Verstappen wants Spanish magic repeat to pile pressure on Hamilton

Brawn says Verstappen reminds him of 7-time champion Schumacher

BARCELONA • Fresh from winning last Sunday’s 70th Anniversary race at Silverstone, Max Verstappen returns to the scene of his maiden Formula One (F1) triumph seeking to intensify his title challenge with the 10th win of his career at this weekend’s Spanish Grand Prix (GP).

The 22-year-old Dutchman was only 18 when, on his debut with Red Bull, he took full advantage of a first-lap collision involving both Mercedes drivers, to surge to victory in the 2016 Spanish GP.

Four years on, with Mercedes running Valtteri Bottas alongside Lewis Hamilton, the champion team will be keen to avoid a similar scenario to that torrid afternoon when Nico Rosberg was his combative teammate.

This time around, they will also hope that they do not have the same tyre-wear and blistering problems that afflicted both Hamilton and Bottas at Silverstone in the recent British and 70th Anniversary races, won by the six-time champion and Verstappen on successive weekends respectively.

Tyres are expected, once again, to be a key factor in deciding the outcome at the Circuit de Catalunya where high temperatures may also influence the result, notably because the race, scheduled originally to take place in May, has been delayed until August due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Air temperatures are forecast to be in the high twenties, cooler than at sweltering Silverstone last Sunday, but warmer than usual in early May.

To Mercedes’ likely relief, Pirelli has said they will revert to their harder tyre compounds, instead of the extra-soft tyres used at Silverstone where Hamilton suffered a last-lap puncture in one race and struggled with severe blisters in the other.

“It’s a different track, so let’s see how competitive we are against Mercedes this time and how the temperatures impact everyone,” said Verstappen, who is 30 points behind Hamilton in the championship after five races.

“The Barcleona track is quite hard on the tyres, so I’m not sure how they will hold out in the heat — there will be a lot of unknowns as we usually race there earlier in the year, but I’m looking forward to it.

“After the win last weekend, I’m excited to get back on track. It was a massive team achievement for us and for Honda to win — an amazing result, if a bit unexpected.

“It just shows that if you keep pushing towards a goal, then great results are always possible.”

The Dutchman’s impressive performance last weekend stirred memories for former Ferrari technical director and present F1 motorsport MD Ross Brawn who said he reminded him of seven-time champion Michael Schumacher.

The great German driver won all of his titles under Brawn’s guidance, two at Benetton and five with Ferrari.

“He was simply sensational at Silverstone,” said Brawn.

“He reminds me of Michael in so many ways. When you listen to his radio, he’s clearly got spare capacity.”

Mercedes performance boss Andrew Shovlin said they were anticipating another difficult weekend.

“I think we’d be foolish to say that we are not going to see this problem again and we are not going to see it in Spain,” he said.

“We need to be looking at solutions, and if we can make good progress and understand the nature of our problem, then I’d like to think we can get on top of it.

“But there’s no doubt Spain is going to be tough.” — AFP