Nico Rosberg believes he was robbed of a certain victory following his sensational opening-lap collision with Lewis Hamilton in Sunday’s Spanish Grand Prix.
Pole-sitter Hamilton lost the lead and then lost control of his car, crashing into Rosberg, before both drivers ended up in the gravel trap in what is likely to be the defining image of the season.
Max Verstappen, the 18-year-old making his debut for Red Bull, capitalised on the crash to become Formula One’s youngest-ever winner ahead of the Ferrari pair of Kimi Raikkonen and Sebastian Vettel.
But while the Dutchman, who only obtained his road driving licence in September, must be lauded for the maturity of his drive, his achievement has somewhat been overshadowed by the incredible scenes at Mercedes.
The collision here is the first between the championship protagonists since the Belgian Grand Prix in 2014, but it is also the first in which they have taken each other out.
Rosberg, who was bidding to become only the second driver in the modern era to claim eight consecutive victories, passed Hamilton on the run down to turn one, but an engine setting, incorrectly deployed by the German, enabled Hamilton to decrease the gap to his team-mate at a greater speed.
In defending his lead, Rosberg moved to block his team-mate, Hamilton took to the grass, spun, and then collided with the German.
“I was really ecstatic about the first-corner move, to get the lead, and from then I was sure it was my race to win,” a frustrated Rosberg said. “I saw Lewis closing in, and as soon as I could, I closed the door with a clear strong move to make sure he understands that there is not going to be space. I was very surprised that he went for it.”
Niki Lauda, Mercedes’ non-executive chairman, shared Rosberg’s view and blamed Hamilton for the incident describing the Briton’s driving as “too aggressive”. The crash, however, was investigated by the stewards, who took no further action.
“I don’t have a reaction to it,” said Hamilton when informed of Lauda’s opinion. “I apologised to Niki as he is a part of this team and he has been a huge supporter of mine, for letting him and the team down. I don’t have anything else to say about it.”
While Hamilton apologised to the team, he was not prepared to accept fault for the collision and added: “I saw a gap and I went for it and that’s what racing drivers do.”
Asked if he had spoken to Rosberg, the Briton replied: “We’ve not really had a conversation. As a team we’ve sat down united. We haven’t come out any worse than it already is. We haven’t got any penalties which is a good thing.”
While Lauda was prepared to point the finger at Hamilton, Toto Wolff, the Mercedes boss, was more measured and did not wish to apportion blame. Following the dramatic crash, the safety car was deployed and Daniel Ricciardo led from Verstappen.
But when Verstappen opted for a different strategy, pitting one less time than his new team-mate, he found himself in the lead with 22 laps remaining. From there, he did not look back and held off the challenge from Raikkonen to secure his place in Formula One history.
“I can’t believe it,” said Verstappen, who eclipses Vettel’s youngest-ever winner record, set at the 2008 Italian Grand Prix, by a mighty two years and 137 days.
“To win straight away in the first race is an amazing feeling.”
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