F1 Classics: 2016 Spanish Grand Prix – Max Reigns in Spain

Over the years, Max Verstappen and Sebastian Vettel have raised each other’s tempers through their clashes on and off the track. But as we head to Catalunya, the home to the Spanish Grand Prix, we are reminded there is a circuit that links these adversaries. For it was here in 2016 that Max Verstappen became the youngest-ever driver to win a Formula 1 race, breaking the long-standing record of the German.

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But before rewind to the scene of one of Formula 1’s most finely contested battles, it’s worth remembering the time whe Vettel became the darling of the F1 media.

Vettel’s Record-Breaking Turn in Monza

Winning a topsy-turvy contest
at Italy in 2008, Vettel, then in a Toro Rosso, breached the top step at Monza
amid adverse circumstances. In so doing, he became the youngest ever race
winner, aged just 21 years and 73 days.

But who would’ve imagined that a young driver against whom he’d fight some challenging races in the future would end up breaking his own record while Vettel stood alongside him the podium?

Spanish Heat

Given its record-breaking significance,
the 2016 Spanish Grand Prix will go down in history as one of the finest races
of Max Verstappen’s career.

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With the Mercedes drivers, Nico
Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton, in menacing form, Verstappen could have hardly
imagined it would be his day. Qualifying in a strong fourth place but trailing
the fast-paced troika of Hamilton, Rosberg and teammate Ricciardo, Verstappen also
had to beware Kimi Raikkonen sitting on the tail of his RB 12.

Right from the start,
Verstappen, only five-tenths of a second behind Ricciardo, was focused – trying
with all his might to better his third-placed teammate. A slow getaway for
Raikkonen, who’d been quick all weekend, meant that Verstappen didn’t have the
expected pressure from the rear. Instead, that challenge now rested in Vettel’s
hands.

The German wasted no time in
passing the youngster but the fiery Dutchman fought back brilliantly against a
virtually defenseless German on the approach to turn four.

Meanwhile, on a track no
stranger to thrilling moments in the past (such as the stellar rain-soaked drive
by Schumacher in 1996 and the Mansell vs Senna duel of 1991), one incident changed
the dynamic of the race and played beautifully into the hands of the Red Bulls.

Double-Blow for Mercedes

Up front, Rosberg dived around
the outside of Lewis Hamilton to gain track position. But Hamilton, never a man
to be kept quiet, immediately launched a counter-attack, albeit a botched one.

In trying to regain his lost position, the Brit spiralled out of control on the exit of turn three, taking himself and his Mercedes teammate out of the race. Ricciardo was now leading from Verstappen with Sainz, Vettel, and Kimi making up for the top five. The introduction of the safety car had changed the course of the contest completely.

On
Lap 12, Ricciardo boxed for fresh rubber while Verstappen briefly led the race
before pitting himself a lap later. Four laps later, Vettel found himself in
pursuit of the two Red Bulls. Max continued undeterred before his teammate
boxed for a second time on lap 28, handing him the lead. He led for 6 laps then
pitted on Lap 34 rejoining the race in second place.

The Final Twist

After
lap 47, Verstappen had to fight off the challenge of Kimi Raikkonen in the
Ferrari. Then in a twist of fate, Ricciardo suffered a puncture and had no
option but to pit, emerging from his stop in fourth place.

Now, it was advantage Max. The youngster did just enough to keep the Flying Finn at bay to take the chequered flag, albeit assisted by exceptional circumstances. At the age of 18 years and 228 days, Verstappen became the youngest ever Grand Prix winner, the youngest to stand on a podium and the youngest to lead a Formula One race. Meanwhile, the man who previously held those records stood by his side on the podium and applauded before dousing the young upstart in champagne.

Words by Dev Tyagi