Max Verstappen‘s 2022 Spanish Grand Prix win was far from easy and he needed all of his experience to stay somewhat composed as he recovered from an early spin.
Remarkably, Verstappen has become the 11th most successful driver in Formula 1 on the win count and his latest victory in Barcelona showed glimpses of his phenomenal maiden win at the same track six years ago.
Starting from second, Verstappen tucked in behind Leclerc during the opening laps until an uncharacteristic error saw him slide off the track at Turn 4, just a few minutes after Carlos Sainz spun at that corner, only to gather the car up and crawl out of the gravel.
However, at that moment the win looked over as Verstappen dropped to fourth behind George Russell and Sergio Perez, with Charles Leclerc 10 seconds ahead in the lead.
What happened to Verstappen at Turn 4?
It’s been a long time since Verstappen has made an unforced error in a race, but a strong tail wind going into Turn 4 that changed to a crosswind as the driver turns in caught him out.
“I really don’t know what happened at Turn 4,” Verstappen told Sky Sports. “I braked at the same point and suddenly I completely lost the rear which caught me by surprise.
“They told me it was wind because it was very gusty. On some laps at Turn 4 it was stable, some laps it was more on the edge.”
Perez let Verstappen by but Russell was always going to be a tougher challenge, and that was without having a DRS issue.
Keeping a cool head
Verstappen sounded rattled on the radio when his rear wing began to have problems when he wanted to use DRS.
In Q3 on Saturday, Verstappen‘s DRS didn’t work on his final run and Red Bull were still trying to resolve the problem on the grid prior to the race.
Whatever they tried, it didn’t work as Verstappen‘s DRS had an intermittent issue that prevented him from easing by Russell.
“Nothing was lost with the mistake at Turn 4, but my DRS started to have issues,” said Verstappen. “It was a very frustrating 20 laps
“Sometimes it opened mid-way down the straight and I could just get a run. I was spamming the button and it would sometimes open then close.
“I was more upset with my DRS issue than getting stuck behind Russell. It was hard and tough racing.”
Perhaps a more inexperienced Verstappen would have gone for a dive bomb at Turn 1 or begin to overdrive the car and make another mistake.
Not the Verstappen that has matured, as we saw for most of 2021, and knows the importance of not tangling with another driver, especially one who is not your main title rival.
Of course, Russell was defending brilliantly as we saw on Lap 22 when Verstappen went for it down the inside at Turn 1 only for the Mercedes driver to aggressively withstand his ground and hold him off through the next few corners.
Remember, this was before Leclerc retired so Verstappen could so easily have seen the red mist, knowing that the win was escaping him.
Red Bull deserve lots of credit too for going on the offensive with their strategy and committing early to a three-stopper with Verstappen.
It may have caught Mercedes off guard as Leclerc had only just retired so the Russell–Verstappen–Perez battle became a fight for the lead.
Verstappen pumped in the sector and lap times to begin closing in on Russell and Perez, who at the time appeared to be on a two-stop strategy.
Stopping three times turned out to be the best way to get to the chequered flag, so Verstappen was able to optimise the strategy by getting everything from the tyres and doing the optimal stints.
When Verstappen pitted for a third and final time, he came out ahead of Russell thanks to his sensational pace and had just six seconds to close on Perez.
He was on a charge, lapping nearly two seconds quicker than the Mexican on his first few laps out of the pit lane.
Should Red Bull have used team orders?
Verstappen and Perez were on different strategies so it’s difficult to complain about team orders in this situation, especially since the former is the most likely Red Bull driver to compete for the championship.
Imagine a safety car comes out and Verstappen is stuck behind Perez. The pair may have pitted for fresh rubber, but Russell would have been within five seconds so may have jumped the second-place driver. By letting Verstappen through, the chances of a double stack were wiped away.
It’s tough for Perez and he showed again that he is a true team player which Red Bull won’t forget.
However, Verstappen is the naturally quicker driver and Red Bull wanted to inflict as much punishment on Ferrari as possible following Leclerc‘s retirement.
A second 1-2 of the season did exactly that, and the championship momentum has definitely swung towards Verstappen as he takes a handy lead of six points into the Monaco GP.