Mercedes went to war, Verstappen made history and Renault are improving the engine. Here are eight things we learnt from the 2016 Spanish Grand Prix, by Kyle Archer.
Hamilton knew he needed a result going into Spain on the back of yet another Nico Rosberg victory. But after a race-ending collision between the duo, Max Verstappen and Red Bull took full advantage to re-write history as the new, youngest ever, Grand Prix victor.
1) Red Bull’s swap paid off
Russia saw frustrations boil over at Red Bull when Daniil Kvyat hit their former-champion not once, but twice within the opening three corners. Ending Vettel’s race and hampering Red Bull’s too, with both drivers forced into early pit stops.
And while they claim the decision to drop Kvyat back to Toro Rosso and promote 18-year-old Formula One sensation, Max Verstappen, was not a rash decision made after the crash, their decision certainly paid off in Spain with Verstappen taking the teams first win since Vettel left for Ferrari.
2) Verstappen makes history
Although some could say Verstappen lucked into the chance to claim his first Formula One victory in his first race for Red Bull when the two Mercedes drivers took each other out of the race, a point we will get to shortly, Max still had a lot of work to do in order to prevent either his team-mate or both of Ferrari’s former World Champions from taking the win in Barcelona.
For Max was entering a team he knew, but not a car he would have known extensively given he was racing for Toro Rosso. As soon as the announcement came, he was put in a situation where he needed to learn how the car handled and how he could push.
Qualifying though certainly showed Max had settled straight in as he bettered his team-mate in Q1 and Q2, before Ricciardo stormed his final Q3 run to edge Verstappen.
Then come the race, after the Mercedes’ collided, it became a four-way fight between Red Bull and Ferrari for the win. With Ferrari having the supposedly faster car.
The Ferrari though struggled through the final sector, which allowed the Red Bull, which was strong through the twisty corners, to pull away enough. The gap the Bull could edge out through these corners meant that, even with DRS, the Ferrari could only catch back up at the end of the long pit straight.
Once the pit stops played their hand in the race, Verstappen was engaged in a lengthy battle with Raikkonen for the win. Although, with the Ferrari’s as stated problems through sector three and the challenges the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya creates for overtaking, the 2007 Formula One champion could not overtake the young Dutchman. Meaning Verstappen was a race winner in race one for Red Bull.
The win makes Max the youngest ever Formula One Grand Prix winner at the age of 18-years, seven-months and five-days. Beating the former record held by Vettel by some way, with Seb’s first win coming at the age of 21-years, two-months, 11-days.
3) Strategy played its hand in Verstappen’s win
For Max to win in Spain, he also had to run long stints with his tyres as the team handed him a two-stop strategy with pit stops on laps 12 and 34 – meaning his final stint was 32-laps long on tyres Pirelli only expected to be in a working window for, at most, 26.
With Raikkonen, Ferrari ran a similar strategy to that of Verstappen with the Finn running a two-stop race. Meaning he was the lead Ferrari, ahead of Vettel.
Kimi took the role as lead Ferrari as the team contrastingly put Seb on a three-stop strategy. The strategy saw Vettel and Ricciardo, who also ran a three-stop race, on the faster tyres in the final stage of the race. But with lapped traffic and the circuits overtaking challenges, the pair had to settle for a fight for the podium – with lapped traffic handing the advantage to Vettel.
4) Mercedes made terminal contact
The incident was heavily scrutinised by fans, team personnel and the race stewards. With never Mercedes man having the finger pointed at them as the incident was put down as a racing incident. But regardless, the opening lap crash between Rosberg and Hamilton saw both out of the first European race of the 2016 Formula One season.
The incident itself came as a result of Rosberg running in the wrong engine STRAT mode for the start of the race. The engine mode he selected meant he was in a fuel and energy conservation mode, used on the way to the grid to save fuel and allow maximum deployment for the race start when the correct STRAT mode is selected.
The mistake did not actually cost him off the line, as Nico got away well and took the lead as he slipstreamed Hamilton towards turn one. But the exit speed of turn three saw Lewis charge up behind and attempt to regain the position.
With this moment ending both of their races as Nico moved across the track once he rectified his error, although Lewis was already taking the same line with a lot more speed than his team-mate.
With both going for the same spot of the track, and Hamilton going quicker, Lewis was edged onto the grass as Nico failed to leave a cars width of space. The loss of grip Hamilton suffered sent him into a spin, collecting Rosberg as the German prepared for turn four.
5) ‘STRAT 3’ not ‘STRAT 12’ Nico!
On Nico’s steering wheel, he has a set list of instructions to follow when it comes to the start of the race. With the second to last step telling Nico he needs to select ‘STRAT 3’. For this mode deals with the power unit and how much fuel the engine uses, how much electrical energy is being deployed and how much harvesting is being undertaken by the MGU-K.
For the start of the race in Spain however, Nico did not make the switch to ‘STRAT 3′, and instead stayed in ‘STRAT 12’ as he lined up on the grid.
This mistake meant Rosberg was going through turn 3 without the MGU-K’s supplemental 160bhp that Hamilton was utilising.
Nico’s on-board camera showed him rectifying his mistake as he changed from ‘STRAT 12’ to ‘STRAT 3’.
Nico then made a brake balance change for Turn 4, before depressing the Overtake button – which would have delivered an instant speed boost by offering maximum energy deployment.
Details on Nico’s start procedure sourced from Motorsport.com.
6) Renault engine shows signs of improvement
At the post-Spanish Grand Prix in-season test that took place at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya following the race, Renault trialled their new power unit as they looked to gather data ahead of a possible introduction in Monaco or, the more-likely, Canada.
The power unit is supposed to present a gain of around four tenths of a second during a lap. With all drivers who ran the new unit in the post-race test feeling impressed with it. Although, as Renault found in 2015, the true gains from an engine will not become present until it is raced and the telemetry is then assessed.
7) Alonso’s engine rejects fuel
Fernando Alonso and the Spanish Grand Prix, a race he had won on two previous occasions in front of his home crowd, looked to be going fairly well for the McLaren driver when he qualified 10th. A poor start though saw him fall down the order before his race came to an end on lap 47 through turn 3.
The cause of his retirement was put down to his Honda power unit being put into a fuel cut-off mode. Although with no pre-warnings nor sensor/mechanical failures, the reasoning as to why the cut-off mode kicked in is not certain. Fernando though was seen changing settings on his steering wheel in the moments before his retirement.
8) Verstappen played the stat game and won
As if winning the Spanish Grand Prix was not enough for Max Verstappen, the 18-year-old set many new records and stats in doing so.
Firstly he set the new record for the youngest Grand Prix winner and podium finisher. And in doing so he set a new record for youngest driver to lead a race (previously held by Sebastian, Japan 2007 at 20-years 89-days).
He also became the first Dutch race leader and first Dutchman to win a Grand Prix.
Verstappen also became the 10th different winner of the Spanish Grand Prix in as many races, stretching back to Felipe Massa’s victory in 2007.