Verstappen’s touted victory never materialised as Hamilton and Mercedes hooked up their tyres this weekend at the Spanish Grand Prix in Barcelona. It’s a testament to the brilliance of the Mercedes team that they were able to learn from the tyre issues of Silverstone so quickly, and seemingly implement those changes to ensure a clear victory this weekend. Taking nothing away from Verstappen’s win last week, I do feel that if Mercedes hadn’t had tyre issues there it would have been a different story: much more like the one we saw this weekend in Spain.
Off the line Hamilton got a great start converting his pole into a lead, Bottas got a poor getaway—being passed by Verstappen and Stroll—whose perfect start moved him from fifth to third. Both Alpha Tauri’s did well: Gasley gaining two positions at the start to move him into eighth place and Kyvat effecting the move of the race around the outside of Ricciardo at turn four on the second lap.
Lap five saw Bottas move into third, overtaking Stroll who maturely did not fight for the position too hard. Part of racing is understanding who your real fight is with and not expending too much tyre life and energy fighting losing battles. In this case, Strolls real race was with his teammate Perez—in fifth—and to spend too much time and effort battling the much faster Mercedes would have only slowed down his own race, handing Perez an advantage.
Pretty much all the action for this race was in the closely packed midfield as Hamilton, Verstappen, and Bottas sailed off into the lead and the race fell into a fairly familiar pattern for this year—top three drivers, followed by the Racing Points then the mid-field gaggle with Haas’, Alfa Romeo’s and Williams at the rear.
The soft tyres lasted longer than anticipated and many drivers went deeper into the race than expected on them. Hamilton seemed very comfortable on his softs, gradually increasing his lead over Verstappen in the opening stint. Verstappen was desperate to get fresh tyres in order to chase Hamilton down but the team stuck to a slightly later pit stop which allowed him to rejoin the race in front of the Racing Points, therefore not having to overtake them on a difficult track to pass on. Hamilton, Verstappen, and Bottas were able to pit twice for tyres without losing track position and pretty much retained their positions throughout the race. Ultimately they were in a race of their own, and with increasing gaps between them there was very little action between the top three, if any! Come the end of the race there was 23 seconds between first and second and a further 23 seconds between second and third—not the most exciting, close, wheel-to-wheel racing!
To the mid-field! A far more interesting race that saw tyre management and strategies come into their own.
Most drivers opted for a two-stop race, often exiting the pit lane straight into the action. Ferrari rolled the dice with Vettel opting for a one-stop race; running in fifth after his contemporaries had completed their second stop, Vettel would drop way out of the points if he pitted. Therefore Ferrari took a gamble not to bring him in and see how far he could make his tyres last; a gamble which paid off. The situation did highlight the growing tensions between the team and Vettel with some awkward radio exchanges, however, this was Vettel’s best performance this year and landed him a seventh-place finish. The other Ferrari suffered a technical failure, leaving Leclerc with a DNF when he was probably on for fifth or sixth. The team spent some of the race in battles with the Alpha Tauri’s who seemed to really connect with the conditions here but are nonetheless seen as a lower mid-field team. Ferrari would view themselves as a front running team, however their performance this year is not matching that expectation.
The Renaults attempted the one-stop strategy; however, this did not succeed for them as much as it did for Vettel, as Ricciardo and Ocon were caught and passed by several runners on fresher tyres. They eventually came in eleventh and thirteenth respectively. The Mclaren’s had a solid race—both drivers finishing within the points—with Sainz in sixth and Norris in tenth. Both these teams run on Renault power units and rumours have it that these engines don’t retain the power for as many races as other engines, therefore when they have new engines these cars may be more competitive. Cars are allowed up to 4 power units in a season with 20 or fewer races, and five in a season with over 20 races. Therefore they try to make each power unit last. Ocon will have a new one for the next race allowing us to see if there may be any truth to these rumours.
Albon put in a solid drive and executed some of his now-signature overtakes around the outside of various drivers to come eighth. It seems a real shame he is lacking pace on a Saturday; the guy has serious race pace and fantastic overtaking capabilities, but is failing to give himself the optimum grid positions for the race day. Whilst Verstappen regularly qualifies in the top four and is therefore able to tag on to the Mercedes and leave the mid-field behind, Albon seems unable to quite hook his car up on a Saturday leaving him qualifying amongst the mid-field and being drawn into their battles on race day. As great as it is to watch him fighting wheel to wheel amongst these guys I would like to see him unleash his potential at the front of the grid where—I feel—he has the pace to be.
Another good race for the Alpha Tauri’s saw them come in ninth and twelfth: after running good battles with the Ferraris earlier on in the race.
As the top three sailed away these midfield teams battled and popped in and out of places as the pit stops came and went, running closely and keeping the exciting midfield season going strongly. Ahead of this once again this year we saw Hamilton dominate: he’s now broken Schumacher’s record of the most podiums, surely it’s only time before he equals the Germans seven world championships?
Driver of the day: Vettel.
Honourable mentions: Stroll, Sainz,
Spanish Grand Prix Race Results
- Bottas (fastest lap)
Next up, fan favourite Spa Francorchamps!
Where to watch
USA: Sunday 30th August live on ESPN. Race starts at 9:05 EST
UK: Sunday 30th August live on Sky sports F1. Race starts at 1:05 pm
Highlights on Channel Four and Sky One Sunday 30th August evening. Time to be confirmed.