Under near cloudless skies on the outskirts of Barcelona, the Spanish Grand Prix would see the start of the European season. The sub plots interesting, given the poor start to the season by Lewis Hamilton and the Red Bull driver swap seeing Max Verstappen elevated to the front of the field.
After a warmer than expected qualifying session, Ferrari form dropped and will start in fifth and sixth on the third row, the top ten all starting on the soft tyres. With those outside the top ten, they get to choose they starting tyre compound but only Haryanto would opt for the medium tyre.
With the heat haze forming, the cars went away on the formation lap, Hamilton leading them away from the start line. Heading back onto the grid, the lights went out with a great start from Rosberg and Max Verstappen with Vettel slotting in fourth. Rosberg got ahead of Hamilton into the first corner. Rosberg forced Hamilton off the road at the exit of turn 3, with Hamilton on the grass and the two colliding into the turn 3. He was squeezed too much by Rosberg, taking them both out of the race. It brought out the safety car.
Under the safety car it was a Red Bull one-two, Ricciardo leading from Verstappen and Sainz. Vettel who had his own problems at the start in turn 3 had dropped down to fourth.
The safety car came in at the end of lap 3. Ricciardo led the field away from the front. Sainz had Vettel and Raikkonen close behind. At the end of the first lap, the gap between the leaders was 1.2 second, with Sainz the same back on his former teammate. Bottas fell back from the Ferrari drivers who were in fourth and fifth.
Vettel tried to pass Sainz into the first corner on lap 7, with the Spanish driver keeping the position, but without the help of DRS. Raikkonen was close behind his teammate as well. A lap later and Vettel made the move work on the Toro Rosso, with the help of some DRS and Raikkonen would be next in line. Bottas had also closed in on the back of Raikkonen. Raikkonen tried the outside move into the first corner, although was forced off the road.
Massa came into the pits on lap 9, with the Williams driver going for the medium tyre. Raikkonen made the move on Sainz a lap later, although the gap between Verstappen and Vettel was increasing. Ericsson also pitted at the back of the field, along with Sergio Perez. Hulkenberg also stopped in the other Force India.
Sainz pitted from fifth in the Toro Rosso, a set of the mediums for the first of the leading drivers and he came out ahead of the Force India. Massa overtook Hulkenberg, taking advantage of the undercut in the Williams.
With other stopping around them, Red Bull pitted Daniel Ricciardo on lap 12 from the lead, a set of the medium tyres for him as well. McLaren also stopping Alonso. It would mean that Max Verstappen would lead a lap of the Grand Prix. Verstappen stopped a lap later in the sister car, a set of the mediums as well for the Dutchman. Raikkonen and Bottas also stopped. Verstappen came out ahead of Gutierrez who had yet to stop. Vettel remained on the circuit, with Grosjean in second – also not stopped in the Haas.
Ricciardo overtook a non-stopping Grosjean on fresher tyres on lap 14. Button and Alonso were in 10th and 11th in the McLarens, with drivers up the road who have not stopped. Raikkonen was also stuck behind a Haas, with Verstappen getting ahead of Grosjean, and Raikkonen getting ahead of Gutierrez.
Ferrari pitted on lap 15 for Sebastian Vettel. It was a set of the medium tyres for the German driver, with a 2,4 second stop coming out ahead of Raikkonen who was held up by Gutierrez. Grosjean pitted on the same lap leaving Red Bull at the front of the field. The gap from Verstappen to Vettel had reduced to three seconds. Massa, behind Fernando Alonso was also closing in quickly on the McLaren at the bottom end of the top ten.
Vettel was closing in on Verstappen by lap 18, with the gap between the two drivers down to under two seconds. The German on newer tyres than the Red Bull. At the lower end of the top ten, and there was a nice battle developing between Alonso, Massa and Grosjean for 9th place.
After advancing to a second behind the Red Bull, the Ferrari driver couldn’t get any closer and remained behind Verstappen. Hulkenberg retired at the latter on the lap with smoking coming from the back of his Force India – the team asking him to stop by a Fire Marshall. Flames were shown coming from the back of the car in replays.
At the front of the field and Verstappen had closed in slightly on his teammate, with the top three covered by just two seconds. Raikkonen was further back in the other Ferrari, six seconds down on the leader. Bottas had dropped to over 20 seconds away from the leaders.
Lap 24, and the leaders started to lap the back markers, them first coming onto the back of Rio Haryanto in the Manor. He had just stopped after setting 24 laps on the medium tyre. After several laps of lapping ahead of the leaders, Haryanto let all of them past on lap 26.
Massa pitted on lap 27, the Williams driver starting from the back of the field on a different strategy, he dropped back to 15th. Raikkonen had also got ahead of Haryanto and had started to close in on Vettel.
Ricciardo stopped on lap 28, handing the lead to Verstappen. Red Bull put on a set of the soft tyres, with the team handing an olive branch to Sebastian Vettel. Riccairdo came out ahead of Bottas, who in himself was having a lonely race in fifth place.
Ferrari responded with Vettel, with them trying to undercut Verstappen who didn’t stop. The Dutchman would officially lead a race in the Red Bull. With new tyres Ricciardo and Vettel were trading fastest lap times, closing down Raikkonen and Verstappen.
Further back Gutierrez and Grosjean got ahead of Palmer, who then came into the pits on lap 34, all happening on the outside of the points. The Haas drivers were swapping paint. Verstappen pitted on the same lap, another set of the medium tyre for the Dutchman with them looking to head to the end of the race.
Ferrari reacted to the Red Bull move, although neither were really within in two stop strategy, stopping a little early. Verstappen remained ahead of the Ferrari. Sergio Perez also pitted in the Force India.
At the front, the new battle was between Ricciardo and Vettel. The gap down to a second with traffic up the road for the pair to negotiate. Grosjean went wide and through the gravel at turn 7, with Jenson Button also stopping in the McLaren.
After Ferrari bluffed the lap before, they brought Vettel in on lap 38. He came out behind his teammate, but ahead of the lapped Haryanto. Grosjean also pitted after his off track excursion. Williams pitted Bottas on lap 40, with 26 laps remaining to the end of the race. Massa was also in the pits on lap 42.
The order at the end of lap 43 was Ricciardo, Verstappen, Raikkonen, Vettel and Bottas.
Ricciardo pitted, it was another set of the medium tyres for the Red Bull driver. He came out behind two dicing Saubers and more importantly the two Ferrari drivers. Ricciardo had tyres nine laps newer than his team mate, a couple up on the Ferrari drivers.
Fernando Alonso retired from the race on lap 47, he was in the points as well in the McLaren. The car on the inside of turn three, but not needing a safety car as he stopped by a gap in the wall. Replayed showed that he lost the throttle.
Raikkonen was closing in on Verstappen, while Ricciardo was also closing in on Vettel.
By lap 53 and Raikkonen was still on the back of the Red Bull, but even with the DRS he couldn’t overtake. Ricciardo behind was closing in on the Ferrari, while Kvyat pitted from the lower end of the top ten in the Toro Rosso. Button was elevated to the top ten. Having pitted, Kvyat a lap down was right behind the leading pack and was faster on newer tyres.
With the gap close at the front, Ricciardo was closing in on Vettel, with Kvyat was glued to the rear wing of the Red Bull. The leaders also had traffic in the distance as well, both nursing tyres which were certainly more than used.
Ricciardo took it down the inside of Vettel at the first corner on lap 59, with him not making the move stick, and remaining ahead of Kvyat who kept a watching brief behind.
Verstappen and Raikkonen were hit with a lot of traffic on lap 60, they gained time on the group behind after they squabbled the lap before giving the pair room. Ricciardo tried again on Vettel, but the Ferrari had the move covered.
Button overtook Gutierrez with Vettel and Ricciardo behind even closer. They were split by Gutierrez meaning that Ricciardo fell back. Ricciardo had half a move on the Ferrari again with three laps remaining, but it didn’t really come to anything. Verstappen managed to lose Raikkonen, with the gap increasing to over a second.
Verstappen was increasing the gap to over a second, with Kvyat having a go at Ricciardo after the Red Bull driver was struggling and lost time behind Vettel. Daniel Ricciardo had a puncture on the Red Bull, with him trying to get it back to the pits.
Verstappen held on though to be the youngest ever winner of a Formula One race, an amazing race for Red Bull! Raikkonen finished second with Vettel in third.