Monaco Grand Prix: Rosberg Vs Hamilton

The Monaco Grand Prix went a full sixty seconds before the first of two safety cars deployed throughout the race. Nico Rosberg got his clean getaway from pole to take home the win for the second consecutive year. Lewis Hamilton fought to keep the pressure on his teammate until “something in his eye” affected his vision and lap times. Hamilton finished a very sulky second, just ahead of Daniel Ricciardo. At lights out, Rosberg was quick off the line, though arguably the best start was from Kimi Raikkonen. Raikkonen, from P6, slipped passed his teammate (who’d swerved to avoid the Red Bulls), and passed Sebastian Vettel on the exit St Devote. Further back on the grid, Kevin Magnussen had made it passed both the Toro Rossos before the first corner. The race was brought back a notch when Perez’s and Button’s cars kissed at Mirabeau, bringing out the safety car.

Mercedes continue to collect both drivers and constructors points. Though while the constructors lead lengthens, the battle for the drivers championship is becoming somewhat tense… After Rosberg was cleared of any wrong doing by the stewards for causing yellow flags in qualifying, the German went on to take the chequered flag, though not without pressure. Rosberg spent most of the race with his teammate closely visible in his mirrors. Clearly pushing hard to guard his lead, Rosberg could be seen locking his front tyres throughout the circuit. As the race progressed, things calmed down a little, only having to contend with lapping the back markers (and then the rest of the field…). Lewis made it painfully clear that he wasn’t happy with his second place finish, the feedback from his engineers, the temperature in his rear tyres, or really anything in the race. Despite the seemingly endless complaints and concerns being voiced over team radio, the former world champion kept close of the tail of his teammate until the final stages of the race when something in his eye affected his vision, causing the Mercedes to back off. Possibly Hamilton was running with the logic of “If I can’t see Rosberg take the lead in the championship, it didn’t happen”, but who knows.

Daniel Ricciardo was somewhat modest in his explanation of his third place finish, claiming that he inherited the position after his teammate’s retirement and Raikkonen’s puncture. This is just modesty. Though the Australian didn’t have the quickest getaway off the line, Ricciardo more than earned his podium finish. Ricciardo kept close on the tail of Raikkonen before the second safety car, laying a rather bold attempt for position on the Finn at Casino Square. He did eventually gain his position when Raikkonen pit again, though the Red Bull driver patiently waited, conserving his tyres, to put himself in the best position to challenge to Mercedes. Once Hamilton started to back away from Rosberg, Ricciardo quickly closed in, under his own improving lap times rather than Hamilton’s easing off. Given another few corners, the Australian may have been able to squeeze up to P2. Though for today, he seemed quite happy with P3. When it comes down to it, Ricciardo was also one of only four Renault engines to even finish the race. Sebastian Vettel only made it as far as lap 8. Once the safety car peeled away, the German fell from P3 to P20 within a lap. The RB10 had no power, limping back to the pits. On his exit, he was stuck in first gear. When he eventually found the rest of his gearbox, it was only to coast back to the garage to retire.

Fernando Alonso drove almost anonymously throughout the race, spending most of the race a healthy seven seconds behind Ricciardo, and half a lap in front of Hulkenberg. Eventually Alonso cruised home to finish P4. Kimi Raikkonen’s race was far from anonymous. Following his sneaky move up to P3 at lights out, his race was looking strong. The Finn demonstrated his balance of offensive and defensive driving skills to keep Ricciardo in his mirrors before Sutil brought out the second safety car. It was during the second safety car period that Raikkonen’s race really livened up. The Ferrari, having already made one visit to the pits during the SC, darted in for a second time after being hit by Marussia’s Max Chilton. The second stop pushed Kimi to the back end of the grid behind Kobayashi. After a failed attempt to pass the Caterham at the Nouvelle Chicane, the Finn eventually made it passed the Japanese driver to close in on Gutierrez. Though he didn’t overtake the Sauber, it required some very quick braking on Kimi’s part not to get caught up in a tangle with Gutierrez. After what was an impressive opening stint, and fight back for position, it all went a bit pear shaped for the Ferrari in the final laps after making contact with Magnussen at the hairpin. The contact saw Kimi drop back and finish P12.

Nico Hulkenberg delivered a very strong performance following what was a rather challenging qualifying. On lap 33, Hulkenberg executed a startlingly skilful move on Kevin Magnussen at Portier to take P4 on the entry to the tunnel. The Force India driver kept the car competitive with a 1-stop strategy, and making up 6 places to eventually finish P5. It was Sergio Perez’s shortest race of the season after being involved in an incident with Jensen Button at Mirabeau on the opening lap. The Mexican is notorious for being a little too eager on the streets of Monaco (Kimi vs. Perez 2013), and possibly didn’t leave enough room for the two of them to take the corner safely. Button clipped Perez, sending the VJM07 into the barriers.

Jensen Button left it to the final laps to really start his race. Starting a rather uncompetitive P12, Button’s 1 stop strategy played well into the appearance of the safety cars and retirements from the race. Biding his time, the Brit moved in on his teammate from P7 until lap 74, overtaking Magnussen on the exit of St Devote. Kevin Magnussen got off to a strong start, initially gaining two places from the Toro Rossos, though his race became rather scrappy towards the end. During the second safety car, Magnussen prematurely overtook an unsuspecting Vergne before crossing the last safety car line. Magnussen was unable to give the position back because Hulkenberg soon passed him. After being passed by his teammate, Magnussen was involved in a collision with Raikkonen at the hairpin, holding up the rest of the field. Eventually the Dane made it home in one piece to finish P10.

Giving Williams something to celebrate for, Felipe Massa turned his luck around on the Monaco streets with one of his best drives of the season. Somehow the Brazilian maintained his super soft tyres through two-safety car, and 45 laps before eventually coming in to swap for the soft compound tyres. The strategy allowed Massa to move up to P4 before his stop, putting him back out in P11 when he re-entered the field. On fresher tyres, the Williams driver closed in quickly on Raikkonen’s Ferrari to challenge for position. Unfortunately, Felipe didn’t make it passed Raikkonen, though he did make up places to finish P7. Valtteri Bottas closed the gap for the second half of the field, as his FW36 became to lose pace. The Finn created a train behind him of Gutierrez, Raikkonen and Massa. On lap 57, Bottas’ engine had had enough, and he limped back to the pit to retire.

Romain Grosjean is becoming rather experienced at becoming the sole points scorer for the Lotus team. The Frenchman, starting from P14, put in a good drive, keeping the E22 on track until the chequered flag (as mentioned earlier, one of only four Renault cars to do so). Grosjean, on a two-stop strategy with the safety cars, maintained his competitive pace to finish inside the points in P8. Pastor Maldonado couldn’t get his E22 off the grid for the formation lap, and never made it out of the pit to start the race. Maldonado’s failure to start has been put down to a suspected fuel-system issue. Disappointment for the team, though given the Venezuelan’s history at the circuit, probably safer for the rest of the field.

Jules Bianchi scored Marussia’s first ever Formula 1 World Championship point, and he even collected two of them finishing P9. Besides staying out of trouble with the barriers and the rest of the field, Bianchi made a confident move on Kobayashi at La Rascasse to move up to P12. The Frenchman also served two penalties throughout the race, firstly for being out of position on the starting grid, and a second 5-second penalty for serving the first one under the safety car period. Following the retirements, Bianchi eventually moved in to the points. Max Chilton was more involved in the action than we’re used to seeing. Though he still finished last in P14.

Marcus Ericsson briefly looked as though he might too, finish inside the points, though Kimi and Magnussen’s traffic jam at the hairpin put Caterham’s hopes of a point to finish. Ericsson crossed the line P11. Kobayashi, like Alonso, raced quietly at Monaco. The Japanese driver found stability in his CT05, though lacked the pace to finish anywhere other than P13.

An impressive race for Esteban Gutierrez came to an end of lap 61. Throughout the race, Gutierrez in the Sauber had made up 8 places, running on a one stop. The safety car for Perez and Sutil certainly played well into his hands for tyre wear, though the issues to keep heat in the tyres that plagued the team in qualifying seemingly disappeared. In the final stages of the race, the Mexican clipped his right rear at La Rascasse while on the tail of Kimi Raikkonen. Gutierrez put his C33 in a spin, and became the final retirement of the race. One of the most debonair drivers at the Circuit de Monaco, Adrian Sutil executed some pretty ballsy overtakes* before meeting with the barriers on lap 25. Sutil, channelling his karting days, got up on the kerbs at the hairpin to take P16 from Grosjean. The move was a little messy, but extremely opportunistic (which as it happens is a prerequisite for any overtaking attempt in Monaco). A few laps later, Sutil out broke the Marussia of Max Chilton on the entry to the Nouvelle Chicane, moving up to P15. It came to an end for the Sauber driver on lap 25 when the C33 lost traction over the bumps on the exit of the tunnel, kissing the barrier and losing the front wing. Sutil’s retirement brought out the second and final safety car.

Jean-Eric Vergne’s race went from bad to worse following the second appearance of the safety car. The Frenchman was handed a drive through penalty for an unsafe release on Magnussen during the safety car period, which nearly saw the STR9 remove the McLaren’s front wing. Vergne held P7 upon the race resume, and until he served his penalty on lap 38. His race went a little sour from here, clipping the back of Bianchi’s MR03 losing from front wing, only to retire lap 53 with engine problems. Daniil Kvyat’s first visit to Monaco can only be described as brief, but impressive. After a difficult qualifying, the Russian rookie retired lap 13 with a loss of power and a very ill sounding STR9.

True to form, the Monaco Grand Prix was littered with excitement (and debris), with the action carrying through until the final moments. Though Ricciardo didn’t quite make it to the top step of the podium, he was still up there, which is always nice to see. The next round of the championship takes place at the Circuit Gilles-Villeneuve in Canada. A rather hard act to follow from Monaco, but who knows, maybe something will happen this year… Until then, bonne nuit.

– Alex

* Yes, that is the technical term.

Qualifying Pole Nico Rosberg (Mercedes)
Podium Nico Rosberg (Mercedes)
Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes)
Daniel Ricciardo (Red Bull Racing)
Fastest Lap 1:18.479 Kimi Raikkonen (Scuderia Ferrari)

Monaco Grand Prix: Pre Race Thoughts

Bonjour et bienvenue à Monaco! The Monaco Grand Prix epitomises the extravagance of Formula 1 racing. Known as the jewel in the crown of Formula 1, the Circuit de Monaco is also the most unforgiving track of the calendar. The 3.340km circuit is breathtakingly narrow, meaning teams with shorter gear ratios have an advantage to the streets. There is less focus on fuel saving and energy recovery, with teams focussing on high downforce and mechanical grip to avoid too much oversteer. It’s a tight squeeze to the first corner, St Devote, where many a first lap incident has occurred. Overtaking is easiest (and I say that lightly) at the Nouvelle Chicane, though I wouldn’t recommend for the faint hearted. There’s only one DRS zone in Monaco, located on the start-finish straight. It was perfect conditions for qualifying, with clear skies and a track temperature of 42 degrees. After three sessions, it was another Mercedes front row lock out, with Rosberg the only driver to crack the 1:15s ahead of Hamilton, leaving the Red Bull of Daniel Ricciardo to qualify P3.

Mercedes were unsurprisingly strong in qualifying. The Mercedes set up has traditionally been well suited to the Circuit de Monaco, so it was unsurprising to see both the F1 Wo5s qualify on the front row. Homeboy Nico Rosberg clinched pole position from Hamilton, setting a time of 1:15.989. An off for Rosberg at Mirabeau resulted in yellow flags, and saw Hamilton (who was two tenths up on his lap) back off on his final lap to challenge his teammate. Hamilton adhered to the flags, thus securing the top spot for Rosberg. The stewards are now investigating Rosberg for purposely causing yellow flags.

Red Bull are among the teams that gain an advantage from the Monaco streets. The BR10s short gear ratios, and high downforce set up is one that agreed for both drivers today. The session went largely without incident for Ricciardo, who consistently lapped at the top of the time sheets to put a little pressure on the Mercedes. Unfortunately, the RB10 didn’t make up the same time as the Mercedes in the few straights there are, so Ricciardo settles for P3. Sebastian Vettel is again looking more competitive in the RB10, despite being unable to out-qualify his teammate on this occasion. The reigning world champion suffered from a KERs issue throughout qualifying, influencing his lap times. It’s therefore rather impressive to see Vettel qualify just 0.163s behind Ricciardo for P4.

Continuing the theme of lining up the grid in team order, Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso qualified P5, ahead of Kimi Raikkonen in P6. The F14 T is looking more competitive since Spain, and more agreeable to both drivers. Alonso’s session went smoothly, with the Spaniard improving on his times through out qualifying to set a final flying lap of 1:16.686, just more than a tenth of a second behind the Red Bull. Keeping startlingly close to the barriers, Kimi was slightly more aggressive in his qualifying. The Finn, put in a good scrap against Alonso in Q1. Though Raikkonen was still slightly off the pace where it counts, with his final lap 0.7s slower than his teammate to qualify P6. In other news, Justin Bieber, who’s in Monaco for the weekend, tried to meet Alonso in the paddock. Bieber was however snubbed by the Spaniard*, and removed from the paddock. (Ok, I made that last bit up, but Alonso did ignore him).

Toro Rosso got their strategy right in qualifying, running on the super softs in Q1 to secure a spot comfortably for both Vergne and Kvyat in Q2, and then Q3. Vergne’s performance throughout all three sessions was rather impressive, topping the time sheets at the end of Q1, and putting pressure on the front running teams. The Frenchman eventually qualified a strong P7 with 1:17.540. Vergne’s Russian teammate had a far more eventful qualifying. In the early stages of Q1, Kvyat lost control of the back of his STR9 on the exit of the tunnel, flicking the front of his car into the barriers and completely removing his front wing. The contact with the barriers was enough to see the car run off at the Nouvelle Chicane, and get the car back to the garage for a new front wing and a check-up. Kvyat was lucky to escape serious damage (to himself and the car) going into the barriers at one of the fastest sections of the circuit, and even luckier to be able to continue for the remainder of the sessions. In the second session, Daniil Kvyat caught the attention of the stewards for impeding Lotus’ Pastor Maldonado, later complaining of cold tyres. In the final session, Kvyat, again on the super softs pulled himself forward slightly to qualify P9.

The McLarens MP4-29 doesn’t appear to be as suited to the Monaco streets, with Button still struggling to get out of Q2. In his best qualifying since Malaysia, Kevin Magnussen had a better handle on the setup, as he pushed the car to the limit throughout qualifying, paying off to make it to the final session. There was a small incident in Q1 with the rookie going off at St Devote, creating a flat spot on his front left tyre. Magnussen recovered, and had a smoother day thereafter, putting his MP4-29 through to Q3 to eventually split the Toro Rossos for P8. Jensen Button could only manage P12 after locking up on his final flying lap to make it out of Q2.

Force India were surprisingly less competitive during the sessions, appearing very bumpy over the chicanes costing both drivers time on their laps. Both drivers chose to run on the super softs in Q1 and Q2, with the effort enough to put Perez through to the final session. Though a lock up at the end of Q3 saw Perez unable to improve on his time, with the Mexican therefore round out to top ten with 1:18.327. Hulkenberg couldn’t match his teammate in either session for pace, just missing out on Q3 to line up P11.

Williams had an unfortunate qualifying following an incident with Ericsson that saw Massa’s session prematurely end, and Bottas struggling for grip due to cold tyres. The Finn’s best effort on the super softs was 1:18.082s, putting him P13. Though Massa didn’t run in Q2, he made it through with his lap of 1:18.209s in Q1 to start P16. The Brazilian’s day was cut short when Caterham’s Marcus Ericsson lost his CT05 at Mirabeau, sliding into the barriers taking the FW36 with him. It seems Massa doesn’t have much luck when it comes to qualifying at Monaco.

The Lotuses were somewhat off the pace during qualifying, with the set up appearing lack grip in the corners. Romain Grosjean was less competitive, with his E22 difficult to handle through qualifying. Maldonado was involved in an incident with the stewards, though in a slightly subtler manner than we’re used to. The Venezuelan driver was under investigation by the stewards for an incident with Kvyat in Q2 to determine if the Russian had impeded the Lotus. Neither driver made it through to Q3, with Grosjean qualifying P14 ahead of Maldonado’s P15.

Sauber joined the list of teams struggling to get heat in the tyres. Both drivers ventured out on the super softs in Q1. Adrian Sutil was forced to back off on a flying lap at the end of Q1 following double yellow flags from the Ericsson and Massa collision. The flags meant Sutil had no chance to improve on his time, resulting in the German failing to make it through to the next session. Esteban Gutierrez attracted the attention of the stewards for an impeding offence, demonstrating just how off the pace the C33 was. The Mexican’s final flying lap put him P17, where Sutil’s best lap was enough for P18.

Rounding off the back of the grid are the familiar faces of Marussia and Caterham. Jules Bianchi surprised the team in the final practice session, though was unable to have the performance carry through to qualifying. Max Chilton is beginning to make a habit of qualifying somewhere other than the back row. Good one Max. The Marussia’s lined up in their usual order with Bianchi ahead of Chilton in P19 and P20 respectively.

Caterham’s qualifying was short yet eventful. Kobayashi flew somewhat under the radar during the session, unable to put in a competitive lap time due to cold tyres and yellow flags qualifying P21. Ericsson however attracted attention for all the wrong reasons. After initially impeding Vettel early in the season, the rookie continued to struggle for pace and grip. Ericsson’s day ended at Mirabeau after braking late, resulting in oversteer and a meeting with the barriers.

The Monaco Grand Prix is breathtaking both on and off the track. Any attempt to overtake is thrilling, and when done right is truly astonishing. Just to make things a little more interesting, there’s also an 80% chance of a safety car at this circuit. A good qualifying position and clean getaway of the grid is essential. Though it’s usual to see a driver win from pole, Sunday’s race is Daniel Ricciardo’s best shot of taking the top step of the podium. Just have to hope for that safety car…

– Alex

 

* Alonso didn’t snub me Justin…  See

** The results after the stewards investigations are, Rosberg keeps pole, Ericsson will start from the pit lane, and Kvyat has been handed a reprimand.

Spanish Grand Prix: Hamilton vs Rosberg

Since Malaysia, it has seemed inevitable that Lewis Hamilton would take the lead in the championship, and at tonight’s Spanish Grand Prix, the inevitable happened by 0.6s. Lewis Hamilton took the chequered flag, and the lead in the championship from Nico Rosberg who finished P2. The final step of the podium was filled by the Australian, Daniel Ricciardo. The Red Bull, though the closest rival to the Mercedes, was still nearly a minute behind Hamilton and Rosberg. From lights out, Hamilton held the lead down into turn 1, edging away from Rosberg and Ricciardo. It was a thrilling start from Bottas who moved in on Ricciardo, right as Grosjean was speeding down the between the two. The Williams had a better getaway compared to the Red Bull, and by the entry into turn 1 was already challenging Rosberg for P2. Slightly further back, Grosjean had a huge lock up of both front wheels on the run down into turn 1 only half a cars length in front of both Ferraris. What could have been a very expensive turn 1, unfolded with no major contact. In the opening laps, it was Rosberg on Hamilton, Ricciardo on Bottas, Raikkonen on Grosjean, and Alonso on Raikkonen. While further back in the field Magnussen nearly made contact with Vettel after mounting the sausage kerb. Soon after Maldonado earned himself a 5 second stop go penalty for contact with Ericsson.

It wasn’t an easy victory for Hamilton, as he consistently complained over team radio regarding the balance of his F1 W05. The former world champion had to fight hard to keep his tyres, and his position from Nico Rosberg. It was definitely a resounding success from the Mercedes garage, with both drivers fighting tooth and nail down to the final corner. Despite the Mercedes again running on split strategies, Hamilton and Rosberg were still matched for pace. Hamilton did manage to extend his lead over Rosberg by 4s, though the German responded with purple lap times to hunt him down to within DRS range. Overall, Nico’s drive was admirably better, and given one more lap could have taken the lead from Hamilton.

Finally a podium Red Bull can keep!* Daniel Ricciardo, qualifying P3 took his place on the final step of the podium after todays race. The Australian lost a position to Bottas on the run down to turn 1 on the opening lap, though kept his cool (and his tyres) to later close the gap to the Williams, though pitting rather than passing. After a stop for medium compound tyres, Ricciardo emerged P12 though made light work of Button and Kvyat. By lap 18, the RB10 had cruised passed Perez for P4. Ricciardo had cleanly made his way back through the field to challenge Bottas for P3, though we were robbed of this battle when the Williams came into pit on lap 21. Sebastian Vettel seemed to wake up for the first time this season, and delivered a drive worthy of his world champion title. Starting P15, the German ran a three stop strategy in an attempt to make up places. An early stop for hard compound tyres saw Vettel maintain his tyres for a longer stint, to keep grip in his tyres to make his way back through the field. On his final stint on fresh medium compound tyres, he managed to just squeeze ahead of Alonso as the Ferrari exited the pits. The move up to P6 lit some kind of drive in Vettel that has been missing this season, and immediately the RB10 stalked the remaining Ferrari. With nine laps to go, Vettel had closed the gap to Raikkonen and dived down the inside of turn 10, making the move stick. His 11 and final position gained for the day came at the expense of Valtteri Bottas at the same corner seven laps later. While Vettel drove to form today, he’s still a long way behind Ricciardo’s performance in the RB10. But still, it was nice to see Sebastian actually racing again.

Williams got off to a fantastic start, with Bottas immediately passing Ricciardo to pressure Rosberg. The Finn continued to match the pace of the Mercedes and pulled further away from Ricciardo as the Red Bull dropped back. Following his pit stops, Bottas was behind the Red Bull, and matching for pace for several laps. This effort showed the true strength of the Williams package this season. However the team decided to swap from an offensive to defensive strategy and cover the Ferrari’s behind. The strategy paid off, with the FW36 saving grip and pace until the chequered flag with Bottas finishing P5 after conceding a late position to a flying Vettel. Overall it was a brilliant drive one again for Bottas. Felipe Massa, who started P9, gained a position early on and began to hunt down former his Ferrari team mate. By lap 8, Massa had caught up to Alonso, and while definitely putting the pressure on the Spaniard, couldn’t find the right line to lay down a move. The Williams later came in to pit for medium compound tyres on lap 16. From this point however, the Brazilian driver seemed to lose his competitiveness in the race and couldn’t make his way back through the field, eventually finishing P13, eight places behind his team mate.

Ferrari found some fight in the race, with Alonso putting on a show for his home crowd despite not finishing near the podium. There were constant inter team battles between Alonso and Raikkonen, as well as individual battles with the rest of the field. First the Ferraris one by one, cruised passed the Lotus of Grosjean before pit stop strategies split the drivers. Alonso made further light work of McLaren’s Kevin Magnussen on the run in to turn 1 on lap 38. Magnussen who’d been running with DRS enabled couldn’t keep the looming F14-T behind him, and Alonso made an easy move on the outside of turn 1. The icing on the cake for the Ferrari battle came with two laps to go, with Alonso closing in on Raikkonen. The Finn delivered a delicate balance of an offensive and defensive drive to hold his position in P6, however as the two Ferrari’s began lap 64, Alonso had closed to gap to run almost nose to tail with his team mate. The Spaniard initially tried the same move that had worked so well for his at the circuit in 2013, though lacked the grip to make the move competitive. Keeping his cool, Alonso swung back inside on the entry of turn 4 and emerged ahead of his team mate. Both Alonso and Raikkonen cruised on to finish P6 and P7 respectively.

Running on a two stop strategy, Grosjean delivered a fantastic drive to pick up the team’s first points for the season in P8. After a difficult getaway off the line, Grosjean was immediately on the defence from his former team mate, Kimi Raikkonen. As both Ferraris still struggled for grip, the Lotus was able to pull away. This wouldn’t be the only time the former team mates would race each other. 20 laps in, Grosjean and Raikkonen played a game of cat and mouse for P5. With apparent ease, the Grosjean cruised passed Raikkonen to regain his position, though only for another few laps before the Lotus’ tyres were gone and he’d dropped behind both Ferraris. Grosjean came in for his second pit, for hard compound tyres on lap 35. Pastor Maldonado continues to do more harm than good for the Lotus team after being handed a 5 second stop go penalty for his contact with Ericsson on the opening laps. All jokes aside, even with Maldonado behind the wheel, the E22 had made up 6 positions even with the contact, and following his penalty managed to work his way back through the field to finish P15. Though I feel this is more testament to the developments of the E22 in recent weeks rather than driver skill.

Despite the VJM07 not being best suited for the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya, both Force Indias finished inside the points. Perez and Hulkenberg though running on different tyre strategies lapped with similar times, allowing for some inter team battles to ensue. Perez who had qualified behind his team mate, ran on the harder compound tyre from his second stop, giving him slower degradation over the race. Hulkenberg despite losing grip on his medium tyres, held his position from Perez until lap 52. Perez made his move on the German closing the gap down pit straight and swinging to the outside of turn 1. The Mexican made it stick, and both drivers raced on to finish in that order. It was P9 for Perez, and the final point of P10 for Hulkenberg.

McLaren failed to pick up a point during the race, though both cars showed improvements to make up places from qualifying with Button finishing P11 ahead of Magnussen in P12. While the McLaren appeared on course for their intended strategy, the MP4-29 still wasn’t quite competitive enough when it came down to it. The likes of Vettel and Ricciardo made easy work of Button before the Brit came in for his first of two stops, this time for medium compound tyres. Despite the fresher tyres, and a later stop for the harder compound, Button didn’t quite manage to find his way into the points. Kevin Magnussen had yet another scrappy start to the race, nearly making contact with Sebastian Vettel on lap 1. The Dane was trying to pass Kvyat on the outside, but ran wide allowing Button through. As he entered back onto the track, Magnussen came within an inch of Vettel who took advantage of the gap to move up into P14.

Toro Rosso only managed to bring one driver through to the chequered flag as Daniil Kvyat finished P13. The Russian rookie was one of the few drivers to run on a three stop strategy in an attempt to keep up the pace and grip. Kvyat was warned to keep off the kerbs to reduce degradation, even with the warning Russian couldn’t keep the grip, finishing 8.2s behind Massa. Jean-Eric Vergne put a quick end to what had been a difficult weekend for the Frenchman. After being handed a 10 place grid penalty and a hefty €30,00 fine for his runaway wheel incident, Vergne retired on lap 28 from a broken exhaust. Prior to his retirement, the Frenchman was looking strong, as Vergne had already made up 6 positions through the field.

Both Saubers struggled for pace in the race despite splitting their drivers strategies. Gutierrez lost considerable on his second stint on medium compound tyres. The slowing Sauber lost 4 places before making his third and final pit stop, while Sutil neither lost nor gained grid positions with his two stop strategy. To add salt to the wounds of a difficult drive, the Mexican suffered from damage, shedding some of his front wing in the final laps. As the race concluded, Gutierrez finished P16, only three positions down, while Sutil was steady in P17.

It was a successful day for the Marussia garage as once again, as not only both drivers crossed the line, but ahead of the sole remaining Caterham, with Bianchi P18 and Chilton P19. While Chilton did conceded his team lead to Bianchi, the Brit did manage to keep Ericsson’s Caterham at bay despite lapping 10s a lap slower at the end of the race. In terms of reliability, the Marussia is definitely stronger than that Caterham, and from today possibly the Sauber as well. Caterham’s Marcus Ericsson rounded off the end of the pack finishing P20. While Kamui Kobayashi was the second and final retirement of the Spanish Grand Prix, pulling into the garage on lap 39 due to brake failure.

The Spanish Grand Prix finally showed teasers of what we’ve been waiting for, for the first four races. While Mercedes is still a clear dominating force, Rosberg is within half a second of Hamilton, and still a strong title contender. The Ferraris are beginning to be competitive come race day, and Alonso and Raikkonen are battling for position with each other, albiet for sixth and seventh… Finally Vettel has pulled his finger out driving the RB10 closer to the way his team mate is. Despite one rather “spontaneous” driver, Lotus too seemed to have ironed out a lot of the kinks from missing pre season testing and are again in a competitive footing. The break from China allowed teams to make major developments on the cars, though the journey is far from over. In a fortnights time, the championship moves to the diamond in the crown that is the Formula 1 calendar for the Monaco Grand Prix. This circuit is the hardest for overtaking, and the high downforce, low speed nature of the circuit is Daniel Ricciardo’s first real shot at the top step of the podium. Here’s hoping I hear my own national anthem at the conclusion of next round, until then buenas noches.

– Alex

* Hope I don’t jinx that

Qualifying Pole Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes)
Podium Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes)
Nico Rosberg (Mercedes)
Daniel Ricciardo (Red Bull Racing)
Fastest Lap 1:28.918 Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull Racing)

Spanish Grand Prix: Pre Race Thoughts

¡Hola, bienvenidos a España! The first race of the European leg of the Championship begins at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya. The 4.655km track is a demanding circuit, with a faster first and second sector turns into a low speed final sector offering very little downforce. Teams must find the right package to maintain speed through the first half of the track, and traction through the slower corners. All the teams made major developments over the three week break in a hope to catch up to Mercedes’ early dominance, though the leading team remained two steps ahead. In ideal qualifying conditions, Lewis Hamilton took his first pole position at the Spanish Grand Prix just ahead of team mate Nico Rosberg, and Red Bulls Daniel Ricciardo. Despite ideal conditions, the Barcelona track was certainly biting back keeping the field very much fighting to control their cars. Some less successfully than others… *Cough* Maldonado *Cough.

Lewis Hamilton will line up in P1, for the fifth consecutive time this season (stop it Lewis). Hamilton, who doesn’t yet have the title lead, struggled compared to Rosberg for pace during the early stages of qualifying. The Briton was half a second slower than his team mate, losing considerable time in turns 7 and 10. Despite a solid performance over free practice, Hamilton complained over radio that somehow they had made the car worse. Clearly it couldn’t have been that bad, as in true Hamilton style he delivered an unbeatable lap of 1:25.232. Nico Rosberg is less than thrilled to start P2, being the only other driver to break into the 1:25s. Rosberg overall drove better throughout qualifying, setting the pace in the first two sessions. The German’s final flying lap time of 1:25.400 sat at the top of the time sheet until the final moments of the session when his team mate crossed the line.

Ricciardo appears to be the only driver to come close to challenging the Mercedes. The Australian qualifies P3, just 1.1s slower than the pole sitter and just over half a second behind Rosberg. In Q1 Ricciardo found himself struggling with for rear grip of his RB10, though took control in Q2 to finish strong. It’s been a disaster of a weekend for Sebastian Vettel, who leading into qualifying had only completed 24 laps of the circuit. Running with the chassis he used in winter testing, the RB10 stopped during FP1 due to an issue with the wiring loom, failed to run in FP2, and finally put in 20 laps on Saturday morning. During qualifying, the reigning world champion at first appeared to have ironed out the kinks with the car in Q1, lapping quicker than his team mate. Though in Q2 the order switched with Ricciardo nearly a second quicker a lap. In the final session, Vettel found himself with a box of neutrals* as he left the pit, causing the second red flag of the day. The RB10 lost second gear, changed to third, only to get stuck in fifth before finally retiring from the session. Overnight Vettel was handed a 5 place grid penalty for a gearbox change, so after qualifying a default P10, will start P15.

It was a biploar qualifying for Williams with Bottas qualifying on the third row in P4, while Massa starts from the middle of the grid in P9. Valtteri Bottas looked comfortable in his FW36 following changes to the setup made after FP2, momentarily splitting the two Red Bulls in Q2 for pace. Massa couldn’t match his team mate’s pace however and lapped towards the middle of the field, eventually qualifying P9.

Romain Grosjean is carrying all the success for the Lotus team, putting his E22 in a very impressive P5. Heading out initially on the medium compound tyres, the Frenchman struggling with understeer joining the list of drivers to run off at turn 10, affecting his lap times. Just making it through to Q2, Grosjean then contended with his E22 pulling left under braking, though easily made it through to Q3. While Lotus certainly haven’t ironed out all the issues with the E22, the teams progress in five races is rather insane. Pastor Maldonado saw the first qualifying session stopped with 13:31 remaining after sending his E22 into the inside wall on the exit to turn 3 after only completing two laps. The Venezuelan went too far left on the exit of turn three, putting two wheels on the slippery astro turf, losing control Maldonado tried to correct and ended up on the other side of the track, missing a front right wishbone and tyre. It really is a shame for the Enstone team to see their hard work and effort essentially fall to pieces by careless driving. It’s time Maldonado took a leaf out of Grosjean’s book, and matured and developed as a driver. The early session retirement means Maldonado will round off the back of the grid in P22.

The Ferrari looks to have been one of the cars to have made a significant improvement since China, though not enough to compete with the Mercedes yet. Both Ferrari’s made it through to Q3, much to the delight of the Spanish fans. Kimi Raikkonen however did manage to out qualify the Spaniard for P6, though only by 0.021s. All eyes will be on Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso at his home Grand Prix. Like the rest of the field, Alonso struggled to get grip in the F14-T. Briefly sitting in the drop zone for Q2, the Spaniard found time in the final sector to make it through, eventually qualifying P7.

Jensen Button was in the drop zone in Q1, though improved on his lap time to edge out Sauber’s Adrian Sutil. Button’s lap times, like many other drivers, suffered from poor balance and too much under steer. The Briton went on the make it through to Q3, despite struggling with the car, and qualifies P8. Kevin Magnussen didn’t set a time for Q2 after his MP4-29s power unit failed. Magnussen ran well in Q1, lapping one-tenth of a second slower than his team mate with 1:28.389. The McLaren qualifies P15, but will move up to P14 following Sebastian Vettel’s grid penalty.

The Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya is a track that doesn’t really favour the Force India VJM07, which could be seen in how both Hulkenberg and Perez twitched through the back end of the circuit. Despite neither driver making it through to Q3, both Hulkenberg and Perez placed reasonably well in P11 and P12 to start P10 and P11 respectively once Vettel takes his penalty

In a flurry of flying laps at the conclusion of Q2, Daniil Kvyat was on the edge of the drop zone. The Russian’s sector 1 and 2 times were enough to see him through to Q3, which incidentally would have knocked out Fernando Alonso, though the STR9 lost time in the low speed sector 3*. As a result Kvyat qualified P13, to start P12. Vergne, who didn’t run in Q2, starts at the back of the grid. The Toro Rosso driver takes a 10 place grid penalty for an unsafe release in FP2 that saw his left rear tyre come loose from his car.

It was a rather quiet qualifying for the Sauber team with Gutierrez qualifying P14 (starting P13) ahead of Sutil in P17. Both Sauber drivers appeared to battle similar issues with their setup and grip, resulting in less than ideal lap times for the team.

The usual suspects were in the knocked out at the end of Q1, with both Marussia drivers qualifying ahead of the Caterhams. Max Chilton put in his best qualifying yet, setting a lap time of 1:29.586 which was only 1.023s slower than Sauber’s Adrian Sutil. Chilton, who dare I say is improving, qualifies P18, ahead of Bianchi’s P19. Marcus Ericsson out qualifies Kamui Kobayashi  for P20 and P21.

Barring mechanical failure, Lewis Hamilton is in the best position to win from pole at the Spanish Grand Prix. Despite developments from up and down the pit wall, the Mercedes are still the dominant package, and Lewis still the fastest on a single qualifying lap. On a track like the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya, qualifying is all-important as over taking is difficult. That being said, the nature of the circuit, and lack of grip from the Pirellis have seen many of the drivers struggling with their setup, particularly struggling for control through turns 7 and 10. I wouldn’t rule out the possibility of a safety car, which of course would shake up strategies and hopefully positions.

– Alex

* Thanks for the use of your name Box of Neutrals. Very applicable for the post! https://twitter.com/BoxOfNeutrals

** Possibly slowing down for fear of the Spanish fans.