Spanish Grand Prix: Rosberg’s Race

Nico Rosberg took home his first race victory of the season at today’s Spanish Grand Prix. A controlled race from the start, Rosberg managed a two stop strategy to finish 13 seconds clear of teammate, Lewis Hamilton, and a massive 48 seconds clear of third placed, Sebastian Vettel. Apart from a few bruised front jack-men, and a mysteriously missing rear end plate, the Spanish Grand Prix got underway smoothly. There wasn’t even a Renault powered retirement. At lights out, Rosberg stormed ahead while Hamilton was left behind due to excessive wheel spin, allowing Vettel to slip himself into P2 leading into the first corner. Already on the back foot, Hamilton had to defend his now P3 position from Bottas in the Williams. The rest of the grid snaked their way through safely, though Maldonado did receive some contact somewhere and somehow in the pack.

The Mercedes team, celebrating yet another 1-2 finish, split their drivers strategies today. Rosberg running off a two-stop started on the mediums, swapping to the hard compound tyre in the middle, before swapping back to the medium tyre in the final stint found that the F1 W06 still had a considerable amount of rear grip as he crossed the line. Hamilton, however, went for a three-stop strategy after using up too much of his front tyres chasing down Vettel in the opening laps. The Briton’s first stop was a slow one due to a reluctant left rear tyre. Coming back out behind Maldonado cost the Mercedes valuable time in chasing down the Ferrari. After Vettel’s final stop, Hamilton was able to pull enough of a lead to hold P2. Still a good 13 seconds behind Rosberg, Hamilton was told over the radio that catching his teammate would be “impossible”, settling the Mercedes for second.

The aero upgrades that Ferrari brought with them to Spain were somewhat of an anti climax, as when it came down to crunch time, Vettel wasn’t able to catch the Mercedes. Making the most of a good start, Vettel’s two-stop strategy starting on the medium and ending on the hard compound still gave the German a podium position. An irritated Vettel was held up in traffic after his final stop, making a challenge for P2 out of the question. In the other Ferrari, Kimi Raikkonen nursed his medium compound tyres, only coming in to pit on lap 20. (Only Alonso in the McLaren lasted longer on the medium tyres, pitting on lap 24. But things didn’t work out too well for Alonso in the end, so it doesn’t really count). Swapping to the hard compound for the middle stint, and back to the medium compound for the final stint, Kimi was able to close the gap to less than a second ahead of fourth placed Bottas. The fight of the Finns last right down to the final corner, where Bottas remained just out of reach. Overall, a P3 for Vettel and P5 for Kimi was a strong finish for the Scuderia.

It was a positive day for Williams, with both Bottas and Massa finishing comfortably within the points. Bottas’ defending from a fresh and hungry Raikkonen was arguably the most exciting thing to happen to the team for the entirety of the race. Massa, starting from P9, made an early move on Daniil Kvyat and Carlos Sainz to climb up to P7, later making up a further place on Daniel Ricciardo to finish P6.

Red Bull managed, not only to make an entire race distance without a Renault power failure, but to bring both boys home within the points. Daniel Ricciardo finished ahead of his teammate in P7, while Kvyat was further back in P10 after a bold move by Sainz saw the Russian lose a place.

In the weird and wonderful way that Lotus like to do things, Romain Grosjean and Pastor Maldonado provided some entertainment while both delivering a strong race performances. Starting from P11, Grosjean had a difficult race after losing fourth gear in the middle stint. Coming in for his second stop, on to the hard compound tyres, Grosjean found the E23 really had lost all grip. Overstepping the grid spot and giving the front jack-man a little nod in his, er, crown jewels. Luckily it wasn’t anything a bag of frozen peas and a bandage couldn’t fix for the jack-man, and Romain went on to finish P8. Maldonado it seems, took the Lotus sponsorship of Mad Max a little too literally, damaging his rear wing early on in the race. A longer pit stop on lap 15 saw the mechanics fix *cough* remove the broken end plate, and Pastor raced on in his E22.5 somehow matching the pace of the fully functioning E23 of Romain. Physics. Unfortunately for the team, Maldonado had to come in to retire at the end of lap 45.

… More to come

– Alex

Spanish Grand Prix: Pre Race Thoughts

Hola! Buenos dias amigos, bienvenidos a España. The first stop of the European leg of the championship kicks off at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya. The 4.655km, high downforce circuit, is made up of a high speed first and second sector, before the tight and twisty third sector. The tyre allocation for the weekend is the medium and hard compound tyre, with teams aiming for a two-stopper. Turn 1 allows for overtaking under braking before flicking the car into turns 2 and 3. The high speed turn 3 puts a lot of stress under the front left tyres, but, does allow for overtaking (if you dare). Turn 5 has caught a few out over the weekend with front lock ups as the track falls away. Traction is all important here as drivers snake their way through turns 7, 8, and 9. Opening out onto the back straight its full throttle, utilising DRS into another overtaking attempt at turn 10. Best to avoid the kerbs in the final sector to keep traction, and allow for some late braking through the chicane at turns 14 and 15. Through to the final corner, a good racing line through turn 16 can give you the edge down the long pit straight and another DRS zone.

Traditionally a hot and dry weekend, qualifying got underway in ideal conditions with Nico Rosberg managing to steal pole position for the first time this season. Hamilton was left to challenge his team mate, though will settle to start P2. Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel was the best of the rest, after qualifying just behind the Mercedes in P3 with 1:25.458.

It was a solid effort by Lotus this afternoon, though for the first time this season the E23s didn’t make an appearance in Q3. The team worked from the morning to find a better balance in the car and ran a different strategy in qualifying, meaning the Maldonado and Grosjean have an extra set of fresh tyres for the race. Good one. Starting on the hard compound, Grosjean and Maldonado ran for four laps before swapping to the softer medium tyre. In Q1, Maldonado shot himself up and out of the drop zone seeing him move through to the second session, followed shortly by Grosjean. Split by a tenth of a second, Grosjean’s best effort was 1:27.375 for P11, ahead of Maldonado’s 1:27.450 in P12.

McLaren have brought a number of upgrades to Spain, with the results of their efforts paying off in practice and in qualifying. Alonso on his first run in Q1 on the medium tyres set a time good enough for P5, ahead of Button in P6, seeing both the MP4-30s through to Q2. With a few minor tweaks to the front wing, Alonso and Button ventured out into Q2 for the first time this season. Button found his car pulling left under braking, costing the Briton lap time. Unable to carry the momentum through to Q3, the two McLaren’s will start P13 and P14 with Alonso in front by a tenth of a second.

Manor F1 Team line up the back of the grid with Stevens setting 1:31.200 after three laps on the medium compound to start P19. In front of his home crowd, Merhi set 1:32.038 after four laps on the medium compound for P20.

Chinese Grand Prix: Mercedes Rivalry

Lewis Hamilton returned to the top step of the podium after the Chinese Grand Prix. The Mercedes driver took the win from pole position, finishing ahead of his teammate, Nico Rosberg, and Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel. The final laps of the race were neutralised following the deployment of the safety car on lap 54. For the first time this season, 20 cars were on the grid for lights out. Hamilton was quick off the line, angling his F1 W06 to defend from Rosberg. While slightly further back, Sebastian Vettel passed Massa, immediately moving up in P3. In the other Ferrari, Kimi lined up behind the two Williams to move up on the inside of turn 2, giving himself the better line through turn 3 to pass Bottas and then Massa later in the lap. The rest of the grid snaked their way through the first corner relatively unscathed, with some contact between the two Toro Rossos.

Hamilton once again outstretched his Championship lead after being relatively unchallenged throughout the race. The Mercedes duo ran the same tyre strategy during the race, running the soft tyres for the first two stints, before swapping to medium compound tyres for the final leg. Rosberg however felt his race was compromised, complaining that his teammate was cruising in front of him. This then allowed Vettel to catch up to the Mercedes causing Rosberg to defend and use his tyres. Despite this, Rosberg still came home P2 in front of Vettel.

Ferrari had a competitive race for both Vettel and Kimi, finishing P3 and P4 respectively. It was a stormer of a first lap for both drivers, managing to pass the two Williams in the first sector. Like the Mercedes, Ferrari chose the run the soft compound tyres for the first two stints before swapping to the medium tyre for the final stint. The team didn’t however manage to make an undercut for Vettel to challenge for the win, despite pushing like hell to pull the gap. Kimi Raikkonen was on form from the get-go. Back to his old ways the Finn didn’t let up, maintaining his tyres until the final laps. However, Verstappen’s retirement on lap 54 robbed us of what would probably the most exciting battle for position in the race.

Williams were strong throughout the afternoon, maintaining a healthy position for both Massa and Bottas. However, being Ferrari’s main target for the race meant having to be on the defence from lights out. While the Williams were unable to keep their position from the Scuderia, Massa and Bottas were able to engage in some good old competitive rivalry amongst teammates. In the opening stages, Bottas made a move on Massa, moving himself up to P5, only for Massa to lay a move a few corners later. The two spent the remainder of the race in the same positions, eventually finishing P5 for Massa and P6 for Bottas after a two stop strategy.

Lotus scored their first points of the season as Romain Grosjean came home in P7. Keeping out of trouble, Grosjean managed his tyres well, running on the soft compound before running the final two stints on the medium tyre. Pastor Maldonado was not so lucky however. After a strong start, passing Felipe Nasr in the early stages, Maldonado began to show signs of braking issues after missing the entrance to the pit lane, and spinning a few laps later. Falling back in the grid, the E23 then found himself in the midst of a McLaren sandwich, simultaneously challenging Button for P13 and defending from a charging* Alonso. Maldonado’s luck ran out on lap 49 after behind rear-ended by Button, forcing the Lotus to retire on lap 52.

Both Sauber’s collected points, with Nasr finishing P8 ahead of Ericsson in P10. Ericsson lost a position early on after running wide on the opening lap and allowing the Lotus of Pastor Maldonado through. Despite some good battles for the team, the C34 was a little down on pace even with the Ferrari power. However, a well managed two-stop strategy did allow for a few battles for position for Felipe Nasr.

Red Bull continue to rue the Renault power, with Ricciardo picking up just two points for the team. Taking a somewhat unwanted leaf out of Mark Webber’s book, Ricciardo struggled with the anti-stall off the line, losing 10 places before reaching the first corner. The Renault power continued to misbehave, completely giving out in a ball of smoke on Daniil Kvyat on lap 17.

It was mixed feelings for Force India, with only one car finishing the race. Sergio Perez was unlucky to finish outside of the points in P11. Unable to maintain competitive tyres, the team switched Perez to a three stop strategy, however this failed to come off in a points finish. Nico Hulkenberg was the first retirement of the race, crawling to a halt on lap 10 after reporting over the radio that something wasn’t right with his gearbox, as it turns out there was something wrong.

In a step in the right direction, both McLaren’s finished the race. Alonso and Button both managed to engage in some competitive battles for position, albiet at the back of the grid. However, some contact with Maldonado nearly cost Button his race. Alonso eventually came home P12 ahead of Button, who finished P13.

Toro Rosso were another to have a bittersweet race, with Verstappen becoming a late retirement from a strong and points scoring finish. The rookie driver continued to race beyond his years with late braking into the corners without locking up or getting too close. Verstappen’s best battle was with Felipe Nasr in the middle stint. It was a slightly more difficult race for Carlos Sainz, losing positions after suffering a spin on the second lap. Eventually finishing outside of the points in P14. The feel good race moment goes to Manor F1 Team, with both Will Stevens and Roberto Mehri starting the race and making it all the way to the chequered flag. Stevens finished ahead of Mehri in P15 and P16 respectively.

Without a break, the championship moves to the Middle East for the Bahrain Grand Prix next weekend where the track is hot, hard, and abrasive. A nightmare for tyre management.

– Alex

* As charging as a McLaren-Honda can be this season