The 2016 Spanish Grand Prix – a truly epic race to remember
One of the neat things about my new blog is that I can write about my lifelong passion for Formula One motor racing. The, undoubtedly, historic 2016 Spanish Grand Prix is one that I certainly need to get off my chest.
I’m a somewhat beleaguered fan of Jenson Button in F1 and so I support the struggling McLaren Honda team. It was a mixed day at the 2016 Spanish Grand Prix for my team but I enjoyed this race more than any for several years. It had it all, passing – despite the Barcelona circuit’s reputation for processional races, a controversial crash on the first lap, a tantalising race-long battle between the Ferraris and the Red Bulls and to cap it all an unbelievable win for 18 year old Max Verstappen.
Verstappen beat the record for the youngest Grand Prix winner by an incredible 3 years. The 2016 Spanish Grand Prix was also only his first race for the Red Bull team after being swapped at short notice from the junior Toro Rosso team with poor Daniil Kyviat. As for my boy Button, he did OK, beating his illustrious team mate, Fernando Alonso racing at home, off the start and keeping him behind all race long. Jenson even scored some points with a 9th place finish.
The two notables we will remember for a long time about the 2016 Spanish Grand Prix will be, of course, Mercedes’ Rosberg and Hamilton taking each other out of the lead just three corners after the start and that Max Verstappen win.
Lewis Hamilton is a Brit and so of course I am as proud and as pleased as anyone to see him do well. However, it’s just my personal opinion, but I don’t think he is quite as legendary as he seems to think he is. Lewis was a bit surprised at how effective Jenson was as a team mate in his McLaren days. Now, albeit after two dominant Mercedes-powered championship seasons on the trot, Lewis is having to face up to his current team mate, Nico Rosberg, returning the compliment. Nico had won every race this season off the back of a winning streak at the end of last season. Lewis has definitely had some bad luck but Nico has also been quicker, despite Lewis being quoted as saying he “knows HE is quicker (than Nico).”
Lewis was on pole but once again, Nico was faster off the grid and passed Lewis at turn 1. Disaster, however was looming fast. An engine mode setting error by Rosberg meant that he was suddenly and unexpectedly losing power. Hamilton could see this from behind because a red warning light was flashing on his team mate’s tail.
Hamilton knew this was an opportunity to regain the lead, so he went for it. The problem was that this was not a part of the circuit for passing. Rosberg had already corrected the engine mode setting and placed his car to block his team mate, exactly how he is permitted to do. By this time Hamilton had decided his best option was to go right and pass by driving on the grass verge.
It looks like he wasn’t expecting Rosberg’s defensive move and this, combined with Hamilton’s over speed, meant a collision was highly likely. Hamilton took avoiding action but on the grass the car lost stability and Hamilton’s car spun into his team mate’s and that was it for both cars.
Nico did make a technical mistake so it’s arguable that without that both Mercedes would have continued unscathed. But Lewis was behind so it was basically his responsibility to avoid crashing into the back of the car in front. You could also argue that if Nico hadn’t made his error then Lewis wouldn’t have had an opportunity to pass anyway, especially on a track where track position is especially important as it’s difficult to pass.
I have been enjoying Rosberg’s run of success so it was disappointing to see his race end so quickly after such a great start, but with all the facts to hand this one has to recorded as a racing accident with 50/50 blame. The damage done is greater to Hamilton because he was unable to erode the deficit to Rosberg and he now has one less race to get this done. I also sense that press opinion wasn’t really behind Hamilton on this one either.
So was Verstappen’s win purely down to luck?
I’d like to have seen the betting odds on Max Verstappen’s unlikely victory just a couple of weeks back. Of course he deserved his win but you can’t deny fortune smiled brightly on him. The 18 year old Dutch/Belgian sensation was unexpectedly promoted to the Red Bull ‘senior’ team from the junior ‘Toro Rosso’ team. This was at the expense of Russian Daniil Kyviat, in a direct swap of the two drivers. If we are to believe the PR from Red Bull, Verstappen was promoted in order to stall any efforts by Ferrari of poaching him.
While Kyviat had endured a couple of rocky races this year, repeatedly colliding with ex-Red Bull driver and four times champion, Sebastian Vettel, the young Russian had already earned a podium this season and generally been not far off the pace of team leader, Daniel Ricciardo. Kyviat’s demotion was not universally popular.
Setting that aside, Verstappen was immediately quick in the unfamiliar Red Bull – that was impressive. But in qualifying Ricciardo comfortably out-paced his new team mate. Ricciardo also started brilliantly and found himself leading the race fairly easily from the Ferraris. Red Bull then decided to hedge their bets and split their tactics; Ricciardo went onto a three stop strategy, while Verstappen would make do with just two stops.
Ferrari did the same and the result was the same; two-stoppers Verstappen and Kimi Raikkonen finished first and second, respectively, while three-stoppers Vettel and Ricciardo followed their team mates home. Ricciardo was especially frustrated after having lead a good chunk of the race with relative ease.
Max can thank luck for him getting into a race-winning car and for the chance application of the better race strategy to him rather than Ricciardo. His third stroke of luck was the demise of the two Mercedes drivers on the first lap. This all adds up to a lot of luck. However, none of that takes anything away from his win. He made his own luck. On top of that he grasped his opportunity to take the victory without making any mistakes or wilting under the pressure. Whether he’s fundamentally quicker than the impressive Ricciardo is something I just can’t wait to find out in the races to come.