The circuit at Circuit-de Barcelona-Catalunya has been host to a F1 grand-prix since 1991, and in the period 2007-2016 saw a different race winner each year! That includes everyone’s favourite loose canon Pastor Maldonado who won it it 2012 for Williams.
Despite the variety, in the same period, the race has been won from pole position 7 times, so the races haven’t provided much movement in terms of over taking. The narrow track and corner that just keep coming, mean getting past your oppponent can be tricky, even if you’re faster! The one long straight, the start/finish sraight provides the best opportunity, providing you can own the racing line into turn one so your opponent doesn’t end up on the inside for turn 2!
This year was different, this year was exciting (as was last year, but mainly because of this). This year gave us the best example of 3 time champion Hamilton going up against 4 time champion Vettel. These two are the juggernaughts of the current generation of Formula 1 drivers in terms of championship wins. This is the rivalry that F1 fans have begging to see since the talent of these two became clear. This year provides them with the first chance they’ve had to really compete for the championship head to head, and Spain gave us a taster of what is to come in the rest of the season.
Spain showed how closely matched Hamilton and Vettel are: Hamilton beat Vettel to pole by 0.051 seconds – literally less than a blink of an eye! When the lights went out, it was Vettel who was first into turn one. There was some shenanigans down the field as Bottas tapped Raikonnen who gave a slightly larger tap to Verstappen. This took the top two drivers from last year’s race out with car damage. Things didn’t go to plan for Alonso either – despite qualifying an amazing 7th in front of his home crowd, Massa (who sustained a tyre puncture as a result of the Verstappen/Raikkonen incident) edged him of the track and out of the top ten, where he would stay for the rest of the race.
At the end of lap one, Vettel was flying. Having built up a gap of 2.2 seconds, Hamilton was struggling to keep up with him. Ferrari were the first to pit – denying Hamilton to do an undercut with fresher tyres, and now it really seemed like Vettel would be taking his 3rd victory of the season. But a sneaky strategy change from Mercedes put Hamilton on the harder compound tyres for the middle stint of the race, leaving his softer, grippier and faster tyres for the end. Mercedes then used Bottas to hold Vettel up after the German came out of the pits to buy Hamilton even more time. Eventually Vettel got past Bottas with a marvellous double-bluff pass.
A tactical pitstop by Hamilton just as the virtual safety car was ending brough him out of the pits right with Vettel, and it looked like he might get passed him on turn one. Vettel held him off though, forcing him wide. For 7 laps Hamilton was all over the back of Vettel – he had the faster tyres, so the ball was clearly in his court. Then, on lap 44 Hamilton powered down the home straight past the pits with his DRS open, and passed Vettel, who could do nothing about it. Vettel then went on to say on the radio “I had no chance; he was like a train.”
That secured it for Hamilton, and even though he had to make his softer tyres last for the remaining 22 laps, kept his cool and brought his Mercedes home in first, following by a lagging Vettel who was followed by and even more lagging, and fairly anonymous Daniel Ricciardo, whose Red Bull was a huge 75 seconds down on Hamilton and was the only driver aside from Vettel not to be lapped.
Another theme of this season has been good battles going on further down the field. Force India took 4th and 5th, picking up vital points in their battle against Williams. Force India are on the edge of bringing the battle to Red Bull, who sit only 19 points ahead of them in the constructor’s table. Hulkenberg (Renault), Sainz (Toro-Rosso), Wehrlein (Sauber), Kvyat (Toro-Rosso) and Grosjean (Haas) rounded up the top 10, each scoring good points for their team. A big shout out to young Pascal Wehrlein, who managed to finish 8th in a SAUBER! That car usually ends up 19th or 20th, but if you’ve read my ‘Formula Young‘ post will know that Wehrlein has the ability to out drive his car.
Disappointing day for McLaren again, with Vandoorne retiring after hitting Massa in what appears to be a real amateur mistake, not something we’re used to seeing from the Belgian. The incident also picked him up a grid penalty for the next race, and with overtaking there being basically impossible, he’s probably ruined his weekend there as well. Alonso, despite qualifying 7th, finished in 12th. While this is an improvement on the previous races in the season, it’s still not where McLaren should be. The pressure is on Honda to produce them an engine which can at least be consistently in the points. Every finish where Alonso isn’t even close to the top 3 hammers another nail into the coffin of his career at McLaren. Hopefully his race at the Indy500 next weekend will mean he’ll be back in Canada feeling refreshed and ready to score some points!
Unusually the DNF list is made up of mostly big names from big teams: Raikkonen and Verstappen went out on the first corner, Vandoorne hit Massa and Botta’s engine blew – a shame for the Finn who was running third. After the race he seemed distraught – a real contrast of a weekend compared to Russia.
Monaco – 28th May
Next up – Monaco: the jewel in the F1 crown. With Hamilton being only 6 points behind Vettel after 5 races, it’s impossible to say how the season, let alone the next race will go! Mercedes and Ferrari will be looking for the edge over the other, Red Bull will be trying to catch up with them. Force India will be catching up, and Williams will be trying to keep up, though probably unsuccessfully. The rest of the field will be pretty evenly match in the fight for the final few points scoring places, but as always in Monaco, qualifying is key. We can already count Vandoorne out who’ll most likely be starting from the back, but the rest of grid have almost an equal chance of getting some points!
Oh yeah, and this guy will be back!
Special thanks to Robert Milne for supplying me with photos from the Spanish Grand Prix which he attended – sorry o didn’t have room for all of them!