“If you no longer go for a gap that exists, you are no longer a racing driver” – the late Ayrton Senna summed up what being a racing driver was all about. Lewis Hamilton, in the recently concluded Spanish Grand Prix conceded the lead at the first corner to his teammate, and in a matter of few corners, he was able to close the gap to Nico Rosberg.
Lewis saw the gap, went for it, Nico Rosberg anticipated, closed the door for the defending champion and the result – both Mercedes were out of the race on lap one.
Few sympathisers for the opening lap racing incident as the race became anything but boring with Mercedes no longer a part of it. Red Bulls and Ferraris – it was certain, a winner would have been among one of those four drivers. Strategy became paramount – Vettel mirrored Ricciardo while Raikkonen’s matched with Max Verstappen, who was on his debut with Red Bull. The race was constantly a four-way battle – the closest the viewers have witnessed this season and a refreshing one.
The significance of the Mercedes crash was negligible considering there are many races to go. Hamilton still has a deficit of 43 points to Nico Rosberg. Red Bull was chasing their first victory since 2014 while Ferraris were presented with an excellent opportunity to crawl back into the championships.
Once you are on a level playing field, it is not longer about the machinery – it is all about the driver and how he absorbs the pressure, keeps check of his emotions and go on racing. With laps coming down, Max Verstappen was entering into an unknown territory, being chased by drivers who knew the art of winning races. The Dutch teenager was out of his comfort zone – that didn’t seem to bother him as he carried on racing until the time he saw the chequered flag waved at him for finishing first in the race.
A 18-year old winning a Formula One race – he eclipsed the previously held record set by Sebastian Vettel, who had won an equally dramatic race in 2008 Italian Grand Prix, while driving with Torro Rosso.
With this victory, Red Bull started a new chapter, a first victory for the team without Sebastian Vettel.
Flash back to 1952 Dutch Grand Prix: Jan Flinterman and Dried van der Lof became the first Dutch drivers to participate in a Formula One race. It has been over sixty years and more than fifteen drivers who drove in Formula One, none was able to stand at the top of the race podium. Jos Verstappen came close with two podiums and now his son Max Verstappen went further.
The FIA can sit back and enjoy the decision they took to allow a 17-year old to compete in Formula One. They awarded the super-license for the talent and the potential they saw in Max Verstappen. A year down the line, he is the youngest Grand Prix winner.
Talent is merely a promise without opportunities. If not for Helmut Marko and the Red Bull management’s stern decision, the victory for Max might have deferred. It seemed an unpopular decision, but a strategic one and had business sense.
Now, many look back and smile, as the move is also a popular one.