The conclusion of the Spanish Grand Prix was a surprise for many. Jos Verstappen was sobbing – not a sight I ever thought I’d see – as he was being interviewed while walking down pitlane. His son Max Verstappen had just won his first ever Formula One race, and he did it in style by breaking the record for youngest ever F1 winner by a wide margin at 18 years and 227 days of age on his debut for the Red Bull team.
The previous recordholder, none other than four time world champion Sebastian Vettel, finished the race in third place in his Ferrari. Vettel scored his first win in 2008 for the sister team of Toro Rosso from where Max had just been promoted. Vettel was 21 years and 74 days of age at that time.
Not only has Max risen meteorically in his racing career, he seems to have been born with a horseshoe up his backside (the same can’t be said for his teammate Daniel Ricciardo) and to just the right father. Jos, a connected, experienced and competent former F1 driver who stood on the podium in his own right (though not the top step), is understood to be a stern taskmaster and has guided his son’s career from the beginning.
Yet at the same time, Max has already eclipsed his father’s F1 accomplishments and does not bear the burden of living in his father’s shadow, something Mick Schumacher is increasingly having to face. There is little doubt Max will be world champion in the not too distant future provided he has a decent car.
Mercedes teammates Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton managed to take each other out on the first lap. On one hand it seems like one heck of an accomplishment to manage such a titanic mistake. Yet on the other hand, it’s quite surprising it hadn’t happen earlier in their three plus seasons as teammates. Sure, there have been some moments but taking themselves both out of a race is a new low.
Rosberg is now in the stronger position. He has momentum and the support of the team. He passed Hamilton on the start and countered his aggression well, unlike clumsy previous attempts (namely at Spa in 2014) and has made it clear he won’t back down as he did when Hamilton chopped him on previous occasions, notably in Bahrain in 2014 and in Austin in 2015.
Hamilton has lost the plot a bit. The speed is still there but the hunger seems to have been sated. Meanwhile Rosberg appears to have matured well, is ready to be world champion at last, and would be a worthy one at that having won seven consecutive races. While the Spanish Grand Prix was a cluster for the Mercedes team, it almost certainly gave everyone the best race of 2016 yet.
As far as Daniil Kvyat, the Red Bull driver Verstappen replaced just last week, his career trajectory has taken a dive. This despite having outscored the highly regarded Ricciardo in their first season as teammates last year. However, his performance has been erratic lately, compounded by twice crashing into Vettel in a matter of seconds (and taking him out) at the Russian Grand Prix. Unless he crushes teammate Carlos Sainz the rest of the season, indications are that his F1 career has seen its zenith.