the German came out of turn 3, his car went into energy harvesting mode due to not being in the correct engine mode at the start, which allowed Hamilton to make a run up the inside. Rosberg realized very late that Hamilton was making a move up the inside and aggressively cut across the Briton forcing him onto the grass causing Hamilton to lose control and hit Rosberg, both drivers ending up in the gravel and out of the race.
With both Mercedes out of the race; that suddenly got my attention as I realized that there would be a new winner. After the safety car had returned to the pits after clearing up the debris from the Mercedes crash, it was Daniel Ricciardo, Verstappen and junior Red Bull driver, Carlos Sainz in the three podium positions. However, Sainz quickly fell backwards as the much faster Ferrari’s moved past the Spaniard.
Now, we get to how Verstappen claimed victory, on lap 29 Red Bull pitted Ricciardo for his third set of tires, to which Ferrari reacted, pitting Vettel while Verstappen and Raikkonen continued on for half dozen more laps, moving both drivers onto a two stop strategy, while Ricciardo and Vettel were committed to a three stop strategy. It was clear in the final third that 2 stops was the fastest route to the chequered flag.
The two leading drivers that stopped twice, finished 1 and 2, while the two drivers that pitted 3 times finished 3 and 4. Ricciardo who dropped behind Vettel in the final round of stops was challenging the German for 3rd before being forced to make a 4th stop due to a puncture. However, Ricciardo had a substantial lead over 5th place driver Valteri Bottas and retained 4th despite the 65th lap puncture.
Toro Rosso driver, Carlos Sainz finished in a very solid sixth place behind the Williams of Bottas while Sergio Perez, Felipe Massa, Jenson Button and Danill Kvyat round out the top 10 finishers. It’s good to see Button and McLaren in the points, even if it’s lowly points, hopefully McLaren can build on this performance in Monaco with both cars finishing in the top 10. Fernando Alonso stopped on track with a power unit failure scuppering any chance of a double points finish for the Woking based team.
Overall, I would say this is the best race of the season so far; with the Mercedes out of the picture, it made the whole race much more exciting not knowing who would win the race. It was a strategic win, if all four leading drivers were on the same two stop strategy, any one of Verstappen, Raikkonen, Ricciardo or Vettel would have claimed the top step, but on this day, it was Verstappen that took a historic win.