By Steve Aibel, Senior F1 Writer
The Spanish Grand Prix is in the books and a new era has dawned for Formula 1.
With new regulations around the corner centered on increasing the competitive landscape of the sport, and a new star taking center stage, Formula 1 may have bounced from the Laissez-faire doldrums of recent years to a new, exciting era which will be marked by dramatic change throughout the sport.
Calling Max Verstappen
Two weeks ago, young Max Verstappen was a mark with a question attached.
Was he all that he seemed?
Will he deliver on the promise that so many young drivers have shown before or will he flash the pan as most others have?
Does he have what it takes to survive in the highest echelon of racing?
Last week, Red Bull answered these questions when they, surprisingly, swapped Verstappen with Daniil Kvyat.
Again the questions emerged.
Is Verstappen too young?
Is Red Bull’s Helmut Marko moving him too fast?
In the mind of the Red Bull braintrust, Verstappen’s potential was too great and they needed to lock him up now before other teams made firm offers that might pull the young Dutchman away from the Red Bull stable.
Still the question remained and Verstappen remained quiet, only remarking that he was excited and not sleeping well before his Red Bull debut.
On Sunday, Verstappen spoke loudly and he did so with his driving in Barcelona!
Formula 1 was richly rewarded.
Verstappen’s win in Barcelona makes him the youngest winner in Formula 1 history. At 18 years and 227 days, Verstappen eclipsed the record held by Sebastian Vettel by more than 2 years. That’s 4 time World Champion Sebastian Vettel!
Verstappen also claimed the first victory for a Dutch driver in the Formula 1 series. Although Verstappen benefited from the Mercedes first lap fiasco, the youngster showed incredible patience and consistency in keeping World Champion Kimi Raikkonen behind. It was an impressive showing.
The move to upgrade Verstappen now looks like sheer brilliance and Red Bull have the future of Formula 1 locked within their stable for years to come.
Is there a downside?
Maybe, and a surprise it may be. The question that comes to mind now is the future of Red Bull ace Daniel Ricciardo. Verstappen could easily become the Red Bull #1 driver and if this happens, will we see an erasure of the perpetual smile worn by Ricciardo? Previously, Verstappen was the primary target of the off season driver market. Now, it would be no surprise to see Ricciardo become the target for many big rides that look to be available in 2017.
Mercedes Drama At Turn 4
Nico Rosberg was working toward extending his impressive streak of 7 consecutive race wins in Barcelona.
Lewis Hamilton needed to initiate his climb toward to 4th World Championship sooner rather than later.
With both cars occupying the front row of the grid for the Spanish Grand Prix, the Mercedes drivers were perched for a straight battle for momentum going into the European core to the Formula 1 season.
Most of the the folks who follow Formula 1 mark the beginning of the European summer as the real start toward the championship push. The 10 races between Barcelona and Monza typically set the stage for the final blast toward a world title and if Lewis Hamilton wanted to make inroads on Nico Rosberg’s lead, he needed to start in Europe..and soon.
Instead, a controversial crash has Mercedes leadership playing motivational manager as their war wagon showed a bit of a chink in their armor.
In truth, what we learned was that the only threat to Mercedes is…well…Mercedes.
Whether blame lies with either driver is unimportant as the Silver Arrows juggernaut heads to Monaco, a track owned by Rosberg in the last three years.
With the championship now almost a quarter of the way through, the battle between the Mercedes drivers has hit a flash point that will continue throughout the summer season. It is this inter-team battle that may allow for a surprise challenge from Ferrari or Red Bull. With Kimi Raikkonen lurking 39 points behind Rosberg and ahead of Hamilton (SURPRISE!), it is entirely possible that the body blows delivered between Mercedes teammates allows for the championship to become a battle between more than just Mercedes’ dynamic duo.
If Hamilton and Rosberg continue to steal points from one another, and the two Silver Arrows cars don’t finish each week, Mercedes may wind up letting a wolf into their comfortable pasture!
And this will be the message from Toto Wolff as he attempts to remain in control of the fertile fields of Mercedes.