Top 20 Stories of 2016
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Top 20 Stories of 2016

Top Stories of 2016, #6: Verstappen wins first race after Red Bull promotion

In sixth place in our top 20 countdown, a collision between Mercedes teammates paves the way for Max Verstappen's maiden grand prix win, just a few days on from Red Bull's decision to give him Daniil Kvyat's seat.

Top Stories of 2016, #6: Verstappen wins first race after Red Bull promotion
Max Verstappen, Red Bull Racing RB12
(L to R): Max Verstappen, Red Bull Racing and Daniil Kvyat, Scuderia Toro Rosso with the media
Max Verstappen, Red Bull Racing RB12
Max Verstappen, Red Bull Racing RB12
Nico Rosberg, Mercedes AMG F1 W07 Hybrid leads team mate Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes AMG F1 W07 Hybrid at the start of the race
Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes AMG F1 W07 Hybrid and Nico Rosberg, Mercedes AMG F1 W07 Hybrid collide on the opening lap of the race
Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes AMG F1 W07 Hybrid and Nico Rosberg, Mercedes AMG F1 W07 Hybrid collide on the opening lap of the race
Daniel Ricciardo, Red Bull Racing RB12
Max Verstappen, Red Bull Racing and Kimi Raikkonen, Scuderia Ferrari
Race winner Max Verstappen, Red Bull Racing RB12 celebrates at the end of the race
The podium: race winner Max Verstappen, Red Bull Racing, second place Kimi Raikonnen, Scuderia Ferrari, third place Sebastian Vettel, Scuderia Ferrari
Race winner Max Verstappen, Red Bull Racing celebrates on the podium

"You couldn't write a script like this" is how the commentator cliche goes, serving as the template heat-of-the-moment reaction to dramatic sporting moments and developments.

But while Max Verstappen's Barcelona win was certainly that sort of a genuine shock, it was also exactly the kind of thing you'd expect to see in a script for a sports movie or TV show.

For him, Red Bull, Formula 1 – everyone but the team's direct rivals, the unfortunate Daniil Kvyat and, perhaps, Daniel Ricciardo - it was an all-too-perfect culmination of what remained until December 2 the season's biggest transfer market story.

To say Red Bull's decision to swap Kvyat and Verstappen was met with a mixed reaction is an understatement. The record-breaking Dutchman had long established his reputation as the next big thing, yet the demotion of Kvyat just a few weeks on from his China podium looked another demonstration of Red Bull's trademark ruthlessness.

Still, the hype surrounding Verstappen's debut in top machinery was evident, especially after practice, as the Dutchman ran reasonably close to new teammate Daniel Ricciardo on Friday, and even outpaced him on Saturday morning. He was even quicker in Q1 and Q2, although had no answer to Ricciardo's scintillating lap in the final session.

Mercedes fireworks

At that point, Verstappen's best-case scenario was a podium, and even that looked a stretch given Ricciardo's advantage. The win already had Mercedes' name on it going by the massive qualifying gap, with Ricciardo's phenomenal Q3 lap only good enough for a six-tenths gap to poleman Lewis Hamilton.

Luckily for Verstappen, the Mercedes duo had gone through diametrically opposite starts to their seasons – and neither was in the mood to give the other an inch. Launching off the front row, both Mercedes escaped Turn 1 unscathed, Nico Rosberg dashing round the outside of Hamilton, only for a Turn 4 collision to spark the German outfit's biggest intra-team crisis since Spa 2014.

The initial assessment from Mercedes' Niki Lauda laid the blame on Hamilton, although a subsequent discovery that Rosberg had been in the wrong engine mode left it much more ambiguous. And while the status quo in the points had remained intact, the whole situation spelled trouble for Mercedes' management of the relationship between its two drivers.

The two-stop

The odds on a Verstappen win would've spiked significantly after the Mercedes calamity, but they still wouldn't have been terribly high, with the Dutchman running behind his teammate and just ahead of the Ferraris, which looked much stronger in race trim.

But with Ricciardo making his second stop early, and Sebastian Vettel covering him off, it became clear Red Bull had put Verstappen on a different strategy – and a few laps later, with the two-stop looking better and better, a fairytale win for the Dutchman was now firmly on the cards.

Late-race pressure from Kimi Raikkonen provided a healthy final dose of drama, but the Finn was powerless to overcome the Red Bull's third-sector advantage - and, after a fair few heart-in-mouth laps, Formula 1 had an 18-year-old race winner.

For Red Bull, with its controversial driver switch now seemingly justified in full, the only downside was Ricciardo's palpable disappointment – which would be made worse in Monaco before Lady Luck finally paid him back with the Malaysia win.

Verstappen, meanwhile, would not get to add further victories in 2016, although many will argue he's had several better races since.

The Dutchman was indeed fortunate in Barcelona, but his fortune was a perfect storm for F1 – and, while so much has changed since May, that Spanish Grand Prix will forever remain a major highlight of the 2016 season in F1's history books.

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About this article

Series Formula 1
Drivers Max Verstappen
Teams Red Bull Racing
Author Valentin Khorounzhiy
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