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Savvy Strategy Hands Hamilton a Convincing Win

Spanish Grand Prix Race Report 2021

A great strategy by the Mercedes team and an impeccable drive by the world champion sees Hamilton take a convincing victory in Barcelona.

Off the line pole man, Hamilton had to take avoiding action at turn one as Verstappen dove up the inside to take the lead. Behind them, Leclerc caught Bottas napping, executing a lovely overtake around the outside of turn three. Ricciardo and Perez were both winners at the start, gaining two places to move into 5th and 6th as Ocon and Sainz lost positions, moving to 7th and 8th.

Verstappen and Hamilton immediately start pulling away from the rest of the drivers, and Bottas—in fourth position—loses time to them stuck behind Leclerc. The Ferrari has made huge steps forward this year but is still not in the same league as Red Bull and Mercedes.

Lap eight saw the safety car brought out for marshals to retrieve Tsunoda’s car after the Alpha Tauri’s engine stopped on the outside of turn ten.

The brief safety car period comes to an end and Verstappen gets a great restart. The race then begins to fall into the same pattern; Verstappen and Hamilton pulling away. Bottas remains behind Leclerc, his hopes of fighting for the victory diminishing with each lap. There’s a gap from these two back to Ricciardo and Perez—with the Mexican unable to find a way past the McLaren.

Barcelona is a notoriously difficult track on which to overtake; a driver needs a significant pace advantage to get past— perhaps through a much better car or through fresher tyres. Consequently, drivers are often stuck behind one another for laps on end—hence Perez and Bottas, both with faster cars— and are unable to pass the adversaries in front. With such a tight midfield this year, lots of drivers would be reliant on good tyre strategy to pass. Further back, a DRS train formed. There are designated sections of the track where, if a driver is within one second of the car in front, they can open their rear wing—like a letterbox—to reduce drag. This gives them slightly more speed. However, at a track like this, it is often still not enough to enable an overtake. Alonso in eleventh is at the front of the train, followed by Vettel and Gasly. These three seemed to keep finding themselves in a train with each other throughout the race.

Upfront, Hamilton is very much chasing Verstappen down—the Mercedes seems to be able to make the tyres last better. On lap twenty-four, Verstappen comes in for his pitstop, putting on medium tyres—all drivers (bar Raikkonen) having started on the softs. Hamilton continues for a further 4 laps before pitting, and despite Verstappen’s slightly slow stop, the Red Bull driver ends up on top—the undercut working perfectly, enabling him to regain his lead.

A flurry of pitstops happen and the winners are definitely Verstappen—remaining ahead of Hamilton—and Bottas, who manages to use his stop to jump Leclerc, and moves up into third position. The race falls back into the familiar pattern: Verstappen and Hamilton up ahead with large gaps forming between cars behind. Bottas pulls away from Leclerc, who in turn pulls away from Ricciardo, who is still keeping Perez at bay. Behind them are stable gaps between Sainz in eighth, Ocon, Norris and Stroll. But there’s closer running behind as the Alonso, Vettel, Gasly train forms yet again and overtakes Giovinazzi on much older tyres.

Again Hamilton chases Verstappen down and has more pace and his tyres are lasting longer, which is when Mercedes roll the dice on a genius strategy. Rather than risk Hamilton being unable to pass on track, they bring him in for a fresh set of medium tyres. A pitstop will see him over twenty seconds behind Verstappen, but Hamilton can then use the faster tyres to track him down and easily pass later on in the race. Red Bull only have fresh soft tyres—which probably wouldn’t last until the end of the race, and therefore they can’t pit Verstappen to cover Mercedes strategy. So, Red Bull have to stay out and watch Hamilton gradually catch them, desperately hoping—but deep down knowing—that Hamilton will breeze past Verstappen when he catches him, like Turkey 2019 playing out all over again. That is the story for the lead; it takes less than twenty laps for Hamilton to catch and pass Verstappen, executing a beautiful overtake around the outside of turn one.

Further back, there are pit stops at various times throughout the latter half of the race, making for an interesting race with many drivers out of synch, trying to regain places lost in stops on their fresher tyres. The biggest winner is probably Gasly, who manages to get to the front of the DRS train to claim the final point. The biggest loser is probably Alsono; the Alpine team trying to maintain track position to the end on old tyres were just unable to keep quicker drivers on fresher tyres behind.

Out in front, Hamilton takes an emphatic win. Verstappen seems happy with second at a ‘Mercedes’ track, Red Bull conceding that the Mercedes had the faster car and better strategy this afternoon. Bottas rounds off the podium—a Hamilton, Verstappen, Bottas podium in Spain for the fourth time in a row.

This was a good race for both Hamilton and Verstappen; Hamilton executing a fantastic strategy dreamt up by the Mercedes team, and Verstappen being able to manage a lead ahead of the much faster Hamilton for a considerable chunk of the race. With a third-place for Bottas again, it’s another strong showing for the Mercedes team. Bottas had a similar pace to Verstappen many times in the race, but being behind Leclerc for the opening part of the race put a dent into his challenge for second position, which never really materialised. Perez had a slightly frustrating race—not uncommon at this circuit. Being stuck behind the slower McLaren of Ricciardo for forty-six laps meant the Mexican was never in contention for the podium, but he did make up for it with the move of the race around the outside of turn one to when he finally did manage to pass Ricciardo.

Ferrari

Good race for the red cars—Leclerc, in particular, getting Bottas on the opening lap and managing to put a massive gap between himself and the rest of the midfield. Sainz got a little bogged down in the midfield but used fresher tyres towards the end of the race to take seventh position.

Mclaren

Ricciardo had a great race, utilising the time and practice at the circuit—a circuit he knows well, as most F1 pre-season test are done here—to seemingly get a firmer grip of his understanding of the car. The Australian converted a good qualifying session into a solid sixth-place finish, ahead of the arguably faster Ferrari of Sainz. Teammate Lando suffered in qualifying, being held up by other drivers, and had to use an extra set of tyres which affected his race. He used his later fresh tyres to get an eighth-place finish—good points for the team.

Alpine

They rolled the dice on a one-stop strategy, which didn’t quite pay off. Ocon, at one point running sixth, and Alonso eighth, however, both lost positions to drivers behind them coming through on faster, fresher tyres. But, you have to make a strategy call, and on paper, the one-stop looked like a perfectly good option. The Alpines didn’t seem to have quite the pace they had last week out but definitely held their own with the mid-field teams—until the tyres wore off. Ocon brought home points, finishing ninth, with Alonso seventeenth. Sounds like a bad result, but if those tyres had lasted he had a decent shot at tenth.

Alpha Tauri

A difficult race, with Tsunoda’s car retiring in the early stages. Gasly was given a 5-second penalty for being out of position on the starting grid (stopping his car a bit too far forward of the mark). However, good strategy and driving saw the Frenchman move from last up to tenth position, taking home the final point.

Aston Martin

The team are certainly not going to be running where they were last year, regulation changes over the winter break having affected their car significantly. Stroll sometimes ran in the lower end of the top ten, Vettel never quite broke into it. Not the most exciting race for the team!

Alpha Romeos

They played the one-stop with Kimi, and although he didn’t get points, it did give him a good twelfth place finish. The Finn was running up in sixth at one point, until he was slowly but surely overtaken by those behind him on faster tyres. Giovinazzi didn’t ever seem to hook up the car today and came in fifteenth.

Williams

Another stonking race for Russell—at one point running well in seventh—granted, everyone else around him had pitted, but still nice to see a Williams in the top ten. Russell was holding his own in the battle for tenth at one point, chasing down Alonso before his tyres seemed to drop off a cliff. Yet again, the young brit outperformed the Williams. Russell finished fourteenth and teammate Latifi, who seemed to have a quiet race, finished sixteenth. A positive for Williams as they seemed to have significantly more pace than the Haas team—the other team consistently at the rear of the grid.

Haas

Running at the back for pretty much all of the race, the Haas team really seem to be struggling to find any pace to keep up with the Williams, Schumacher finishing eighteenth and Mazepin nineteenth.

 

Driver of the Day- Hamilton (and the Mercedes strategists!)
Honourable mentions- Leclerc, Verstappen, Russell, Gasly, Ricciardo—good day for a lot of drivers!

Numpty of the day- Mazepin—again completely ignoring blue flags.

Spanish Grand Prix Race Results

  1. Hamilton
  2. Verstappen (Fastest Lap)
  3. Bottas
  4. Leclerc
  5. Perez
  6. Ricciardo
  7. Sainz
  8. Norris
  9. Ocon
  10. Gasly

Race Highlights

 

Next Time

MONACO BABY! F1 is back in the legendary street circuit that is Monaco. Ooooh, it’s going to be super tight here! Iconic, tight, twisty: a narrow circuit requiring millimetre accuracy. Notoriously difficult to overtake here, but chaos can ensue as the short circuit means leaders constantly dealing with backmarkers and the potential anyone can be in the wall at any moment.

Where to Watch

USA: Sunday 23rd May Live on ESPN race start at 10:00 am EST
UK: Sunday 23rd May Live on Sky Sports F1 race start at 2:00 pm GMT
Highlights on Sky One and Channel Four—time TBC Sunday 23rd May.

Written by Jenny Alderton

Jenny is a freelance writer based in Wales with keen interest in Motorsports. An avid follower of Formula one for over twenty years she has recently branched out into watching other vehicles driving around in wiggly circles. Namely, Motogp, World Superbike championship, and British Superbike championship.

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