Spain 2016 - Dazzling Debut
The F1 circus arrived in Spain with a new line-up in the Red Bull stables, Verstappen into Red Bull and Kvyat booted back down to Toro Rosso. Practice 1 saw the Dutch teenager only a couple of tenths off the tail of Ricciardo, but the odds of either driver having been on the limit were slim. Practice 3, commonly qualifying practice, saw Verstappen up by a tenth on the 3-time winner. Conversely, Kvyat, having been expected to beat Sainz – after a very emotional press conference, in which he was sat front and centre with Sainz to his right and Verstappen to his left – only beat the Spaniard in one of the three sessions, and then only by a tenth. He was over a second off in P2, while Sainz beat both of the Red Bull cars.
After the first runs, the best driver of the Red Bull quartet was Max Verstappen, the only non-Mercedes driver to outpace both Ferraris. At the bottom end, Palmer led the knockouts ahead of Massa, Ericsson, Nasr, Wehrlein and Haryanto.
Verstappen again stole headlines in Q2, putting half a second between himself and Riccardo, the Red Bulls again running 3-4. Vettel then split them, but only sat 0.015 seconds ahead of Ricciardo. Hulkenberg, Button, Kvyat, Grosjean, Magnussen and Gutierrez fell in Q2, leaving Alonso to take McLaren-Honda's first ever Q3 entrance.
Hamilton made a mistake on his first Q3 run, dropping to 3rd behind Rosberg and Verstappen while the Ferrari pair sat 4th and 5th early on. Hamilton eventually led the Mercedes front row lockout, Ricciardo row 2 for Red Bull, Raikkonen row 3 for Ferrari. Bottas, Sainz, Perez and Alonso completed the top 10.
21 cars started the race on the soft tyres, the only exception being the medium-shod Haryanto in last position.
Hamilton lost the lead to Rosberg at the first corner, fought back into turn 4 and rammed both silver arrows off the track. The Safety Car was deployed ahead of a Red Bull 1-2-3 [Sainz tailing the lead cars]. The crash was to be investigated after the race, while Hamilton was so frustrated he threw his steering wheel out of the cockpit, narrowly missing a marshal.
Lap 4 saw the restart, Ricciardo leading from Verstappen and Sainz as the Ferraris held station in front of Bottas.
Lap 8 saw the Red Bull 1-2-3 falter, Vettel scything past Sainz under DRS.
Kvyat was ordered to yield to Magnussen and Hulkenberg after apparently overtaking under the Safety Car.
Massa pitted for medium tyres on lap 8, opening the pit window, while Sainz forced Raikkonen off the track. A lap later Perez pitted and Raikkonen made the move stick at the second attempt.
The first stops reshuffled the order, with Raikkonen now back on Vettel's tail and Sainz falling away.
The third DNF of the race came for another Mercedes engine, this time in the back of Hulkenberg's Force India as the power unit set itself on fire.
Ricciardo made his second stop on lap 28, Vettel stopping a lap later and giving Verstappen his first ever lap led – making him the youngest ever to do so in F1. However, the undercut was very much in favour of Vettel and Ricciardo over Verstappen. Ricciardo promptly set the fastest lap, Vettel then taking it off him.
Magnussen pulled a shocker and grabbed the hard tyre, trying to do more than half the race on them.
Gutierrez cleared Nasr, lined up Grosjean, then left Palmer for dead. Grosjean followed the Mexican through, Palmer deciding his tyres were finished.
Verstappen pitted and kept the mediums against the leading pair on softs, losing 2nd place but possibly gaining a bit when his teammate and Vettel pitted again to ditch their softs.
Vettel took a stop only 8 laps after his last, running medium tyres as he aimed for the end. Red Bull made no effort to react to this.
Ricciardo pitted at the end of lap 43, dropping to 4th behind Verstappen and the Ferraris.
Alonso parked at turn 3 with a power loss.
Verstappen was coming under ever more pressure from Raikkonen but the Ferrari didn't quite seem able to make up the difference. The final ten laps looked to be a tough battle for the top 4, Verstappen with Raikkonen bearing down on him and Ricciardo already taking a look at Vettel's inside line.
Ricciardo made a lunge on Vettel on lap 59, briefly taking 3rd but drifting wide and losing the position again, while Grosjean was confirmed as the 5th retirement of the race.
Kvyat, thinking of taking 9th from Button, overtook Ricciardo – the Red Bull not fighting him off as the younger tyres gave chase to Vettel. Ricciardo then slowed with a puncture. Ahead, Verstappen dragged the old mediums down the back straight, into turn 10, only 6 corners to go as he got little ragged with Raikkonen getting desperate on his tail. Nothing Raikkonen could do stopped a first win for Verstappen, Ferrari completing the podium from Ricciardo, Bottas, Sainz, Perez, Massa, Button and Kvyat. Gutierrez, losing out on a couple of places in the last few laps, led the non-scorers ahead of Ericsson, Palmer, Magnussen, Nasr, Wehrlein and Haryanto. Grosjean, Alonso, Hulkenberg, Hamilton and Rosberg retired.
Verstappen claimed 3 seperate records today: youngest F1 race winner, youngest F1 podium winner and youngest driver to lead an F1 lap. An incredible arrival for the teenager at the senior Red Bull team, regardless of what happened with his strategy versus Ricciardo's. That Verstappen is the 10th different winner in 10 runnings of the Spanish Grand Prix shows how unpredictable the circuit has been in the last decade, despite all the testing teams do there every year.
The drama wasn't over yet, however: Sainz went under investigation for crossing the pit exit prior to grid when the light was still red. Although he hadn't passed the light, he was definitely well over the white line. The FIA, however, elected to take no action against the Toro Rosso driver.