In a scene never before witnessed in Formula One, a teenager stood atop the podium at the Spanish Grand Prix, holding the winner’s trophy.
The youngster with the silverware in his hands was Max Verstappen, an 18-year-old Dutchman who became F1’s youngest race winner.
It was fitting that to his left stood 28-year-old Sebastian Vettel, the previous youngest winner at the age of 21. To his right was 36-year-old Kimi Raikkonen, the series’ oldest driver, who not long ago was racing against Verstappen’s father, Jos.
“It doesn’t matter at what age you win, as long as you win,” Verstappen said.
The young Verstappen said he was probably being picked up from kindergarten when Raikkonen was winning his first race back in 2003, when he was almost 6 years old.
Last weekend, Verstappen was showing off his talent to drivers much older than him and bringing excitement back to the series.
“He sprinkled a bit of magic on the sport,” said Toto Wolff, Mercedes’ head of motorsports. “So big congratulations to him on what I’m sure is only the first of his grand prix wins.”
Max Verstappen on his way to winning the Spanish Grand Prix last weekend. Picture/AP
Verstappen’s victory in Spain capped off a thrilling race that started with an astonishing first-lap crash between Mercedes teammates Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg, leaving the Red Bulls of Verstappen and Daniel Ricciardo fighting for the win against Ferrari drivers Vettel and Raikkonen.
Verstappen became the first driver other than Hamilton, Rosberg or Vettel to win a race since Ricciardo triumphed at the 2014 Belgium GP, 30 races ago, when both Mercedes cars also collided.
Verstappen’s win in his first race since being promoted from feeder team Toro Rosso to Red Bull left F1 wondering about what’s next for the youngster: Was it a stroke of luck or is he indeed for real? Can he continue to impress or will his inexperience finally catch up?
Part of the answer may come at the Monaco GP at the end of this month.
“For the next race, to be honest, I don’t know,” Verstappen said.
“I’m still learning the car. Before I got into the car, I didn’t even have a hole for my drink tube. I still had to make it. We’ll see. I think our car will be good on a street circuit so I’m definitely looking forward to that.”
Although Mercedes is certain to continue to dominate at the front, with Ferrari close behind, Red Bull’s much-expected engine upgrade could be ready in time for the race in Monaco, giving a huge boost to the team’s performance and hopefully allowing it to start competing for victories more often.
Monaco is where Verstappen got into trouble in his rookie season last year after crashing into Romain Grosjean, prompting a five-grid penalty in the following race and a lot of criticism from other drivers.
That was all forgotten after last Sunday’s race.
“We all know he is a good driver,” Raikkonen said.
“For me he’s not a surprise. He was doing a very good job already last year and today in a better car he was able to win.”
Sunday was only the 24th grand prix for Verstappen, a former world karting champion who in his rookie F1 season had already impressed with a couple of fourth-place finishes.
He became the first Dutchman to win in F1, and just the second to make it to the podium, a feat that his father achieved twice with Benetton in 1994.
“My dad, I think he was crying,” Verstappen said. “He was incredibly happy. It’s an incredible achievement from our side, because he helped me a lot in the beginning of my career, up until Formula One, so without him I wouldn’t have won.”