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2016 Spanish F1 Grand Prix: the Flying Dutchman conquers Spain

Winning your first ever Grand Prix is truly an overwhelming feeling. All the years of dedication to hone your skill, all the heartbreaks, crashes, and financial difficulties taking its toll. One could question oneself: Is this worth it? Some may even feel like giving up, but for that one shining moment, when all things come together, nothing else will matter. Winning at the pinnacle of motorsports has been and will always be euphoric!

Some drivers go through their entire career without a win, much less a podium appearance, but there are a few exceptions: those drivers who make their mark early, take all the opportunities given them and run away with it.

Max Verstappen

Max Verstappen

Max Verstappen is such an individual. The teenager, who was driving for Toro Rosso a few weeks back, and impressively, was promoted and given the seat of the struggling Daniil Kvyat of Red Bull. Verstappen found a new zest for racing. Wanting to make his mark early on, he qualified in the second row for the Spanish Grand Prix. This reassured the team principals that they made the right call in promoting him.

Qualifying saw another Mercedes front row lock up, with Hamilton edging out Rosberg. Daniel Ricciardo was third with Max Verstappen in fourth. Kimi Raikkonen pipped Sebastian Vettel to round up the third row. All things pointed to another Mercedes benefit, as 13 of the last 15 winners in Spain were from P1. But what happens next was anything but predictable.

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As the lights went out, Hamilton, who has suffered slow starts this season, was again gobbled up by Nico in the run to Turn 1. This rattled the Brit and he was seen trying furiously to recover from another bad start. Then, as the cars came out of turn 3, Rosberg, for some reason, was visibly slower at the exit. (He later said that he had the wrong engine setting .) This was the opportunity that Hamilton was looking for. The Brit got a slingshot and dove for the gap that opened. But Nico, either by choice or by accident, pushed his teammate out onto the grass. Lewis had all four wheels off the tarmac. The Mercedes swerved and collected its sister car in the process. Both Mercedes cars were out of the race. The cardinal rule of racing had just been broken. Initially it was thought that Lewis made an overly aggressive move and simply made a mistake. But replays showed that Hamilton had the faster car and Rosberg just went wide to cover, leaving no space for Hamilton to go.

This opened the door for both Red Bulls and the Ferraris.

At the front, Ricciardo leads Verstappen. Carlos Sainz Jr. slotted into P3 with Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen taking P4 & P5 respectively. It was anybody’s race at this point. Every driver had a chance to win, with the cars were running very closely to one another. When both Ferraris disposed of the Toro Rosso, the race was for the taking for either Red Bull or Ferrari. All they had to do was to keep their nose clean to the end.

As the cars settled into their groove, the pit strategies now came into play. The Pirelli soft tires were graining and experts calculated a 16-lap life span for the yellow striped Pirelli’s. First to blink was Red Bull. They brought in Ricciardo on lap 12 for a new set of Pirelli mediums, with Max following a lap later. Ferrari, sensing an opportunity for the undercut, pitted Kimi one lap ahead of Sebastian, but the RB12 had a good gap to work with and avoided the undercut.

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Lap 29 saw Ricciardo again come in for a change of tires. The Aussie took on a set of Pirelli softs. This meant that Red Bull were gambling on a three-stop race for the Aussie. Max Verstappen now inherited the lead, becoming the youngest ever to lead a GP. Ferrari, also taking the cue from the Red Bull, pitted Vettel a lap later. Ferrari, it seemed, were shadowing the Red Bull in terms of strategy.

Lap 35 saw race leader Max Verstappen dive in for his new set of tires. The Dutchman took on mediums. It was now up to the teenager to make this set last to the end of the 66-lap race. As a bonus, the mechanics were able to bring him out well ahead of the Ferraris. Kimi Raikkonen went in a lap later, and like Verstappen, took on mediums. But in a surprise call, Ferrari brought in Vettel on lap 37, after only 8 laps on his soft tires. This was a calculated move according to the Ferrari pit wall; there was nothing wrong with the car or its tires.

It was now: Ricciardo, Verstappen, Raikkonen, and Vettel in the top four, each one still with a good chance of winning it all.

Red Bull called in Daniel for his last stop on lap 43. It was now the Flying Dutchman leading the race, with Kimi close behind. Could Raikkonen pressure the 18-year old into a mistake or does the wonder kid have it in him to weather it all and claim that elusive win?

Raikkonen was hounding Verstappen lap after lap. The Finn was not making it easy on the youngster. It was a no holds barred fight for the the top place on the podium.

In the closing laps, Ricciardo, who was trying his best to overtake Sebastian. The Aussie, aided by DRS, nearly took the place away from the German on lap 59. But the four-time champ still had it in him to fight off any challenge from the RB12. A puncture on the penultimate lap saw the end of Ricciardo’s fight. The Red Bull had to crawl back to the pits for a tire change. It was now up to the mechanics to give Daniel a quick turn around to get ahead of the Williams of Valtteri Bottas, who was running a distant fifth.

Max Verstappen, composed and unruffled, crossed the line to take his first ever win in Formula One, to the delight of the team, the fans, and most especially his father, former F1 driver Jos Verstappen.

Max is now in the record books as the youngest ever F1 driver to win a race. He is also the first ever Dutch winner. This was also the first podium ceremony without a Mercedes in the top three since   .

With that well-deserved win for the Dutchman, Max now joins the elite group of Grand Prix winners. Only time will tell if the youngster has it in him to claim his first ever world title. But if this race is any indication, the Dutch national anthem will be heard again in future races, and, possibly give the Netherlands their first ever F1 world champion.