Verstappen becomes youngest F1 winner after Mercedes crash
ABS-CBN Sports on May 16, 2016 04:49 AM
Red Bull driver Max Verstappen of the Netherlands celebrates after winning the Spanish Formula One Grand Prix at the Barcelona Catalunya racetrack in Montmelo, just outside Barcelona, Spain, Sunday, May 15, 2016. (AP Photo/Emilio Morenatti)
TALES AZZONI, AP Sports Writer
BARCELONA, Spain (AP) — Dutch teenager Max Verstappen stunned Formula One with victory at the Spanish Grand Prix on Sunday, taking advantage of a crash by Mercedes teammates Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg to become the sport's youngest winner only a few days after being promoted by his team Red Bull.
The 18-year-old Verstappen drove like a veteran to secure the victory after fending off a late challenge by Ferrari's Kimi Raikkonen, who not long ago was racing against Verstappen's father, former F1 driver Jos Verstappen.
"It feels amazing. I can't believe it," Verstappen said. "To win straight away in my first race with Red Bull is incredible."
The spectacular victory — the first ever by a Dutchman in F1 — comes with Verstappen nearly three years younger than the previous youngest winner, Sebastian Vettel, who was 21 when he won for the first time.
Vettel, now 28, was third in Sunday's race. Verstappen's teammate, Daniel Ricciardo, was fourth.
"It's very special to win your first race and today is his day. It's an incredible achievement," said four-time world champion Vettel. "If you are quick enough you belong here. I don't think it matters whether you are 18 (or older.)"
Verstappen also became the youngest driver to make it to the podium.
"It's a very big surprise, of course I didn't expect that," Verstappen said. "I couldn't believe that I was leading the race. Today everything went well. Unbelievable."
Verstappen was in second place behind Ricciardo after the Mercedes crash, but moved to the front after a round of pit stops with less than 25 laps to go and stayed there until the end despite the pressure from Raikkonen, who finished less than a second behind.
"Max Verstappen, you are a race winner, fantastic," Red Bull team principal Christian Horner said over team radio after his driver crossed the finish line. "What a great debut. Fantastic. Great, great job."
With his father watching closely, Verstappen got out of the car and pumped his fist into the air before running toward the team mechanics to celebrate. Jos, who had not finished better than third in his career, was visibly moved as his son received the winner's trophy on the podium.
"He is doing an incredible job, especially with his age," he said. "I'm so happy that he is with Red Bull because they can develop him even more and for sure he has all the potential in him."
The younger Verstappen had been attracting all the attention in the run-up to the Spanish GP after Red Bull made the surprise announcement that the youngster was moving up from Toro Rosso to replace Daniil Kvyat. He answered the challenge with victory in only his 24th career race in F1.
It was a wild start at the Barcelona track.
Hamilton was in pole position but was overtaken by Rosberg at the start, and when the British driver tried to regain the lead, he appeared to be blocked by his teammate and both cars touched going into Turn 4, spinning across the track and into the gravel at the runoff area. The crash prompted deployment of the safety car and both drivers retired.
"Completely unnecessary," former driver Niki Lauda, Mercedes' non-executive chairman, said from the pit lane. "That both Mercedes are out after two corners is for me unacceptable. Lewis was too aggressive, why should Nico give him room? He's in the lead. I blame Lewis more than I blame Nico."
Rosberg didn't directly blame Hamilton but said he didn't do anything wrong, adding that the crash ruined what seemed a certain victory after he jumped to the front at the start. Hamilton said it was "unfortunate" and a "big loss for the team."
Toto Wolff, head of Mercedes motorsport, didn't want to blame either of the drivers, noting that similar incidents must be avoided in the future.
It was the latest setback for Hamilton, who is yet to win a race in a season in which he has been plagued by mechanical issues and unfortunate incidents. He hasn't won since the United States GP in October.
The crash also ended Rosberg's chance of winning his eighth straight race. He had already won the first four this year and could have become the first driver to win five in a row to start the season since Michael Schumacher with Ferrari in 2004. Nigel Mansell also won the first five races with Williams in 1992.
Williams' Valtteri Bottas finished fifth, followed by Toro Rosso's Carlos Sainz and Force India's Sergio Perez. Bottas teammate Felipe Massa was eighth after starting 18th, while McLaren's Jenson Button and Kvyat completed the top 10. Home crowd-favorite Fernando Alonso retired with a power unit failure.
Tales Azzoni on Twitter: http://twitter.com/tazzoni. His work can be found at http://bigstory.ap.org/content/tales-azzoni