18-year old Max Verstappen has won a Formula 1 Grand Prix. This is not a typo.
The day a lot of F1 fans have been waiting for has finally arrived. After a hectic week in the Red Bull Racing/Scuderia Toro Rosso camp, which saw much criticism being thrown their way (myself included), the impossible has happened.
Let’s flashback to the Chinese Grand Prix. Red Bull driver Daniil Kvyat finishes 3rd, marking his second career podium. Spirits were up at Red Bull, as many thought the 22-year old Russian was finally living up to his potential. But, things turned upside down just two weeks later.
Expectations were sky high as Kvyat entered the Russian Grand Prix, his home race, coming off a season-best finish. After starting 8th, he neared turn one fast approaching the Ferrari of Sebastian Vettel, who started one position ahead in 7th. As they entered turn two, Kvyat hit Vettel, damaging his own front wing, and causing Vettel to make contact with the other Red Bull driver of Daniel Ricciardo. And finally, in turn three, Kvyat hit Vettel again, sending him into the wall and ending his race. As a result, the Red Bull duo had to repair their cars, finishing 11th and 15th. The incident caused Red Bull Racing to take action.
Just days later, Red Bull announced that they would make a switch. Daniil Kvyat was sent down to his former team Toro Rosso, which is Red Bull Racing’s B-team and their breeding ground for future drivers. To fill his spot, 18-year old Max Verstappen was brought up from Toro Rosso to Red Bull Racing; a move that caused a firestorm of discussion in the F1 world.
Now, I’ll be the first to admit, I was against this switch. As much as I’ve loved Verstappen since he made his record-setting debut at age 17, I thought this an overreaction… And Jenson Button agreed with me.
It was expected that Red Bull would wait until 2017 to move Verstappen up to Red Bull Racing, to give him the offseason to test the car and get used to the increased power. But apparently they had other plans.
The day after the race, when this idea was still just a rumor, I thought there was no way this was going to happen. Even though Kvyat was clearly to blame for the crash in Russia, he was still fresh off his first ever podium finish. The way I see it, the executives at Red Bull were just waiting for a reason to get Verstappen in that car, and in their eyes, the mistake by Kvyat was the perfect opportunity.
Finally, we move to Sunday and the Spanish Grand Prix. Verstappen, in his first ever week with Red Bull, qualifies the car 4th, alongside his new teammate Daniel Ricciardo and behind the two Mercedes of Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg. Although there was a ton of hype around Verstappen, there was also a well-deserved amount of talk around Rosberg, who was going for his 8th straight win. But on lap 1, all hell broke loose.
Over the past two years, it’s been almost guaranteed that the two Mercedes cars would finish on the podium every race if they went without incident. But, on lap 1 of the Spanish Grand Prix, Hamilton and Rosberg got overaggressive and ended each others races. While blame has been bounced around by fans, I see it as both drivers racing their teammate way too hard on lap 1. (But come on Nico, Lewis had a huge run. No need to throw a block across the entire length of the racetrack).
Nonetheless, with the two fastest cars out of the race, it was open season for someone to steal a win. Although Ferrari has been Mercedes’ only real competition over the past two seasons, Red Bull had shown great pace this particular weekend, and were just as capable to win. After the crash, the Red Bull’s were running 1-2, with the Ferrari’s 3-4.
These four drivers stayed in the top four all race, but the order eventually got shuffled. For most of the first half, Daniel Ricciardo was leading, with Verstappen and Vettel holding stints in 2nd, and the other Ferrari of Kimi Raikkonen in 4th. But, after differing pit strategies, Verstappen and Raikkonen took over the top two spots, with Vettel and Ricciardo 3-4.
The final quarter of the race saw two distinct fights for position. Raikkonen stayed within about a second of Verstappen, while Ricciardo chased down Vettel and almost made the pass for 3rd before puncturing a tire and settling for 4th.
As the laps winded down, Raikkonen was unable to make a move on Verstappen, and the dream became a reality. The 18-year old became the youngest race winner in F1 history.
This was by far the best race of the season so far (hence, why I wasted no time to write about it). Every race since last year, I’ve been saying “maybe this is the week the Merc’s finally take each other out.” And holy shit it finally happened. AND, in the SAME RACE, another thing I’ve been waiting for finally happened; Max’s first win.
So if you’ve never cared to watch an F1 race before, now is a good time, as the Max Verstappen era has finally begun. Call me crazy, but I think he’ll be our generation’s Michael Schumacher.
But yeah, if you want to start watching (if you don’t mind watching races at times like midnight or 5am), find me on Twitter at @ryanhilsinger and I’ll help you get started.