BARCELONA: Teenager Max Verstappen became Formula One’s youngest winner on Sunday when he took full advantage of a spectacular first lap crash that eliminated both Mercedes cars to claim a memorable triumph in the Spanish Grand Prix.
In his maiden outing with Red Bull following his unexpected promotion from Toro Rosso, the 18-year-old Dutchman showed supreme composure under pressure as he resisted all attacks to claim a stunning victory in only his 24th F1 race.
He became the youngest race winner, at 18 years and 228 days, replacing four-time champion Sebastian Vettel who had also taken that record as a Red Bull driver.
“It feels amazing, I can’t believe it,” said Verstappen.
“It was a great race and it felt like an endurance race. To win straight away, in my first race, it’s an amazing feeling. From a very young age, my dad has helped me a lot – it’s just amazing.”
Verstappen, heralded as the sport’s hottest property, proved he has everything required to be a future world champion, but owed some of his good fortune also to Red Bull’s decision to put him on a two-stop strategy while his senior team-mate Daniel Ricciardo was on a three-stop plan.
That prevented the Australian from turning his early control of the race into victory after the opening lap collision between championship leader Nico Rosberg and his Mercedes team-mate Lewis Hamilton had left them fuming in a gravel trap at Turn Four and out of the race.
Ricciardo eventually came home fourth, despite suffering a puncture on the penultimate 65th lap, behind the two Ferraris of Kimi Raikkonen who finished second ahead of Vettel.
Verstappen’s maiden win on his Red Bull debut was the first in the sport by a Dutchman and the first by the team without Vettel involved in one of their cars.
“It’s unbelievable, I can’t believe this,” said Verstappen’s father Jos, who on Saturday had announced he was standing down as his son’s manager.
Valtteri Bottas came home fifth for Williams ahead of Carlos Sainz in a Toro Rosso, Sergio Perez of Force India, Felipe Massa in the second Williams, Jenson Button of McLaren Honda and Daniil Kvyat on his return to Toro Rosso.
Ricciardo was understandably frustrated.
“It’s mixed emotions for me,” he said. “I was leading and then was pulled to a three-stop strategy and had to pass three cars – that wasn’t the plan.
“In hindsight, it was wrong. Not to be on the podium – that sucks for me. The puncture at the end was just salt in the wounds.
“I don’t want to come across as a bad sportsman and, whatever happened on the track, Max crossed the line first. I’m bitter, but not at Max.”
Red Bull team boss Christian Horner said: “We are as much in shock as anyone is… We knew there was a chance when both Mercedes went off, but what Max has done is unbelievable.
“He made a two-stop, which was right on the limit, and it worked beautifully for him. It is fantastic for F1 to have a new winner – a youngster on the top step at 18. He can’t even drink the champagne!”
Vettel was generous to his successor as the youngest winner.
“Many congratulations to Max, it is a great achievement to win your first race and this is his day.”