Hamilton Cruises To An Easy Victory In Spain
After Red Bull’s Max Verstappen had taken a surprise victory over the usually dominant Mercedes team at Silverstone last weekend, battle recommenced just days later at Spain’s Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya and on this occasion it was an unchallenged Lewis Hamilton who lifted the winner’s trophy for Mercedes.
Hamilton was untouchable as he claimed his fifth Spanish Grand Prix win
Verstappen’s success in Northamptonshire had been down to his driving brilliance, an ambitious strategy by his Milton Keynes based team and the fact that the Mercedes cars had punished their overheating rear tyres prematurely in the high ambient temperatures enveloping the fast sweeps of the home of British motorsport. Fast forward to the Montmeló venue, located just north of Barcelona, and the weather was still as hot as you would expect during a Spanish summer, with Mercedes working hard to try to fix its tyre woes before the ontrack action resumed. Things were going to be way hotter than for Barcelona’s February winter testing days or even the traditional early May date for the Spanish Grand Prix.
Meanwhile, Racing Point remained a centre of attention in the paddock as on Thursday morning the team announced the return of Sergio “Checo” Perez after missing the previous pair of races due to coronavirus. The Mexican’s negative test for COVID-19 meant the end for now at least of the resurrected F1 career of impressive temporary stand-in Nico Hülkenberg.
Racing Point’s Perez was delighted to be back ontrack, on foot as well as in his car
The appeals against the Racing Point adjudication following its brake duct hearing at Silverstone rumbled on, even though on the Tuesday before the Barcelona event McLaren had withdrawn its intention to appeal, as did Williams the following morning. This left Racing Point still seeking to clear its name via the International Court of Appeal, whilst Renault and Ferrari remained intent on getting the team a harsher punishment via the same route. Ferrari team principal Mattia Binotto made his feelings very clear “(Lawrence) Stroll (the main owner of the Racing Point outfit) and (Toto) Wolff (the Mercedes team principal) may be furious, but there has been a violation of the regulations here. Like copying a test.” All teams are keen for there to be clarification that key areas affecting a car’s performance do need to be self-designed, as per the regulations, and not simply copied.
Wolff also publicly admitted that he is reviewing where his future lies as, like Hamilton, his contract with Mercedes expires at the end of this year. The Austrian may stay with the German outfit he joined back in 2013, but it is not beyond the realms of possibility that he may team up his friend Lawrence Stroll at Racing Point next year, when it will be renamed Aston Martin Formula 1.
Elsewhere at Ferrari Charles Leclerc may have managed to climb to a decent fourth place finish at Silverstone, but his team-mate’s race there was simply one problem after another, which left multiple champion Seb Vettel anything but happy and publicly critical of the Scuderia. The German driver had a new chassis for Spain, but his divorce from the team in red looks like it may be an acrimonious and protracted affair until the end of the season unless of course he happens to leave before then.
Vettel had a new chassis for Spain, but will he remain at Ferrari until the end of the season?
In all three of Friday and Saturday’s free practice sessions Mercedes simply continued their domination of practice at Silverstone just a week earlier as Valtteri Bottas and Hamilton easily topped the timesheets, with Verstappen the best of the rest, if significantly slower. The final practice period had to be redflagged after a bizarre off for Renault’s Esteban Ocon as he almost ran into the back of Kevin Magnussen’s Haas.
It has been accepted practice for some time that, where possible, teams would “turn up the wick” on their power units for qualifying to maximise short term speed, but in the build-up to the Spanish weekend the FIA made it clear that after the Spanish event they would expect teams to both qualify and race in the same engine mode as it was all becoming increasingly difficult to police.
With Mercedes being masters of this extra power qualifying mode, it was felt that they and the Racing Point and Williams outfits whom they supply power units to might suffer most. Whilst most teams were quite happy with the impending change, Hamilton, who has often referred to the performance benefit as “party mode”, suggested in Thursday’s press conference that it was very much aimed at his own all-conquering team, claiming “It is obviously to slow us down, but I don’t think it will get the result they want.” Time will tell post Spain.
Come the qualifying hour, it was inevitable that Mercedes would claim the front row on the grid for the following day’s Grand Prix, with it just being a matter as to which of their drivers would add another pole position to his CV. In the end it was Hamilton who narrowly edged it from Bottas, with Verstappen and Perez lining up behind them. Ferrari’s woes merely continued as Leclerc was only ninth fastest and Vettel was a couple of places behind his young Monégasque team-mate. The Scuderia’s worst qualifying result at this circuit in 30 years.
Before the race there was the now usual message from the drivers about their support for an end to racism, with thirteen choosing to take a knee and seven not. Back in their cars, it’s a mighty 612 metre sprint off the grid to the first corner, with a real possibility for slipstreaming before hitting the brakes as late as possible for the sweeping righthander. When the red lights went out Hamilton and Verstappen blasted ahead of the rest, with Lance Stroll quickly demoting Bottas to fourth position before the Finn usurped his Canadian opponent on lap five with DRS assistance approaching Turn 1.
Verstappen outpaced Bottas, but couldn’t match Hamilton
By the eighth tour it was clear that the podium trio would probably be Hamilton, Verstappen and Bottas as they edged clear of the remainder of the field and it was soon equally apparent that Red Bull’s young Dutch charger had no answer to the pace of the leading British driver. An amazing 1.9 second first pit stop for Verstappen helped his cause as Hamilton’s one lap later took a tardy 4.3 seconds and, with Bottas stopping too, we soon had Hamilton, Verstappen and Bottas out front again.
As rain clouds gathered over the distant hills the pink Racing Point cars were being driven to great effect by Stroll and Perez in fourth and fifth positions. Leclerc had been having a very entertaining scrap with McLaren’s Lando Norris for 11th place before the former’s car cut out at the chicane on lap 37 and, although he managed to restart it, retirement loomed soon afterwards.
After the front trio had headed pitwards for a second time it was still Hamilton who led comfortably from Verstappen and Bottas and so it remained to the chequered flag. The best of the rest looked like being the one-stopping Perez, but he picked up a five second penalty for ignoring blue flags and as the end neared was well over a minute behind Bottas, who claimed the extra point for the fastest lap.
Perez’s penalty dropped him to fifth behind his team-mate, although the outfit was delighted with their points haul, and local hero Carlos Sainz completed the top six at his home event. A one-stopping Vettel finished seventh for Ferrari despite not receiving clear assistance from his team over tyre management and you could understand the hint of tetchiness from the German multiple champion in the radio exchanges with his race engineer.
Racing Point was very happy with its fourth and fifth place finishes
So, after three consecutive Grands Prix across a two week period Formula 1 now has a weekend off before another tripleheader of back-to-back races commences in late August. First up comes Belgium’s famous Spa Francorchamps circuit, to be followed by the equally iconic “temple of speed” known as Monza, near Milan, before we then move on a short distance across northern Italy to witness a first ever Grand Prix of Tuscany at the beautifully located and Ferrari owned track at Mugello.
2020 Formula 1 Spanish Grand Prix
1 Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes) 1hr31m45.279s
2 Max Verstappen (Red Bull) +24.177s
3 Valtteri Bottas (Mercedes) +44.752s
4 Lance Stroll (Racing Point) Lapped
5 Sergio Perez (Racing Point) Lapped
6 Carlos Sainz (McLaren) Lapped
7 Sebastian Vettel (Ferrari) Lapped
8 Alex Albon (Red Bull) Lapped
9 Pierre Gasly (AlphaTauri) Lapped
10 Lando Norris (McLaren) Lapped
11 Daniel Ricciardo (Renault) Lapped
12 Daniil Kvyat (AlphaTauri) Lapped
13 Esteban Ocon (Renault) Lapped
14 Kimi Räikkönen (Alfa Romeo) Lapped
15 Kevin Magnussen (Haas) Lapped
16 Antonio Giovinazzi (Alfa Romeo) Lapped
17 George Russell (Williams) Lapped
18 Nicholas Latifi (Williams) Lapped
19 Romain Grosjean (Haas) Lapped
20 Charles Leclerc (Ferrari) Retired
2020 Formula 1 Drivers Championship
1 Lewis Hamilton 132
2 Max Verstappen 95
3 Valtteri Bottas 89
2020 Formula 1 Constructors Championship
1 Mercedes 221
2 Red Bull 135
3 Racing Point 63