Max Verstappen wins Spanish Grand Prix as fresh Mercedes feud breaks out following collision
It was the most exciting climax to a Grand Prix for years.
It was the most exciting climax to a Grand Prix for years.
It pitted the oldest driver in F1 battling the youngest as Max Verstappen won the Spanish Grand Prix from Kimi Raikkonen after a highly controversial collision between Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg led to the first double retirement of the Mercedes since the hybrid turbo era began. It led to a tense three way battle for the victory between the two Red Bulls and Ferrari's Sebastian Vettel.
Rosberg again won the start against pole sitter Hamilton and was able to run around the outside of him into the opening corner. As Hamilton went to pass him into the inside of Turn 4, Rosberg moved across to shut the door, putting Hamilton onto the grass and as he lost control, he slammed into the back of the lead Mercedes eliminating both on the spot.
After being humilated by Hamilton on a number of occasions in the last two seasons, including at Austin last season, this was Rosberg, the championship leader by 43 points, clearly telling Hamilton that he will not be rolled over. This was a statement and Hamilton was furious. He remains the same margin behind, but with one fewer race to close the gap now.
Rosberg was in the wrong engine mode through Turn 3, which was why Hamilton had the chance to close so quickly on him.
Mercedes boss Niki Lauda said that it was Hamilton's fault for being "too aggressive" and called the incident 'stupid' in a reverse of his immediate intervention at Spa in 2014, as Mercedes looked set to spiral into another potentially damaging internal feud. Toto Wolff was more magnanimous, "We let the drivers race & sometimes this happens," he said, describing it as a racing incident. The stewards agreed.
Most pundits and ex-drivers in the paddock called it as Rosberg's fault, but also observed that Hamilton had forced the issue having been too gentle under braking for Turn 1 and letting Rosberg beat him.
The Safety Car was deployed, with Ricciardo leading a Red Bull one-two with a surging Carlos Sainz in third place. Sebastian Vettel had briefly held third into Turn 1, but was passed by Verstappen and Sainz.
The Safety Car went in at the end of Lap 4, with Ricciardo quickly getting into a rhythm and getting outside DRS range from his team mate, while Sainz battled Vettel for third. He got past with a nice move on Lap 8, the 2015 Ferrari engine unable to keep the 2016 engined works car behind. Raikkonen tried a move into Turn 1 a lap later,but Raikkonen had to run off the track.
By Lap 10, the Red Bulls had a lead of 4.4 seconds over Vettel, while Raikkonen went past Sainz into Turn 1
Button had started well and moved ahead of team mate Alonso. Button started the race on new soft tyres and took seventh ahead of Alonso.
The leader pitted on Lap 11, Verstappen a lap later with Ferrari's Raikkonen and Williams' Bottas. Vettel stayed out, looking to offset himself to the Red Bull cars by a few laps.
Vettel pitted on Lap 16, rejoining behind the two Red Bull cars, but with a 4 lap tyre offset to the leader.
Meanwhile the management, engineers and drivers climbed the stairs to the Mercedes team office on top of the race trucks, to take part in a painful debrief after the most damaging collision between the pair since their partnership began. Both were called to the stewards with some trepidation on Hamilton's part as he was already on a reprimand. There were no penalties.
The front three circulated together in the middle stint, with Vettel shadowing Verstappen in third place, the 18 year old Dutchman looked composed in second place and Ricciardo comfortable in the lead. Verstappen looked like he would have liked a slightly faster pace, with Vettel breathing down his neck, but Ricciardo knew what he was doing.
Raikkonen was three seconds behind in fourth with Bottas fifth, Sainz 6th and Perez 7th.
On Lap 28 Red Bull pitted Ricciardo committing him to three stops. Vettel pitted a lap later for soft tyres. Now Ferrari was onto the tyre it wanted to race on and dictating the strategy. Red Bull opted to split strategies, leaving Verstappen out on the mediums, as he would have been jumped by Vettel had he pitted. Ferrari did the same with Raikkonen.
Vettel pitted again on Lap 38 to undercut Ricciardo and went onto medium tyres, that he would take to the finish, leaving Verstappen with a clear option to try to reach the finish on his mediums and force Vettel to try to pass him. Raikkonen was left out too, so he would shadow Verstappen's strategy. So Vettel was now ahead of Ricciardo, who had suffered heavily for the team's strategy call. But they said that at the time they made it, it was not clear which was the faster strategy; two or three stops.
Alonso retired on Lap 47 radioing that he had 'no power'.
Verstappen led from Raikkonen by just over a second from Raikkonen, with Vettel on tyres that were only 3 laps fresher than the 18 year old and Ricciardo on tyres that were nine laps fresher.
Raikkonen closed up and prepared for his attack on Lap 49, but Verstappen stubbornly held on in the lead. Raikkonen's tyres were heating up in the wheeltracks of the 18 year old.
Meanwhile Vettel and Ricciardo were reeling them in, with Ricciardo knowing he had to overtake Vettel to have any chance of making his strategy work.
The closing stages, featured four cars from Red Bull and Ferrari battling for position in an indication of what F1 might be were it not for Mercedes' domination. Ricciardo went for it on Lap 59 but couldn't make the pass stick. The pair lost 1.5 seconds to the leaders as as result and cost Vettel the chance to catch the leaders to try for the win. Ricciardo's misery was compunded by a puncture in the closing laps.
Verstappen became the youngest winner of a Grand Prix at the age of just 18. An astonishing and utterly brilliant result and one that has given the biggest imaginable shot in the arm to F1.
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Vettel says three-stop strategy was wrong
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