The Circuit de Barcelona-Cataluyna hosted its 30th edition to the Spanish Grand Prix a little bit later than planned this year. Slightly surprisingly going ahead six months after pre-season testing at the circuit in February, it was a different story to those cool temperatures. After the 70th Anniversary race at Silverstone, the heat and tyres was always going to be a factor; would Mercedes struggle again? Could Max Verstappen bring himself into play? Consequently, for most, it was a two-stop race but it is a difficult circuit to overtake on so while lap records tumbled again, it wasn’t that entertaining of a race as only three finished on the lead lap.
It was notable for several reasons though. Kimi Raikkonen broke the record for most distance raced in an F1 car on lap 37 at over 52,000 miles; more than twice the circumference of the Earth, Sergio Perez returned to the paddock after his experience with Coronavirus and potentially, the last time in Qualifying Mercedes could use their infamous ‘party mode’ with the high power qualifying modes expected to be banned by the time F1 goes racing in Belgium. For the race winner Lewis Hamilton [Pictured above, image from South China Morning Post], he recorded a landmark150th front row start and translated that into his 88th victory and 156th podium; taking the record for most podiums in F1 outright.
‘…it’s obviously going to slow us down, but I don’t think it is gong to get the result they want’. Hamilton was discussing the prospect of the ‘party mode’ settings being banned. Mercedes have benefited from these qualifying modes more than most taking 100 pole positions since the start of the turbo era in 2014. The FIA trying to slow a team down is nothing new. In 2011, special advisor to Red Bull Helmut Marko said something similar when the FIA tried to ban the blown diffuser mid-season. It did not change anything. Red Bull were still dominant afterwards with Sebastian Vettel taking 5 wins from the remaining 11 to take his second title. There are also rumours Mercedes did not use the settings in Qualifying in anticipation of the ban. They were still seven-tenths quicker.
F1 wants to see the cars closer for better action as evident by the regulation changes now coming in 2022, we all do but the ban would affect every team, not just Mercedes. Hamilton may well be proven right…
Spanish Grand Prix Qualifying
Q1: 1st Lewis Hamilton 1:16.872……………15th Kimi Raikkonen 1:17.797; 16th Kevin Magnussen +0.111, 17th Romain Grosjean +0.292, 18th George Russell +0.302, 19th Nicholas Latifi +0.735, 20th Antonio Giovinazzi +0.900
Q2: 1st Lewis Hamilton 1:16.013………10th Lando Norris 1:17.166; 11th Sebastian Vettel +0.002, 12th Daniil Kvyat +0.026, 13th Daniel Ricciardo +0.032, 14th Kimi Raikkonen +0.220, 15th Esteban Ocon +0.401
Q3: 1st Lewis Hamilton 1:15.584, 2nd Valtteri Bottas +0.059, 3rd Max Verstappen +0.708, 4th Sergio Perez +0.898, 5th Lance Stroll +1.005, 6th Alex Albon +1.445, 7th Carlos Sainz +1.460, 8th Lando Norris +1.500, 9th Charles Leclerc +1.503, 10t Pierre Gasly +1.552
The Mercedes pair were closely matched in the timesheets topping all three practice sessions. Hamilton had the advantage. He was quickest in every session bar FP1 on his way to a sensational 92nd pole position. The world champion got the start spot on and built a 1.5s gap lead on the opening lap. Given the tyre struggles in the heat at Silverstone, it was a sublime performance controlling his pace and tyres stretching the opening stint to lap 23 and his awareness to stick with the Medium for the final stint is something only experience provides. I often wonder how drivers keep their concentration and focus leading start to finish but Hamilton was so in the zone he didn’t realise it was the final lap. He took his 88th win; Michael Schumacher’s 91 and equalling 7th title is getting ever closer with stellar performances like this.
For Valtteri Bottas, he can already ‘see the championship drifting away’. After two bruising rounds at Silverstone, Bottas needed a result in Spain more than anyone, After edging Hamilton in FP1 he looked to be on the right track but that would ultimately be the best his weekend got. Despite Hamilton not improving on his final Q3 run, the Finn could not find enough to steal pole. A less than ideal start off the grid saw him drop a couple paces on the opening lap and while he got past Stroll after a few laps he didn’t really look like he could challenge Verstappen for 2nd. Pitting a third time allowed him to secure the fastest lap point on the final lap to deny Hamilton a 7th career Grand Slam but it is slim pickings having fallen 43 points adrift.
At least in the hands of Max Verstappen, Red Bull are a threat to Mercedes. The Dutchman had a consistent weekend in Spain finishing 3rd in all three practice sessions and each segment of Qualifying. 7 tenths to pole was the closest he’s been all season and equally impressive 7 tenths quicker than his teammate. He continues to outperform the car and had a good start to beat Bottas into turn 1. That was key. While he felt frustration wth his race engineer insisting they should focus more on themselves than Mercedes, he couldn’t quite deliver the tyre masterpiece he did at Silverstone Splitting the two Mercedes was the absolute maximum available to him in Spain, he delivered and to his credit never looked in trouble against Bottas using Soft tyres.
Alex Albon though really needs a clean Grand Prix weekend. The London born Thai driver had some technical gremlins in practice but qualified 6th which represents his best since the season-opening race in Austria. He was unable to gain a position on the opening lap getting boxed in by Bottas on the exit of turn 1 having appeared to be ahead of Perez and while that did not help him but his strategy was his undoing. Pitting early for the Hard tyre worked at Silverstone but it didn’t at Catalunya. The tyre did not work well and pitting on lap 8, Red Bull fed him into the back of the midfield traffic. He consequently struggled and was beaten by Sainz in the McLaren. It wasn’t quite as dangerous as he complained on team radio but being lapped by Verstappen is a disappointing outcome.
The issue of racing Point and their brake ducts will be going to the FIA Court of Appeal. That isn’t surprising really when five teams had signalled their intention to appeal, especially racing Point adamant to clear their name of wrongdoing. In the event, three did: Racing Point, Renault and Ferrari. On the track, it was a very solid weekend for Racing Point. They showed consistent pace throughout with their best Qualifying at the circuit since Rubens Barrichello in 1994 when the team was Jordan. After Qualifying, Otmar Szafnauer hoped they could finish where they qualified which they did with both cars finishing in the top five for the first time since the dame race in 2017 (4th and 5th that day too).
Sergio Perez had an impressive return from his bout of Coronavirus, it was like he’d never been away! The Mexican was quicker than his teammate throughout the weekend as he qualified an impressive 4th on the grid and within two-tenths of Verstappen. While he beat his teammate, he didn’t get the best of starts and slotted in behind him after the opening turns. However, Perez has a reputation for excellent tyre and pace management and he demonstrated that again as he looked set to finish 4th on a one-stop strategy. He would have finished there too if not for a 5 second time penalty for ignoring blue flags which he didn’t think was fair ‘considering the first opportunity I had to get out of Lewis’s way was into Turn 1‘. Consequently, he finished 5th.
Looking at his weekend as a whole, it was a mixed bag for Lance Stroll. He would not have liked being outpaced by Perez for most of the weekend despite having two extra weekends with the car. That ins’t a good look for the Canadian but he made up for it in the race with an impressive start. Stroll claimed he just ‘wanted some TV time’ but it was impressive putting his car down the inside of Bottas at turn 1 like he did and making it stick for 3rd. He couldn’t keep it for long though and two-stopping meant he was behind his teammate in the closing stages. He did well to get past Vettel and used his fresher tyres to close within 5s of his teammate as he claimed 4th spot even though he never really looked likely to pass the Mexican.
McLaren expected to be struggling at the Spanish Grand Prix but getting both cars into Q3 and scoring points is a good result all considered. Local hero Carlos Sainz usually runs well at his home race and with a new chassis and power unit in his arsenal he was able to put right some of the misfortune that has befallen him in 2020. The Spaniard was the quicker Mclaren all weekend as he out-qualified Norris for the second time this season in 7th; his best starting spot in Spain since 2015. He felt he could’ve qualified 6th but finished the race there, after a bold strategy choice running the soft tyre twice before the Medium in the final stint. While he felt blue flags denied him a chance of getting within 5 seconds of Perez, it was a very positive result for Sainz.
For Lando Norris, it was a relatively more tricky Barcelona weekend. He was slower than his teammate in each session as small mistakes cost him. Locking up on his final Q3 run cost him a tenth and a couple of positions as he qualified 8th. Still, he was in the top 10 for the 12th successive race but being cautious on the opening lap and running wide at turn 3 meant he lost ground to Leclerc and Gasly. The brit has established a reputation this year for attacking but in a race, he was struggling in a DRS train, this time he had to defend a fair bit from Leclerc in the middle stages of the race and Ricciardo in the closing stages. He held on for a point and McLaren’s third double-points finish of 2020; salvaging something from a not so great weekend.
Spanish Grand Prix Race Result
1st Lewis Hamilton 1:31:45.279, 2nd Max Verstappen +24.177, 3rd Valtteri Bottas +44.752, 4th Lance Stroll +1 Lap, 5th Sergio Perez +1 Lap, 6th Carlos Sanz +1 Lap, 7th Sebastian Vettel +1 Lap, 8th Alex Albon +1 Lap, 9th Pierre Gasly +1 Lap, 10th Lando Norris +1 Lap, 11th Daniel Ricciardo +1 Lap, 12th Daniil Kvyat +1 Lap, 13th Esteban Ocon +1 Lap, 14th Kimi Raikkonen +1 Lap, 15th Kevin Magnussen +1 Lap, 16th Antonio Giovinazzi +1 Lap, 17th George Russell +1 Lap, 18th Nicholas Latifi +2 Laps, 19th Romain Grosjean +2 Laps, Charles Leclerc DNF
Fastest Lap: Valtteri Bottas 1:18.183
After his Silverstone woes, Sebastian Vettel also received a new chassis for the Spanish Grand Prix. Initially, it looked to be working but his pace dipped again and he missed out on Q3 for the second successive race; this time by an agonising 0.002s in 11th. That said, being the first with a free tyre choice meant he had a good chance in the race and starting on the Mediums put him in 5th when the two-stoppers pitted, a position Ferrari hoped to maintain by stretching out his stint but judging from the team radio, communication between driver and team is not quite in sync. Making the Soft tyre last 36 laps is some achievement. 7th is his worst finish in Spain since 2008 but is a sign of how difficult 2020 has been for the four-time champion when it is one of his best results of the season.
Charles Leclerc was the quicker Ferrari again in the timesheets in Spain but even he could only qualify in 9th, Ferrari’s worst at the circuit and the Monegasques worst qualifying result in the dry this season. He had a solid enough start holding position but he did really well getting his Soft tyre to lap 29 before pitting and looked in a really strong position Leclerc felt he ‘had a good chance to finish around P6 or even higher’. He was ahead of Vettel and battling Norris for 10th and on the more durable Medium tyre when at the penultimate turn of lap 35 his engine just switched off sending him into a spin. It was able to restart bit the engine issue and the fact Leclerc’s seatbelt came undone meant he was the only retirement from the race. It is fair to say he could have deservedly finished ahead of Vettel if not for the issue.
Alpha Tauri scored points again and this time it was Pierre Gasly impressing again with arguably his most consistent Grand Prix weekend of the season. After a slow FP1, he was in the top 10 throughout and qualified 10th. The Frenchman had a positive start gaining positions from Norris and Leclerc and was able to keep them comfortably behind in the opening stint. His stop on lap 21 put him in ht midfield train behind Sainz and Albon which he felt compromised him preventing him making ‘full use of the prime tyres, which was a bit of a shame’. Still, he finished within a second of Albon in the quicker red Bull. Yes, 9th isn’t his best race result of the season but it is the first time he scored points this season when qualifying in the top 10 making it his most consistent weekend of 2020.
Daniil Kvyat was at least three tenths slower than Gasly all weekend in Spain and that carried n from practice int Qualifying where he missed out on Q3 by 0.026s. It was fine margins and the Russian, once nicknamed the torpedo had a very feisty start to the race especially when he was looking to get past the Ferrari of Vettel. The battles made him thing ‘there was more for me to take for today and finishing in a better position’. Coming out from his second stop behind Ricciardo didn’t help his cause and neither did receiving a 5 second time penalty for ignoring blue flags as he finished 13th for Alpha Tauri who were hoping to get both cars into the points.
Spanish Grand Prix Points
Drivers: Lewis Hamilton 25, Max Verstappen 18, Valtteri Bottas 16, Lance Stroll 12, Sergio Perez 10, Carlos Sainz 8, Sebastian Vettel 6, Alex Albon 4, Pierre Gasly 2, Lando Norris 1
Constructors: Mercedes 41, Red Bull 22, Racing Point 22, McLaren 9, Ferrari 6, Alpha Tauri 2
Outside the points for the first time, this season was Renault. That was a surprise after how strong they were at Silverstone but both cars fell out of Qualifying in Q2. From there, it is surprising they did not split strategies between the cars; one does a two-stop, one try a one-stop to hedge their bets. Instead, they both attempted one-stop strategies and while both cars gained places they did not score points.
Daniel Ricciardo was arguably the best performer for Renault at Silverstone and he was again here in Spain. The honeybadger went an impressive 4th in FP2 indicating that they had the same sort of level of pace and could make Q3. He, unfortunately, missed out by 0.032s as he qualified 13th; his worst of the year. However, he was still optimistic of points and going to lap 34 on the Mediums meant he was momentarily 4th but coming out in 12th and the midfield DRS train hampered his chances. That said, he was able to fight Norris in the closing stages despite having older tyres at that point but he was unable to find a way past to score any points as he finished 11th which he described as ‘a bit disappointing as we came here expecting much more, especially after two decent races last time out’.
It was a harder weekend for Esteban Ocon. The Frenchman, despite some positive moments still seems to be struggling to adapt to a new car and being out of the sport for a year. He bizarrely crashed in FP3 behind Magnussen and while the mechanics did a good job to repair the car for Qualifying, he didn’t feel comfortable as he was even out-qualified by an Alfa Romeo. From the start, he lost 15th to Magnussen. Being stuck behind an Alfa Romeo and a Haas did not help him make progress but he got the last laugh against his nemesis of the weekend; Magnussen by passing him on lap 56 and despite feeling ‘There wasn’t much more we could have done today’ that was only good enough for 13th.
Alfa Romeo feel they are moving in the right direction with Frederic Vasseur feeling ‘we looked more convincing than in previous weeks’. They did in a way. Kimi Raikkonen got an Alfa out of Q1 for the first time this season as he qualified a decent 14th and 9 tenths quicker than his teammate. The 2007 World Champion finished in that position too with a strong performance as he surpassed the record for most distance raced in an F1 car and in typically Kimi style did not mince his words when criticising Grosjean. The Iceman used his two-stop strategy to great effect in his final stint as he passed both Williams and Haas cars on his way to finishing clear of his nearest rivals. Spa is next and Raikkonen is usually strong there so could we see a further improvement next time?
Antonio Giovinazzi was close to his teammate in the timesheets until FP3 and Qualifying. A damaged floor didn’t help his cause in his final Qualofyng run as he qualified plum last and nine-tenths adrift of Raikkonen. The Italian had a more positive race though and while it was always going to be difficult from 20th on the grid he left the circuit feeling he ‘achieved all we could from this Sunday’. He gained four places to finish 16th and had some excellent overtaking moves on the likes of Gorjsean and the Wiliams pair to finish within one second of Magnussen with his two-stopper. He’s driving solidly enough I the race but will be hoping for a cleaner weekend and Qualifying next time out.
Just what happened at Haas? Were other teams just able to find more pace through the weekend? Romain Grosjean was 6th and 5th in the Friday practice sessions but after a late engine change with the mechanics working to 4am on the Saturday morning, it all unravelled for him. Post-weekend he described it as maybe being ‘the worst car I have driven in my life’. From as high as 5th his weekend went from bad to worse as he was unable to get out of Q1 and qualified 17th behind his teammate. The Frenchman’s race did not get much better as Haas attempted a one-stop strategy and in the closing stages, his defensive driving against Raikkonen gained some attention. A late spin meant he finished last of the runners and unfortunately for Grosjean, that was the most memorable moment from his race.
Kevin Magnussen had a quieter and more efficient weekend in the Haas. He didn’t hit the same heights as his teammate in the practice timesheets but he out-qualified him by almost two tenths and was just over a tenth from getting into Q2. The Dane had a strong start passing Ocon and Raikkonen on the opening lap. His strategy saw him taking the Soft tyre to lap 27 when it appeared they went off the cliff and in the final 10 laps he could not keep Ocon or Raikkonen behind as he finished 15th. Magnussen felt ‘we did the best we could’ and after he split the Alfa Romeo’s on the race and came close to beating a Renault you can’t argue too much with that assessment.
Williams gave an FP1 debut to test and reserve driver Roy Nissany who became the first Israeli driver to take part in an F1 session. Given it was his first drive in an F1 car, being a few tenths adrift of Nicholas Latifi is not embarrassing, to say the least, but it’s not exactly eye-catching either. With both Latifi and George Russell signed to the team for 2021 his opportunity may have to wait until 2022. At present, I remain unconvinced looking at his racing record and how he has fared so far in F2 this year (albeit early doors on that one) that he has the quality for F1.
George Russell missed out on FP1 for Nissany to get his outing and while he played his hands at other jobs, it took him a little while to get up to speed playing catch up but he still recovered enough to out-qualify his teammate. The Brit is still yet to be beaten by his teammate in Qualifying in his F1 career which is impressive although his run of four Q2 appearances came to an end. He made a positive start to the race and passed Grosjean on lap 5 but that was his highlight in a race where Williams just lacked pace. The most he could hope for was finishing ahead of his teammate which he did.
Despite having all the weekend to drive the car, Latifii ended qualifying almost half a second slower than Russell. He struggled in the opening stages of the race despite a decent launch from the grid as ‘For the first five or six laps I had no confidence and it undid my race in the first stint’. Consequently, he louted around at the back of the field for much of the race and only Grosjean’s late spin prevented him finishing plum last, two laps down and 8 seconds behind his teammate. In fact, the most memorable part of his weekend was on the airwaves and social media against the likes of Verstappen and Kvyat.
Spanish Grand Prix Ratings
Drivers: Lewis Hamilton 10, Max Verstappen 9, Valtteri Bottas 7, Lance Stroll 8, Sergio Perez 8, Carlos Sainz 8, Sebastian Vettel 8, Alex Albon 6, Pierre Gasly 8, Lando Norris 6.5, Daniel Ricciardo 6.5, Daniil Kvyat 6, Esteban Ocon 5.5, Kimi Raikkonen 7.5, Kevin Magnussen 7, Antoio Giovinazzi 6, George Russell 6.5, Nicholas Latifi 5.5, Romain Grosjean 5, Charles Leclerc 7
Constructors: Mercedes 9, Red Bull 7.5, Racing Point 8, McLaren 7.5, Ferrari 7.5, Alpha Tauri 7, Renault 6, Alfa Romeo 6.5, Haas 6, Williams 5.5
As F1 left Spain, Lewis Hamilton’s march towards a record-equalling 7th world championship continued with the Englishman extending his lead to 37 points from Max Verstappen and Valtteri Bttas dropped to 43 adrift. Charles Leclerc remains a distant 4th on 40 points despite not finishing although Lance Stroll is edging closer and is tied for 5th with Red Bull’s Alex Albon on 40 points as Lando Norris dropped out of the top 5 in the championship for the first time this season. Daniel Ricciardo dropped to 10th in the standings after failing to score in Spain while Sebastian Vettel is now level on points with Esteban Ocon for 11th on 16 points and jumps ahead of Pierre gasly on 14.
If you thought that was tight, look at the Constructors standings. Yes, Mercedes are flying away with it and Red Bull are comfortable second but look at the battle for third. Only two points separate Racing Point in third (63 points despite their 15 point deduction), McLaren in 4th (62 points) and Ferrari in 5th (61 points). Renault lost a lot of ground by not scoring points (6th on 32 points) while Alpha Tauri keep collecting points in 7th (16 points now) and the bottom three remain unchanged with Williams yet to score.
Next up, after this second triple bill of races, F1 moves to the Ardennes Forest for a race that retains its original date in the schedule. Usually, the teams have had a four-week break between races before te come to it. Spa-Francorchamps was the scene of tragedy last year with Anthoine Hubert’s fatal incident and Charles Leclerc dedicated his first win to his friend. It’s the Belgian Grand Prix…