MONTMELO: A year can be a long time in Formula One.
Max Verstappen learned just how fickle fortune can be on Sunday when he crashed out on the opening lap of the Spanish Grand Prix.
A year ago, Max Verstappen made history on the very same track, when he sped away to victory to become the youngest race winner at the age of 18.
In taking that momentous win, the Dutch teenager benefited from a crash between race favorites Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg when their dueling Mercedes collided just three turns after the start.
Despite not winning a race since, Verstappen came very close last year with four more runner-up finishes.
So he arrived back on the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya with high hopes to repeat his victory, especially given that his Red Bull team had spent the previous two weeks introducing upgrades to try and close the gap on title favorites Mercedes and Ferrari.
"Sometimes you have a bit of luck, like last year, sometimes you don't as we can see this year," Verstappen said. "It was shame to not be able to take part in the race after the incident as I think with this weekend's upgrades it could have been fun and we could have got a good result."
But the game of inches played at blistering speed turned against him this time.
Verstappen's race was over just seconds after it began when his car was on the receiving end of a knock between Valtteri Bottas' Mercedes and Kimi Raikkonen's Ferrari.
With the trio starting just behind pole-sitter Lewis Hamilton and F1 leader Sebastian Vettel on the grid, they all immediately jousted for position and entered the first turn side-by-side.
Bottas' slight nudge of Raikkonen caused a chain-reaction, sending Raikkonen into Verstappen. The collision damaged the front suspensions of both cars, knocking Raikkonen off the track and forcing Verstappen to hobble back to the garage for good.
"An unfortunate start to the race which ultimately finished it also," Verstappen said. "I tried to go around the outside as there was plenty of room there. If Valtteri had not touched Kimi, we all would have had enough room to get through that corner."
This was his second did-not-finish this year after Bahrain, when his brakes failed, sending him into the wall. Otherwise, Verstappen has shown evidence of being the best driver outside the top four drivers for Mercedes and Ferrari. His best result was third place in China, with two more fifth-place finishes when he has stayed on the track.
It was not all bad news for Red Bull, however.
Daniel Ricciardo got his best finish of the season, coming in third behind winner Hamilton and Vettel. And, call it F1 karma or not, Bottas' car breaking down in a cloud of smoke allowed Ricciardo to reach the podium.
"I got a bit fortunate with Valtteri's problem towards the end of the race which bumped me up to third, but of course I'm still happy to be up there again and see all the smiles from the team," Ricciardo said. "Today we will enjoy the podium but tomorrow we need to understand how to further close the gap to Ferrari and Mercedes."
Their next chance will be in two weeks at the Monaco GP.