Nico Rosberg

First race in first place

On the anniversary of Max Verstappen’s maiden F1 win in Spain, we look back at the last five drivers who discovered there’s nothing quite like your first time.

THIS STORY ORIGINALLY APPEARED ON REDBULL.COM

This time a year ago, Max Verstappen stunned the Formula One establishment when he took his maiden victory on his first weekend for Red Bull Racing at the Spanish Grand Prix. Verstappen’s win meant he was F1’s latest first-time victor … until last time out in Russia, where Valtteri Bottas’ triumph for Mercedes saw the Finn become the 107th driver to win an F1 race.

As we get set to hear plenty about Verstappen’s 2016 heroics ahead of this weekend’s race in Barcelona, who are the five most recent F1 winners, and at what races did they make their names?

Valtteri Bottas

First race win: Russia 2017 for Mercedes
Wins since: N/A
Races before first F1 win: 81
How it happened: For a driver who had only taken his first pole at the previous GP in Bahrain, Bottas was as cool as ice on the streets that surround the Winter Olympics venues from Sochi 2014. From third on the grid, he zapped the Ferrari duo of Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen before the second corner, and rarely put a foot wrong despite Vettel closing late in the race, winning by six-tenths of a second.
He said: “I always knew I could get good results if everything goes right and I always trust in my ability, but it’s nice to get confirmation that the results are possible.”
Stat fact: Only eight Finns have raced in F1, and Bottas became the fifth of them to win a race (along with Keke Rosberg, Mika Hakkinen, Raikkonen and Heikki Kovalainen).

Max Verstappen

First race win: Spain 2016 for Red Bull Racing
Wins since: None
Races before first F1 win: 24
How it happened: On his first weekend for Red Bull after being switched from Toro Rosso in place of Daniil Kvyat, Verstappen made the most of the Mercedes pair of Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg taking one another out on lap one to get to the front after the final pit stops had shaken out – and stayed there despite Raikkonen’s Ferrari breathing down his neck in the closing laps.
He said: “I have no words for it. It was very good company on the podium, I mean Kimi even raced against my dad, so it’s very funny! I was celebrating a lot on the in-lap and I got a bit of cramp, but that’s part of it.”
Stat fact: As well as being the first Dutch driver to win a race, Verstappen became the youngest-ever F1 winner at 18 years and 226 days.

Daniel Ricciardo

First race win: Canada 2014 for Red Bull Racing
Wins since: 3
Races before first F1 win: 57
How it happened: Mercedes had won the opening six races of 2014 before F1 came to Montreal, and when Hamilton retired with brake failure after 45 laps, teammate Rosberg looked imperious until his own brakes started to fade, and a charging Ricciardo took the lead of an F1 race for the first time with two laps to go. The race – and his first win – finished at walking pace after a massive shunt between Sergio Perez (Force India) and Felipe Massa (Williams) at the first corner of the last lap brought out the safety car. Before 2014? Ricciardo had never scored a single point in Canada.
He said: “I think it still seems a bit surreal to be honest, just because it all happened so quickly at the end. Finishing under the safety car made it a bit weird, but I wanted to make sure the two drivers who were in the accident were OK before I started celebrating.”
Stat fact: Ricciardo became the third driver to win their maiden Grand Prix in Montreal in seven years (Hamilton in 2007, Robert Kubica in 2008).

Pastor Maldonado

First race win: Spain 2012 for Williams
Wins since: 0
Races before first F1 win: 24
How it happened: Seven different winners in the first seven races of 2012 as the sport tried and failed to get a grip on Pirelli’s tyres was one thing, but this was downright nutty – Maldonado scored just one point in his debut season in 2011, and had never finished better than eighth in a race before his first win. He inherited pole after Hamilton was sent to the back after a technical breach, but resisted huge pressure from none other than two-time world champion Fernando Alonso in a Ferrari at his home track to win by three seconds. Maldonado never made a podium again, became infamous for his accident-prone approach, and lost his seat in the sport at the end of 2015.
He said: “There was some moments that he (Alonso) was so close, especially at the end of the race. But I was managing the gap and controlling everything.”
Stat fact: Maldonado scored 25 points for this race win; in the other 94 Grands Prix he contested, he scored 51 points and never finished better than seventh.

Nico Rosberg

First race win: China 2012 for Mercedes
Wins since: 22, and the 2016 F1 world championship
Races before first F1 win: 110
How it happened: The other first-time winner in that crazy 2012 season start? Rosberg, back in the days when Mercedes winning races was a novelty. The team didn’t finish on the podium once in 2011, but Rosberg was imperious in the third race of the following season, starting from pole in Shanghai and winning by 20 seconds. It was Mercedes’ sole success of 2012, and the first victory for a works Mercedes works team since 1955.
He said: “Unbelievable feeling, very cool, very happy, very excited. It’s been a long time coming for me and the team also. I didn’t expect to be that fast.”
Stat fact: In winning for the first time on his 111th start, Rosberg slotted into fifth on the list of those who have waited longest for their maiden victory behind Mark Webber (130 starts), Rubens Barrichello (123), Jarno Trulli (123) and Jenson Button (113).

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What we learned from F1 testing in Spain

The new cars look the goods, lap times aren’t everything, and there’s nowhere to hide as a rookie when the eyes of the world are watching …

THIS STORY ORIGINALLY APPEARED ON REDBULL.COM

Formula One arose from its off-season slumber in Spain this week, where the 10 teams gathered for the first of two four-day tests at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya to prepare for the season ahead.

New drivers were unveiled, revamped liveries (both good and bad) were seen in action for the first time, and the usual pre-season secrecy and subterfuge were on show as teams kept a wary eye on the opposition while running through lengthy job lists ahead of the Australian Grand Prix in just three weeks’ time.

Concrete conclusions are notoriously difficult to ascertain after four days of testing (‘Ferrari faster than Mercedes!’ screamed one headline on an F1 website that should know better after day two), but we did learn plenty in Spain over the four days that sets the scene for what’s to come.

They’re the fastest F1 cars ever …
Compared to their predecessors, this year’s F1 machines look mean, fast and awesome, the unsightly shark fins employed to maximise the new aerodynamic regulations notwithstanding. But how do they perform? The changes in speed through Barcelona’s two signature corners – the never-ending right-hander of Turn 3 and the sharp right of Turn 9 heading onto the back straight – were noticeable, and while the drivers were far from “destroyed” physically as Force India’s Sergio Perez predicted before the test, they were worked hard, Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton noting the “bumps and bruises where I’ve never really had them before” after the second day of running.

The fastest lap time of the test (a 1min 19.705secs by Hamilton’s teammate Valtteri Bottas on day three) was significantly quicker than Hamilton’s pole position time (1:22.000) at the same circuit for last year’s Spanish Grand Prix, and tyre supplier Pirelli reckons a 1min 18secs lap could be possible at next week’s second pre-season test as teams turn up the wick ahead of Australia.

World champion Nico Rosberg, who retired from the sport after winning last year’s title, was licking his lips over the challenges awaiting his former colleagues. “They look absolutely monstrous, very, very aggressive,” he said of the new cars after watching the action on day three. “The drivers are loving it, and I think this year they will be proper gladiators out there, with these cars, because the cars will take them to their physical limits. We might even see drivers losing race wins because of just being ‘game over’ physically – and that’s what we need.

But can they pass one another?
Er … This has the potential to be the elephant in the room. F1 pessimists would warn with all the extra downforce provided by the wider 2017 cars, plus stronger, more durable tyres from Pirelli, races could turn into one-stop precessions where the car behind will never be able to mount a serious challenge on a rival in front. Higher downforce makes it harder for a car to follow a rival in high-speed corners, as the trailing car loses front grip in the wake of the car in front.

After two days on track in Spain, both Hamilton and Williams veteran Felipe Massa commented that the new aerodynamic regulations may have created a problem, Massa adding that the extra downforce was nice “for the drivers, but for the show, I don’t know.”

Red Bull’s Max Verstappen, who set an overtaking record in F1 last year with 78 passes in 21 races, was less concerned, as you might expect. “It’s alright. I think it’s the same as last year,” he said after his first outing on track on day two. “It’s felt really similar. You have more downforce, you are going a bit faster through corners, so that cancels out a bit. I think it should be pretty similar, but we just have to wait and see. Hopefully we won’t need to overtake …”

The stopwatch isn’t everything …
Verstappen’s comment was made in jest, but while Red Bull didn’t look to be the outright leader in terms of lap time in Barcelona, they’ll certainly be in the conversation from Melbourne and beyond.

Labelling teams as ‘winners’ and ‘losers’ after four days of running, including the final day on an artificially-soaked track for Pirelli to test its wet-weather rubber, is foolish in the extreme, but what we can ascertain is that Mercedes aren’t going anywhere, and that Ferrari have started 2017 strongly, a year after the red team was left red-faced when very public predictions of being in the championship fight fell flat.

Mercedes and Ferrari were the only two teams to rack up 2000km-plus of track time across the four days, which left Renault driver Jolyon Palmer slightly envious. “I can’t understand how they’re doing so many laps,” the Briton said. “That’s impressive, especially when not only us but you look at the rest of the field, really, and everyone’s doing 50 or 60 laps in a day.”

Mercedes may have topped the times overall, but Ferrari’s workload – its drivers managed over 100 laps on three of the four days – definitely raised eyebrows.

But some are in trouble
Who’s at the other end of the scale, and who has a mountain of work to do before the second and final pre-season test next week? McLaren endured a rough run in Spain, the team losing the best part of the opening two days with engine gremlins, leaving a grumpy Fernando Alonso to comment “I have three days to prepare for a world championship, it’s not an ideal situation,” after his first day was compromised. Also filed under ‘tough start’, Williams – and more specifically, rookie Lance Stroll, who crashed on his opening day of running. The 18-year-old Canadian then binned it twice on day three, damaging the team’s chassis to such an extent that it couldn’t be rebuilt overnight, which deprived Williams of any wet-track running on the final day.

F1 emerges from the dark ages
For those of us who remember seeing vision of pre-season testing was a matter of scouring YouTube for badly-shot fan videos the next day before the sport’s gatekeepers had them removed, the first test of 2017 was quite jarring. F1’s official channels were dragged kicking and screaming into the social media age last year, with (gasp) actual on-track vision and paddock access available digitally for those who couldn’t be trackside or in the closely-guarded inner sanctum.

With Liberty Media taking over the running of the sport and Bernie Ecclestone being edged into the background, it was no surprise to see the restrictions of the past loosened, but seeing teams being able to post vision of the test on their social media accounts was quite the revelation, and very well received. What’s more, that the change came about because the commercial rights holder contacted the teams to encourage them to shoot short-form video for their own purposes represented a seismic shift to the norm. Will it continue? That remains to be seen, but the sport’s new marketing chief, ex-ESPN marketing guru Sean Bratches, flagged the changes that are afoot in an interview with Autosport.

“Every single thing that we’re doing has to pivot around the fan,” Bratches said. “The fan is at the centre of all our theses in terms of driving this sport because if we’re doing the best job we can serving fans, both the existing fans and the new fans, that’s a win. We have big events 20 times every single year in 20 different countries and there’s an extraordinary opportunity to detonate the fan experience in a very positive way.”

Why we can’t wait for F1 in 2017

Faster cars, no No.1, fresh faces and a Bull battle? Count us in.

THIS STORY ORIGINALLY APPEARED ON REDBULL.COM.AU

From our vantage point, there’s only one good thing about the end of a Formula One season – it’s that the next one kicks off right here in our backyard, as the season-opening Australian Grand Prix is next up in March.

But it’s more than Albert Park’s name at the head of the calendar that has us more pumped than usual for F1, 2017-style. A big regulation reset, some fresh faces set to stand out, and – let’s not forget – a race between 22 drivers to fill the post of world champion vacated when Nico Rosberg said goodbye to F1 earlier this month.

Looking for a reason to get excited about F1 in 2017? Here’s five.

Wider, fatter and faster

‘More aggressive-looking cars’ was the mandate for 2017, and a host of regulatory changes will give the sport a distinctive new look next season. The cars will be wider – by 20cm, looking more like their predecessors from the mid-to-late 1990s – and the tyres fatter – the rear Pirellis next season will be 20 per cent wider than this year’s rubber. Why? More mechanical grip equals more speed, and more speed should lead to a more spectacular spectacle, with lap times expected to tumble by five seconds. From the front, the noses of the cars will be longer (by 20cm) and pointier, while at the back, rear wings will be 15cm lower and 15cm wider.

How significant are the changes? Toro Rosso’s Carlos Sainz says the new cars look like “another category”, while his team’s technical director James Key told Autosport the changes are “massive”, adding that the amendments to bodywork, suspension and tyres are bigger than anything he’s experienced in close to two decades in the sport.

The cars will be much more physical to drive too, Daniel Ricciardo one driver who knows that his off-season will be more challenging than usual. “I’m actually looking forward to getting back into the training because of the rule changes next year and that the cars are going to be a fair bit quicker in the corners,” he said earlier in December. “We’ll have to change some things up in the preparation … being able to put on some strength and muscle will be more challenging and more rewarding, so I’m up for that.”

Will the changes lead to any increase in overtaking? Don’t hold your breath. Will the cars look more lively, fast and be more difficult to drive? Absolutely yes.

No number one

About the only team with any reason to be less than optimistic about the changes are Mercedes, and after the three-pointed star shone brightest by winning 51 of the 59 races since F1 switched to V6 turbo hybrids in 2014, you can understand why. When you add the departing Rosberg into that equation, the Silver Arrows clearly have the most to lose in 2017, which is great news for everyone else. As the drivers fight their new cars and one another in the chase for number one, bear in mind that 2017 will be the first season since 1994 that there’s no defending world champion on the grid. Sounds like the perfect recipe for someone to step up, doesn’t it?

New blood

Out at the end of 2016 went Jenson Button and Felipe Massa, who combined for 555 Grand Prix starts, 26 wins and a world championship (for Button in 2009) since 2000. Replacing the departed veterans are a pair of newbies who’ll attract plenty of attention in 2017. Well, Button’s replacement Stoffel Vandoorne is a nearly-newbie; the Belgian stood in at McLaren in this year’s Bahrain GP after Fernando Alonso’s monster shunt in Melbourne left him sore, and duly scored a point on debut for 10th. ‘The Stoff’ will be Alonso’s teammate this time around, and he’ll start his first full season in Australia on his 25th birthday in late March. Alonso sets a formidable benchmark for any driver in a sister car, but expect Vandoorne to acquit himself well.

The F1 world is less certain what Massa’s replacement at Williams, 18-year-old Canadian Lance Stroll, will do, but the son of Tommy Hilfiger fashion tycoon Lawrence Stroll couldn’t be more ready, spending much of 2016 pounding around circuits in Europe testing a 2014-spec Williams in between his regular schedule in the European F3 championship, which he won with ease. The progress of the new kids on the block will be a story to watch in ’17.

A Bull battle?

Ricciardo’s grin is (other than his shoey celebrations) his Formula One signature. Max Verstappen is generally pretty cool and calculated, and atypically mature beyond his 19 years. The Red Bull teammates have been pretty amicable in their time in the same garage so far, but with the team (and everyone else) consigned to sweeping up any scraps that may fall from the Mercedes table for the past three years, it’s easier to row the boat in the same direction when winning happens only occasionally. Could tensions rise if the rules reset for 2017 brings Red Bull right back into championship contention? Both drivers acknowledge that the stakes will be raised if a title fight materialises, and watching the pair regularly go all-out for victory – which we got a taste for in last season’s Malaysian Grand Prix won by Ricciardo – will be can’t-miss viewing if it eventuates.

A good start

A common bugbear for F1 fans in recent times has been race starts behind the safety car in wet weather, which drag on endlessly as drivers with more to lose moan about the conditions while rivals who want to take a chance express their desperation to get started. All before the head-shaking sight of drivers diving into the pits to change for intermediate or even dry rubber as soon as the safety car releases the field, making a mockery of the decision to delay the start for so long. In a procedural change for next year, cars will now line up on the grid once the race director deems it appropriate for the safety car to peel off the circuit and let the world’s best drivers get on with it, adding the unpredictable element of a standing start in less-than-ideal conditions to the show. That sound you hear? The applause of F1 fans the world over.

5 moments that made F1 in 2016

What we’ll always remember most from the 2016 F1 season, and why.

THIS STORY ORIGINALLY APPEARED ON REDBULL.COM.AU

The final race of the 2016 Formula One season was little more than a fortnight ago in Abu Dhabi, and plenty has happened on the F1 front since then – we’ll get to that later. Memories of the ’16 season are still fresh in everyone’s minds, but what are the moments of the year that will linger long after this campaign fades into the rear-vision mirror? What memorable drives, controversial clashes or displays of brilliance will we recall fondly as the years pass?

A few that were shortlisted but didn’t make the cut: Daniel Ricciardo’s mega pole lap at Monaco to take the only pole position by a non-Mercedes driver all year, his calamitous pit stop in the race on the Monte Carlo streets 24 hours later than scuppered his chances of winning F1’s most prestigious event, and the still-hard-to-believe lap one smash between teammates Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg in Spain, which eliminated both cars on the spot and re-ignited simmering tensions in the Mercedes garage.

1. Won and done

When we look back at the 2016 season, we’ll most likely remember something that happened after the 21 races were in the books. Rosberg’s stunning retirement announcement a little less than a week after becoming world champion for the first time caught his team, his peers and F1 fans around the world on the hop – after scaling the summit and finally getting the better of long-time adversary and former close friend Hamilton, the German elected to walk away from a guaranteed contract with the best team in the sport and untold millions at 31 to begin the first chapter of the rest of his life. He’s the first driver to quit from the top since Alain Prost in 1993, but the Frenchman was 38 and had already sat out the 1992 season before coming back with Williams and winning it all the following year, meaning his retirement was less of a shock. “I’ve made it. I have climbed my mountain, I am on the peak, so this feels right,” Rosberg said. There was no bigger story in F1 this year.

2. Up in flames

Hamilton was sailing to victory in October’s Malaysian Grand Prix, and with Rosberg stuck down the field after a first-lap incident with Sebastian Vettel, the reigning and three-time world champion looked set to strike a telling blow in their intra-team fight with five races remaining. But on lap 40, Hamilton’s engine turned into a fireball, handing the lead to Ricciardo, and while Ricciardo’s Red Bull teammate Max Verstappen finished second, Rosberg scrambled back to third to snare 15 precious points for third on a day when he was last and facing the wrong way at the first corner of the race – and when Hamilton openly wondered if a higher power had decided he wasn’t making it a hat-trick of titles. The result gave Rosberg a decisive 23-point championship lead.

3. One for the ages

Yes, Verstappen won his maiden Grand Prix in Barcelona in May, but his Brazilian Grand Prix masterclass was something to behold. In 14th place with 17 laps to go and in weather better suited to boats than F1 cars, the Dutch teenager made the rest of the field look like amateurs as he stormed through to third, his drive evoking memories of Ayrton Senna’s wet-weather second for Toleman at Monaco in 1984, and Michael Schumacher’s 1996 Spanish GP win in atrocious conditions for Ferrari, where the German genius won by 45 seconds. Should Verstappen continue on to the greatness many expect of him, this will be the race that starts any highlight reel. Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff put Verstappen’s display into succinct context. “Physics are being redefined,” he said.

4. The young and the relentless

Was Verstappen’s Brazilian third better than his Spanish success on his Red Bull debut? We say yes, if only for the sheer audaciousness of his driving at Interlagos, but the 18-year-old’s maturity was on full display at the Circuit de Catalunya, Verstappen keeping the far more experienced Kimi Raikkonen at bay for his first F1 win on a day when the first-lap Mercedes mess opened the door for others to shine. Yes, Verstappen (and Raikkonen) were on the more advantageous two-stop strategy in Spain where their respective teammates, Ricciardo and Vettel, made three stops, Ricciardo justifiably lamenting afterwards that his strategy “didn’t make sense” after he led for a large portion of the race. But that shouldn’t take away from what Verstappen did – with a chance to win a race for the first time and with a world champion behind him who was experienced enough to have raced against Max’s father Jos as far back as 2001, he didn’t make a single mistake – and became the youngest F1 winner ever.

5. Thirsty work

The chances of Ricciardo winning a Grand Prix this year looked pretty slim after his Monaco pit stop travails, so when the Australian finished second to Hamilton at the German GP in July, there was only one way to enjoy the spoils of his podium champagne – from his racing boot. No, he didn’t start the tradition, and no, he’s not the first Aussie to swig a celebratory shoey on the international stage. But he was happy to introduce it to the F1 show. “As far as I know I started it in F1 but not worldwide,” he explained. “It was a few loose Aussies, the Mad Hueys. They travel the world fishing, surfing and they like to drink a bit of beer and whatnot, and that’s where the shoey began. I know (MotoGP rider) Jack Miller knows a few of the guys from the Mad Hueys, so when he got his win in Assen, I suspected he was going to do it and he did, so I thought I’d keep the Australian tradition going.” From then on, any time Ricciardo made the podium for the rest of the season, shoeys were close to a certainty. Rosberg didn’t exactly love his sample of champagne from Ricciardo’s boot when the Red Bull driver won at Sepang, but Christian Horner played along. Mark Webber was once bitten and twice shy – after reluctantly joining in at Spa, he threw Ricciardo’s boot into the crowd in Malaysia to avoid a second sip. And Ricciardo himself knew where to draw the line. A shoey after a sweaty second place in Singapore? Pass.

The 5 best F1 drivers of 2016

Who shone the brightest on four wheels in 2016, and why?

THIS STORY ORIGINALLY APPEARED ON REDBULL.COM.AU

The stats will show Formula One in 2016 was a two-horse race between Mercedes teammates Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton that went down to the wire in the final event in Abu Dhabi, but to suggest that the continued domination of the Silver Arrows duo was the only storyline in the world’s premier four-wheel category this season is well off the mark.

One of the sport’s giants reverted to its bad old days, a new star emerged as someone who could become a multiple world champion before too long, and some big F1 and manufacturer names alike were outshone by rivals with smaller budgets and greater momentum.

A significant regulatory reset should ensure at least a partial shake-up of the established order for 2017, but that’s for the future. What about the past? Who were the best five drivers in F1 this year, and why? We’ve assessed the grid statistically and chronologically, let the drivers themselves have their say, and enlisted some expert analysis to break down the grid from five to one. Here we go.

5. Sergio Perez

The stats
Points/championship position: 101, seventh
Wins: 0
Podiums: 2
Poles: 0
Fastest laps: 0
Head-to-head vs teammate in qualifying: Perez 9, Nico Hulkenberg 12
Head-to-head vs teammate in race: Perez 13, Hulkenberg 8
Points compared to teammate: Perez 101, Hulkenberg 72

The summary
The top four drivers on our list will come as no surprise, even if our order of them might raise an eyebrow or two. More on that later. Finding the right man for number five wasn’t as easy. Sebastian Vettel finished fourth overall, but Ferrari’s apparent resurgence of 12 months previously, when he won three Grands Prix, stalled in 2017, and the German managed just two podiums in the final 13 races. Teammate Kimi Raikkonen finished in the points every time he saw the chequered flag, but didn’t make the podium after round nine in Austria. Fernando Alonso drove the wheels off his McLaren, but barely made the top 10 in the championship. No, our No.5 is Sergio Perez, the Mexican whose F1 career looked set for the scrapheap after a miserable year at McLaren in 2013, but has become a driver who always seems to punch above his weight after three years at Force India. The 26-year-old had podiums at Monaco and in Baku, qualified on the front row in Azerbaijan before being demoted for a gearbox penalty, and finished all 21 races, 17 of them in the points, to crack the 100-point milestone for the first time. He spearheaded Force India’s charge to a best-ever finish of fourth in the constructors’ championship, ahead of the likes of Williams and Renault, and was always there to pick up the pieces when others dropped the ball.

The quote
“It has been an incredible year for us. We started the year lacking quite a lot of pace but we worked hard and developed the car. We have done an incredible job.”
– Perez at the final race of the season in Abu Dhabi

Expert view: Dan Knutson
“Sergio believes this was his best-ever season in F1, and I agree with him. The Mexican is a master with dealing with the current era of Pirelli tyres that need to be babied.”
Dan Knutson covers F1 for Auto Action (Australia) and National Speed Sport News (USA)

4. Max Verstappen

The stats
Points/championship position: 204, fifth
Wins: 1 (Spain)
Podiums: 7
Poles: 0
Fastest laps: 1
Head-to-head vs teammate in qualifying: Verstappen 6, Daniel Ricciardo 11 (at Red Bull Racing), Verstappen 3, Carlos Sainz 1 (at Toro Rosso)
Head-to-head vs teammate in race: Verstappen 7, Ricciardo 10 (at Red Bull Racing), Verstappen 3, Sainz 1 (at Toro Rosso)
Points compared to teammate: Verstappen 191, Ricciardo 220 (in 17 races), Verstappen 13, Sainz 4 (in four races)

The summary
Where to start with assessing Max Verstappen’s second – yes, just second – F1 season? Memories such as his maiden F1 win on his first weekend for Red Bull in Barcelona, his sublime pass of Rosberg at Silverstone and his charge from last to fourth in Abu Dhabi would be showstoppers for any other driver, but what Verstappen did in horrendous weather in Brazil will live longest in the memory. Employing lines few of his rivals had apparently even contemplated, Verstappen stormed from 14th to third in 17 laps, producing a drive that evoked memories of Ayrton Senna’s second in a Toleman at a rain-lashed Monaco in 1984, or Michael Schumacher’s success at a sodden Spanish GP in a Ferrari in ’96. It was everything Verstappen has in spades – a calm head, sublime skill, total self-belief and a never-quit attitude – in one glorious 25-minute snapshot. Verstappen’s year wasn’t without its troughs – and his occasionally over-the-top defending irked several of his rivals – but for a teenager with 40 races under his belt, 2016 was quite something.

The quote
“I could hear the crowd going crazy when my engineer was on the radio, so I’m very thankful for the Brazilian fans for getting behind me. At the end when I crossed the line it felt like a victory, it was almost as beautiful as my race in Barcelona.”
– Verstappen after his stunning late charge at Interlagos

Expert view: Peter Windsor
“Verstappen never asks more from the car than he feels it can give. He perfectly manipulates the car in the braking/corner entry stage, creating a platform that makes the corner exit almost an after-thought: that’s why you rarely see Max (or Lewis Hamilton) with more than a few, subtle degrees of correction on the car as they leave a corner; that’s why from the outside, oblivious to the supple hand and foot movements going on in the cockpit, we’re lulled into the impression that Max and Lewis are making it look ‘easy’. It’s a product of their millions of unmeasurable, minuscule inputs through the steering, brakes (increasing and decreasing pressure) and throttle. Imagine trying to keep a set of billiard balls in the centre of a ‘floating’, constantly-moving table by very delicately changing the weight on each corner: that’s what Max and Lewis do better than any drivers on the F1 grid.”
– Peter Windsor is a long-time Formula One writer, broadcaster and analyst

3. Daniel Ricciardo

The stats
Points/championship position: 256, third
Wins: 1 (Malaysia)
Podiums: 8
Poles: 1
Fastest laps: 4
Head-to-head vs teammate in qualifying: Ricciardo 14, Verstappen/Daniil Kvyat 7
Head-to-head vs teammate in race: Ricciardo 13, Verstappen/Kvyat 8
Points compared to teammate: Ricciardo 256, Verstappen/Kvyat 212

The summary
Ricciardo’s rise to third in the 2014 championship behind (you guessed it) the Mercedes drivers was an ascension that seemed ahead of schedule, but this year’s same finish behind the same Silver Arrows duo felt more sustainable after his 2015 blip. He had two more wins two years ago than his sole success in Malaysia this season, but with eight podiums, a further five races in fourth place and just off the rostrum and a perfect 21 for 21 in race finishes meant that 2016 was the West Australian’s best year yet. His pole lap at Monaco – the only pole not taken by Mercedes all year – was 73 seconds of ragged-edge genius, while the Singapore/Sepang double-header was the ‘Honey Badger’ at his dogged, persistent best. Now 27, next year’s rule reset comes an opportune time for a man in the prime of his career.

The quote
“I finished third in 2014 as well and that was pretty significant because I was kind of unproven then, and that year it put me in front of Seb, who was the defending world champion. But this year has been good because at the start of it, I didn’t expect to be able to finish third.”
– Ricciardo after the Mexican GP

Expert view: Tom Clarkson
“That solitary victory in Malaysia doesn’t tell the full story of Daniel’s 2016 season. He would have won Monaco, had it not been for a pit-stop blunder; ditto Spain, had the strategists on the pit wall reacted differently to the Mercedes collision on the opening lap, and he got ever-so-close in Singapore. The upshot is that for the second time in three seasons, Ricciardo was the first non-Merc driver in the championship standings. He must be doing something right. But don’t take my word for it; have a read of Fernando Alonso’s thoughts. “Daniel is always very committed to everything he does,” says the two-time champ. “On-track, you cannot see any mistakes when you are together with him. In the overtaking manoeuvres, probably he is the best out there. When he commits to one movement, 99 per cent of the time he will achieve the result he wanted. Obviously 2014, together with (Sebastian) Vettel, it was an amazing performance. He was way ahead of Vettel in every single point: in the driving, in the approach, in the starts, in the pit stops, in the overtaking; he was beating Vettel so easily.”
– Tom Clarkson covers F1 for BBC Sport and Network Ten in Australia

2. Nico Rosberg

The stats
Points/championship position: 385, first
Wins: 9 (Australia, Bahrain, China, Russia, Europe, Belgium, Italy, Singapore, Japan)
Podiums: 16
Poles: 8
Fastest laps: 6
Head-to-head vs teammate in qualifying: Rosberg 9, Lewis Hamilton 12
Head-to-head vs teammate in race: Rosberg 10, Hamilton 10 (neither finished in Spain)
Points compared to teammate: Rosberg 385, Hamilton 380

The summary
For Rosberg to bounce back from two years of being humbled by Hamilton showed strength of character and mind that perhaps wouldn’t have come to the fore had he not endured the indignity of being brushed aside by his Mercedes teammate in 2015. The final three races of last year – which Rosberg won when Hamilton’s focus seemed to waver after securing his third title – set the German up beautifully for this season, and four straight wins before the teammates smashed into one another in Spain earned him a 43-point lead after five rounds. Victory in Singapore gave Rosberg the series lead again even before Hamilton’s engine eruption in Malaysia, and while he never looked likely to beat Hamilton across the final four races, he didn’t need to, his consistency and good fortune on the reliability front seeing him to a title 34 years after father Keke won the 1982 world championship for Williams.

The quote
“He’s just an amazing driver and of course one of the best in history, so it’s unbelievably special to beat him. The level is so high and that makes this … so much more satisfying for me. I took the world championship away from him which is a phenomenal feeling.”
– Rosberg after denying Hamilton a third straight title in Abu Dhabi

Expert view: Jonathan Noble
“Determination and a cool head. They are the two characteristics that stand out when you think about how Nico Rosberg turned the tables on Lewis Hamilton this season. Yes, you cannot ignore the reliability troubles that hurt his teammate, but equally there were events like Singapore and Japan where Rosberg dug deep and performed better. And in the finale – to keep a cool head amid the chaos and pull off a move like he did on Max Verstappen – shows why he is a more than worthy champion.”
– Jonathan Noble is Formula One editor of motorsport.com

1. Lewis Hamilton

The stats
Points/championship position: 380, second
Wins: 10 (Monaco, Canada, Austria, Great Britain, Hungary, Germany, USA, Mexico, Brazil, Abu Dhabi)
Podiums: 17
Poles: 12
Fastest laps: 3
Head-to-head vs teammate in qualifying: Hamilton 12, Rosberg 9
Head-to-head vs teammate in race: Hamilton 10, Rosberg 10 (neither finished in Spain)
Points compared to teammate: Hamilton 380, Rosberg 385

The summary
Was Rosberg a worthy world champion this season? Yes. Is Hamilton still the fastest driver in F1? Again, yes. There’s no denying that Hamilton endured the lion’s share of Mercedes’ unreliability woes this season – of the eight drivers supplied with Mercedes engines this season, Hamilton had more than half of their failures on his own – and the Briton had more victories, poles and podiums than the teammate who ended his two-year stranglehold over the sport. Hamilton twice won four races in a row this season, and there were races – Brazil in the wet as one example – when he was in a different league to Rosberg. Hamilton’s tactics in Abu Dhabi – backing his teammate into the pursuing pack to play his last card to keep his crown – wasn’t a matter of right or wrong, more a case of completely predictable. It didn’t work, but 2016 was a year where Hamilton overtook Alain Prost’s mark of 51 wins to become the second-most successful driver in F1 history, and he could well hold the all-time record for pole positions by the end of next year, finishing this one with 61, seven behind Michael Schumacher. F1’s best driver in 2016? Yes.

The quote
“I’m losing the world championship, so right now I don’t really care whether I win or lose this race.”
– Hamilton to his team over the radio in the closing stages of the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix

Expert view: Andrew Benson
“Apart from a couple of shaky weekends in Baku and Singapore, Hamilton drove as well as ever in 2016, which is to say he’s probably the out-and-out fastest man on the track. But some poor starts and a skewed reliability ratio unstitched his season. Without one or the other, he’d still have been champion. With both, it left him too much to do against Rosberg’s consistency, both of driving and reliability.”
– Andrew Benson is chief Formula One writer for the BBC

The F1 report card

It’s the F1 mid-season break – so let’s assess who has shone (or bombed) in 2016.

THIS STORY ORIGINALLY APPEARED ON REDBULL.COM.AU

We know, we know. Yes, it’s not technically the F1 half-term report – the halfway point of what will be the longest season in F1 history actually came on lap 26 of the British Grand Prix last month. But with the season in recess, factories shut down for their compulsory break and the drivers ensconced in their various tax havens or swanning around after supermodels (or maybe both), it’s time to press pause and run the rule over the season that has been in 2016.

But first, by way of explanation: we won’t be labelling drivers or teams ‘winners’ or ‘losers’. You can score a lot of points and be the latter, or barely get noticed in the TV coverage and be the former. It’s all about expectations, perception versus reality, and context. So with that in mind, here’s who sits where with school being out until the Belgian Grand Prix in three weeks’ time.

Dux of the class

Nico Rosberg won the first four races of the year (and seven straight dating back to the end of last season), but has coughed up his hefty championship lead rather too quickly and been nowhere when it’s rained this season, so it’s not him. Lewis Hamilton started the season slowly, made some mistakes and had some rotten luck, but has flipped a 43-point championship deficit into a 19-point lead with six wins in the past seven races. But it’s not him either. No, the dux of the 2016 class is the Mercedes W07, the car that threatens to redefine the very meaning of the word ‘dominance’ by the end of 2016. At the halfway stage, Mercedes has won 11 of 12 races, taken 11 poles, recorded 16 of a possible 24 podiums and led 588 of a possible 682 laps (86 per cent) – we’re not counting Barcelona, where the Silver Arrows smashed into one another four corners into the race and had a dreaded double DNF. The scary part for the rest of the field is that as the new-for-2017 rulebook looms ever closer, teams will largely leave their 2016 cars as they are – meaning we could have a repeat of 2013 all over again, when Sebastian Vettel and Red Bull won the final nine races of the year before the rule reset of 2014. Can Mercedes win 20 of 21 races this year? To answer one question with another, who or what stops them?

Teacher’s pet

When you win your first Grand Prix at an age where you could still almost be in school (18 years and 228 days), is there any other candidate for this spot? Max Verstappen’s composure when given a chance to win his maiden Grand Prix in Spain in round five – on his first weekend for Red Bull Racing, no less – was almost as impressive as his speed, and he’s barely looked back since. Multiple podiums, a detached calm over the radio in the heat of battle and scant consideration for the reputations of his opponents when in a fight prove that Red Bull was right to promote him – and that he could be doing this for the next 10-12 years at least. For all of his feistiness in wheel-to-wheel battle, you get the sense that someone might lean on Verstappen before too long to prove a point, as Martin Brundle suggested after Hungary and his fight with Kimi Raikkonen. “Max’s defensive technique is too junior-formula for my liking,” the respected TV pundit said. “When he’s defending, he tends to loiter in the middle of the track and then at the last moment move to the side of the track where his opponent attacks, and cut them off. It’s asking for trouble. It’s clear the other drivers are becoming frustrated with it to the point that one of them will have him off to teach him a lesson. It’s what a (Nigel) Mansell or an (Ayrton) Senna used to do whenever they thought a young driver wasn’t showing due respect.” No matter what you think of his style, Verstappen deserves huge credit for what he’s done so far.

On the teams’ side, Force India do too, the Indian-owned British-based squad on track for the best season in its existence, and with fourth-placed Williams in its crosshairs as it routinely does the best it can with what it has. Speaking of making the most out of the least, Raikkonen’s management deserves a special shout-out for convincing Ferrari to re-sign their driver for another year …

Encouragement award

Let’s split this one in multiple directions. Sergio Perez has led Force India’s rise beautifully, combining his customary tyre-saving genius with bursts of stunning speed, and scoring podiums at Monaco and in Azerbaijan. Carlos Sainz didn’t hang his head after Verstappen was promoted from Toro Rosso to Red Bull, and has enjoyed a steady stream of points-scoring finishes in a car propelled by last year’s Ferrari engine that is clearly down on grunt. McLaren racing director Eric Boullier’s claim that his team has the third-best chassis in F1 would have been ridiculed a year ago, but the Honda-powered MP4-31 is a dramatic improvement on its predecessor, even if scrapping for points seems wrong for a team with McLaren’s pedigree. Sauber gets a gold star for simply staying on the grid and shoring up its previously tenuous financial future after doing a deal with Swiss investments company Longbow Finance before Hungary. And Pascal Wehrlein’s point for Manor for 10th in Austria was proof that the hype about the 21-year-old is very real, and that bigger things surely loom on the horizon for the talented German.

Could do better

Williams’ 1980 Formula One world champion Alan Jones never pulls any punches at his most diplomatic, and didn’t take long to respond when asked before the season what his old squad needed to improve on its third-place constructors’ finishes the past two seasons. “I think it’s called a budget,” Jones said, and as the season has gone on, the Grove-based outfit has found itself under increasing pressure to retain fourth overall from Force India, with third-placed Ferrari a whopping 146 points in the distance at the mid-point of the season. Valtteri Bottas has finished all 12 races but been a bit-part player in most of them besides Canada when he finished third, while Felipe Massa is on track for his worst season in seven years, and seems unlikely to be retained in 2017. With most eyes now focused on the new rulebook, Williams’ predicament doesn’t look likely to improve unless it can make a splash at circuits like Monza and Mexico, where its prodigious straight-line speed can be unleashed.

Needs a strong second semester

It’s amazing what one win by a teammate – who was, as it turned out, placed on a clearly advantageous strategy in Spain – can do for perception. But the reality for Daniel Ricciardo paints a different picture. He sits third in the championship, has a form line that reads as a good omen (his last four race results: fifth, fourth, third, second), has dominated his teammates in qualifying like no other driver (11-1 in 12 races), and took pole position at Monaco with what might go down as the best single lap of 2016. But with Verstappen the undisputed new darling of the sport, Ricciardo needs to continue to assert himself against his teenage teammate and take the momentum from his podiums in Hungary and Germany into the final nine races. Anything less, and those with short memories will continue to raise their voices. He seems like he’s more than up for the fight, and third in the championship is a must in the race for best of the rest behind the Mercedes duo.

Elsewhere, Massa’s afore-mentioned woes might mean it’s a case of Renault or bust next year, while Esteban Gutierrez’s return to F1 has been underwhelming, Haas teammate Romain Grosjean scoring all 28 of the new team’s points in the opening 12 Grands Prix.

Extra detention

It wasn’t supposed to be this way for Ferrari, which came into 2016 confident it could take the fight to Mercedes, and has instead found itself lagging further and further behind. Things looked good when Vettel led for a lot of the season-opening Australian Grand Prix before an overly-conservative strategy call allowed Mercedes to swoop, and while he made the year’s best start in Canada, Ferrari couldn’t hang with Hamilton in Montreal when it mattered most. Technical chief James Allison is gone, chairman and CEO Sergio Marchionne’s voice is growing ever-louder, and Vettel’s frustration was evident in his decision to so publicly question Ferrari’s strategy call at Hockenheim, choosing instead to run the race his own way. After three wins for Vettel last year, 2016 has been a massive let-down.

On the drivers’ side – and we hate to kick a man while he’s down – Daniil Kvyat’s freefall after being sent back to Toro Rosso after his error-strewn display in Russia has been painful to watch. That he was on the podium in round three in China seems inconceivable, and his reaction after his Q1 exit in Germany was quite harrowing to watch. Pierre Gasly’s name has been mentioned with increasing volume as Sainz’s teammate next season, and Kvyat’s F1 future may come down to what he’s able to produce in the upcoming quartet of races from Spa to Sepang.

Sand and deliver: the Bahrain Grand Prix

A look back at five duels in the desert that have defined the Bahrain Grand Prix.

THIS STORY ORIGINALLY APPEARED ON REDBULL.COM.AU

This weekend’s Bahrain Grand Prix is the 12th to be held at the Sakhir circuit just outside of Manama, and more than a decade of Formula One racing in the small island country in the Middle East has thrown up every sort of Grand Prix. Hot ones, night ones, ones that made history, even ones that never happened. And races that are rarely short of intrigue.

Ahead of the second round of the 2016 F1 season, here’s a look back at five Bahrain races that stick in the memory.

2005: The heat is on
He may have been two years away from driving for Red Bull Racing, but Mark Webber was as forthright in a Williams as he was to be later at Milton Keynes after the second Bahrain Grand Prix. “It’s bloody hot, mate,” he surmised after 57 laps in temperatures that broke 41 degrees Celsius; for those who don’t speak fluent Australian, Fernando Alonso’s assessment (“it was the hottest race I ever raced”) might make more sense. Not that it bothered the Spaniard too much; Alonso and Renault raced to victory, his second win in succession and Renault’s third straight to start the year, while reigning world champion Michael Schumacher was an early retirement for Ferrari with hydraulics failure. Alonso finished 13 seconds ahead of Toyota’s Jarno Trulli, and added to Ferrari’s misery by lapping Schumacher’s teammate Rubens Barrichello in the latter stages. For the record, Webber – who resorted to pouring a bottle of cold water inside his helmet at one pit stop – finished sixth, while for a start-up team called Red Bull Racing, David Coulthard made it three straight points finishes to start their F1 journey with eighth.

2006: The opening salvo
With Melbourne hosting the Commonwealth Games, Bahrain stepped into the breach to hold the first race of 2006, and it was a portent of things to come. Reigning world champion Alonso muscled past Schumacher after the final pit stops for the pair and held off the Ferrari driver by 1.2 seconds to take the first of seven wins for the year; their battle would last until the final race of the season in Brazil, where the Renault pilot secured his second world title and Schumacher retired from the sport for the first time. McLaren’s Kimi Raikkonen rounded out the podium after a storming drive from last on the grid after a suspension failure caused a qualifying crash, while further back, a new name announced himself as one to watch. Nico Rosberg spun his Williams at the first corner, pitted at the end of lap one and then ripped through the field to finish seventh, scoring points on debut while setting the fastest lap of the race. Away from the headlines, Scuderia Toro Rosso made its F1 debut, Tonio Liuzzi finishing 11th as the final car on the lead lap, and Scott Speed 13th.

2010: Enduring the endurance
The second time Bahrain has hosted the season-opener – and, mercifully, the first and only time the race has been run on Sakhir’s ‘endurance layout’. The extra 900 metres of track extended the number of corners from 15 to 24, added nearly 20 seconds to the overall lap time, and unofficially saw the drivers’ dentists the main beneficiaries of a bumpy layout that bounced cars and teeth around in equal measure. While the longer circuit was never used again, Alonso’s memories of Bahrain 2010 are more positive – the Spaniard won on his Ferrari debut, becoming just the sixth man to win his maiden race for the Prancing Horse, and teammate Felipe Massa made it a magic day at Maranello when he finished second, 16 seconds adrift. The hard luck story belonged to Red Bull’s Sebastian Vettel, who took pole and led until exhaust problems cropped up less than 20 laps from home, the German hobbling home to fourth.

2012: Seb’s overdue success
Making amends for 2010 had to wait for Vettel, as the 2011 Bahrain race was cancelled because of political unrest in the region. As the reigning and two-time world champion, there weren’t too many Grands Prix the Red Bull ace hadn’t won by April 2012 when F1 returned to Sakhir, and Vettel’s victory made it four different race winners in as many Grands Prix to start that season – seven different drivers would win the opening seven races of what became a gripping campaign. A win from pole while setting the fastest lap and leading the majority of the race indicates that, on paper at least, Vettel was untroubled; reality painted a different picture, with the Lotus of Raikkonen making life very uncomfortable for Vettel in the latter half of the race before finishing three seconds adrift. Further down the grid, first-year Toro Rosso pilot Daniel Ricciardo showed signs of things to come by qualifying a stunning sixth on Saturday – and then displayed how much he still had to learn by being elbowed all the way down to 16th on lap one on Sunday and finishing a despondent 15th. Team principal Franz Tost summed it up best. “You cannot think for a young driver in that situation for the first time that they will do everything right, because the film is running too fast,” he said.

2014: The best yet
Bahrain switched to a night Grand Prix in 2014, and the race produced a spectacular floodlit battle between Mercedes teammates Lewis Hamilton and Rosberg that set the tone for the two seasons to follow. A late-race safety car turned the Grand Prix into a frantic 10-lap sprint to the flag, and the Mercedes pit wall could barely watch as their drivers raced as close as they dared. Hamilton held off Rosberg, who had the benefit of softer tyres for the final stint, by one second after some mesmerising wheel-to-wheel action. Third-placed Sergio Perez (Force India) was 24 seconds adrift at the end as the Mercedes drivers were on another planet to the rest. Hamilton felt the battle was “on a knife-edge”, and while relations with Rosberg were cordial that night, the tension only rose as the season progressed, Hamilton securing his second world title in the double-points season finale in Abu Dhabi. But it was in Bahrain that the rivalry that has defined the V6 turbo hybrid era took off, and Mercedes executive director Paddy Lowe echoed the thoughts of the paddock afterwards. “A more exciting race I cannot remember in the last decade, in terms of wheel-to-wheel racing,” he said.