Craig Murto: Verstappen youngest F1 winner

CRAIG MURTO

Max Verstappen is now the youngest driver to win a Formula One (F1) after his surprising win in last week’s Spanish Grand Prix.

The 18-year-old Red Bull Racing driver also became the first Dutch racer to win in F1 when he out-raced Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen with a performance most would have thought was beyond his second-year experience.

The race itself wasn’t without its controversy. The Mercedes teammates Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton took each other out on the first lap, ending the team’s chance of a perfect F1 season and leaving both drivers unhappy with each other. Stewards determined that the incident was just racing, but team manager Niki Lauda blamed Hamilton, calling him “too aggressive.”

With the Mercedes out of the race, most observers believed it would gift Ferrari its first win of the year. But the resurgent Red Bull team, which took the second row on the starting grid, had other ideas.

But just as Mercedes may have its hands full managing its feuding drivers, Red Bull may have an issue as well; the same two-stop strategy that led to Verstappen’s victory in his debut with the team upset team veteran Daniel Ricciardo, who finished fourth behind Ferrari’ís Sebastian Vettel. He believed his team’s strategy cost him the win.

Last season Verstappen became the youngest driver to score F1 points at just 17 while racing for Red Bull’s Toro Rosso team, for which the second-generation racer started the 2016 season. But following the Russian Grand Prix, Red Bull announced that Verstappen was promoted to the Red Bull seat, replacing Russian driver Daniil Kvyat, who was demoted back down to Toro Rosso. It’s amazing that Verstappen never sat in the Red Bull Racing F1 car until practice on Friday, and then demonstrates the maturity to win with it on Sunday.

Rosberg, whose amazing streak of race wins now ends at seven in a row, continues to lead F1 points. But Raikkonen now has taken second from Hamilton.

Mercedes’ bad luck was good luck for race fans, as with the Mercedes sidelined, the Spanish Grand Prix was the most competitive race so far this season. The May 29 race through the streets of Monaco promises to be an incredible race, and a great way to start the biggest day of auto racing worldwide, including the Indy 500 and the 600-mile NASCAR race at Charlotte.

Saturday night we get a preview of the 600, as the NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race takes to the track. It will be interesting to see if the new aerodynamic and tire packages provide as competitive racing at Charlotte as they have elsewhere this season.

The race at Dover, Delaware, was fantastic. The three-car battle for the win at the end of the race was just what NASCAR wanted to see. But as teams learn to adjust to the new aero package, NASCAR should consider taking even more downforce away and allowing the drivers more opportunity to demonstrate their skill.

One of the interesting aspects of the new Goodyear tires the NASCAR Cup Series competes on is the way in which the rubber gets put onto the track. Last week at Dover, for example, it only took a few minutes of cars on the track in practice before you could see where the concrete surface took rubber. “Marbles,” the bits of rubber shed from race tires that accumulates outside the racing groove, hasn’t been a major issue on NASCAR tracks this season. But in both F1 and IndyCar, the marbles have been so bad that competitors have a difficult time if they get out of the groove and that loose rubber gets on their hot tires, making the car feel as if itís driving on marbles.

There were some empty seats at Dover; hopefully NASCAR fans recognize the good product that’s on the track this year and return.

But it may simply be that the worldwide slow-growth economy takes a toll on all entertainment. There weren’t many spectators to witness Simon Pagenaud win his third straight race in the Indy Grand Prix. And even the grandstands at the Spainish Grand Prix were less than full, though the hillsides (general admission) were packed with people.

Be sure to help pack our local tracks with people, and support the young up-and-coming racers and veteran drivers who compete weekly.

Veteran motorsports columnist Craig Murto is a Linden resident.

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