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.
* Hope I don’t jinx that
||Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes)
||Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes)
||Nico Rosberg (Mercedes)
||Daniel Ricciardo (Red Bull Racing)
||1:28.918 Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull Racing)