Mercedes' Domination Makes It 5 1-2 Finishes In A Row
Graham Read, Formula 1 Correspondent
Following the opening four races in the 2019 world championship Formula 1 returned to Europe this weekend for the Spanish Grand Prix at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya. Mercedes’ Valtteri Bottas had arrived heading the drivers’ championship by one point from team-mate Lewis Hamilton, with main rivals Ferrari very much on the back foot, but come Sunday’s chequered flag it was Hamilton who topped the table after yet another dominant 1-2 result for the silver arrows.
The track is located north of the city centre in an area called Montmeló, but its future as an F1 venue is under question as its contract to hold a Grand Prix expires this year and as yet no renewal has been negotiated. Whatever the outcome, it seems highly likely that its place as the first European race on the 2020 calendar will be taken by a returning Dutch GP at the coastal Zandvoort circuit, which last hosted a Formula 1 race back in 1985.
Ferrari had performed best during the pre-season testing in Spain and, as its multitude of bright red transporters rolled into the circuit, the team hoped for an improvement in its fortunes, helped by some power unit upgrades, but most teams were also introducing improvements of their own too. How wrong their optimism was to prove to be.
When all 20 cars headed out for Friday morning’s first free practice session Bottas traded times with the Ferraris of Sebastian Vettel and Charles Leclerc before the Finn established himself as fastest, despite having to miss the final half hour due to an oil leak. Hamilton was fourth quickest, 0.6s off the pace and complaining about his tyres.
That afternoon when practice resumed Bottas again outpaced his team-mate, with Leclerc and Vettel third and fourth fastest for Ferrari, but in Saturday morning’s final practice period Hamilton topped the timesheets ahead of Leclerc, Bottas and Vettel as Mercedes and Ferrari continued to dominate proceedings.
Come Saturday afternoon’s qualifying hour Bottas put in an absolutely stunning lap on his first run in the final period and claimed his third pole position in a row, beating second placed Hamilton by a margin of over six tenths of a second. To their rear Vettel was the best of the rest, with Red Bull’s Max Verstappen joining him on the second row after outqualifying Leclerc.
Ferrari’s young Monegasque driver is very much a rising star of the future, but, as in Azerbaijan two weeks ago, he unfortunately again made a car damaging mistake in the second part of qualifying which hampered his chances. The Haas duo, Romain Grosjean and Kevin Magnussen, impressed as they helped themselves to the fourth row on the grid for the following day’s race.
The conditions were hot and sunny, with a gusting crosswind, as the cars formed up on the grid and the pre-race tension grew. It’s a long 565 metre sprint down to the opening righthander and when the red lights went out the excited crowd witnessed a three-abreast charge towards Turn 1 involving Hamilton, Bottas and Vettel.
The Ferrari driver briefly made it round the outside of Bottas into second place, but badly flatspotted his front right tyre and had to drop back before also being passed by Verstappen.
As the race developed the leading Hamilton started to pull clear of Bottas and Verstappen and it became obvious that Vettel was struggling with his damaged rubber as Leclerc applied pressure. As a result Ferrari instructed Vettel to let his team-mate past, which he duly did approaching the first corner on lap 12.
Vettel was then the first of the leading cars to pit for fresh tyres, switching from his worn softs to the harder medium compound, and Red Bull immediately responded by bringing Verstappen in. By lap 28 all the leading runners had pitted and Hamilton still led from Bottas and Verstappen.
At this stage of the Grand Prix Ferrari appeared to suffer from an element of strategic hesitation as Vettel caught and pressured fourth placed Leclerc, who was running on hard tyres and delaying the German. Eventually the team from Maranello responded and told Leclerc to let his team-mate by, which he did at Turn 4 on the 36th tour.
Meanwhile Hamilton and Bottas were looking increasingly in charge out front as Vettel, Verstappen and Bottas made their second pit stops. Hamilton’s right rear tyre was starting to blister badly and his team was about to call him in when McLaren’s young British driver Lando Norris collided with Lance Stroll’s Racing Point car and both exited the fray at Turn 2, forcing the Safety Car to be deployed. This helped Hamilton to make what is known as a “cheap” pit stop with a lesser loss of time than under normal racing conditions.
When the Safety Car returned to the pitlane at the end of the 52nd lap of the 66 lap Grand Prix Hamilton made an excellent restart and led Bottas and Verstappen to the chequered flag and subsequent podium celebrations, with the winner also claiming the extra point for the fastest race lap.
After what could perhaps best be described as a difficult day at the office, Vettel and Leclerc finished fourth and fifth, with their Ferrari team facing an ever increasing challenge to take the fight to the all-conquering Mercedes team. Pierre Gasly completed the top sextet for Red Bull and Magnussen drove well to finish as best of the rest for Haas just one place behind.
The next race on the calendar is the iconic Monaco Grand Prix, the annual blast around the Principality’s narrow streets where overtaking is so difficult, but the atmosphere is always so special. It’s rightly known as the jewel in Formula 1’s crown and is a race every driver really wants to win. Despite its limitations it’s one of my favourite F1 venues and I look forward to bringing you details of all the action in a fortnight’s time.
2019 Formula 1 Spanish Grand Prix
1 Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes) 1hr35m50.443s
2 Valtteri Bottas (Mercedes) +4.074s
3 Max Verstappen (Red Bull) +7.679s
4 Sebastian Vettel (Ferrari) +9.167s
5 Charles Leclerc (Ferrari) +13.361s
6 Pierre Gasly (Red Bull) +19.576s
7 Kevin Magnussen (Haas) +28.159s
8 Carlos Sainz (McLaren) +32.342s
9 Daniil Kvyat (Toro Rosso) +33.056s
10 Romain Grosjean (Haas) +34.641s
11 Alexander Albon (Toro Rosso) +35.445s
12 Daniel Ricciardo (Renault) +36.758s
13 Nico Hülkenberg (Renault) +39.241s
14 Kimi Räikkönen (Alfa Romeo) +41.803s
15 Sergio Perez (Racing Point) +46.877s
16 Antonio Giovinazzi (Alfa Romeo) +47.691s
17 George Russell (Williams) Lapped
18 Robert Kubica (Williams) Lapped
19 Lance Stroll (Racing Point) Retired
20 Lando Norris (McLaren) Retired
2019 Formula 1 Drivers Championship (after 5 rounds of 21)
1 Lewis Hamilton 112
2 Valtteri Bottas 115
3 Max Verstappen 66
2019 Formula 1 Constructors Championship (after 5 rounds of 21)
1 Mercedes 217
2 Ferrari 121
3 Red Bull 87
|Also by Graham Read...|
|Mercedes’ Superior Strategy Helps Hamilton Outwit Verstappen In Hungary|
|Verstappen Wins A Truly Chaotic German Grand Prix|
|Back To Business As Usual As Mercedes Dominate At Silverstone|
|Silverstone Extends Its British Grand Prix Contract|
|After Forgettable France F1 Returns To Its Brilliant Best In Austria|
Mercedes' Domination Makes It 5 1-2 Finishes In A Row, 12th May 2019, 22:07 PM