Formula 1 Spanish Grand Prix (Or the Spainish Grand Prix, as F1 once called it)
Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya
Duncraig Dan 2020, Chapter 6: Spain, where the ‘S’ is silent
The final leg of the latest triple header of the Formula 1 season, and since last week’s 70th Anniversary GP, the FIA announced they were intending to ban the use of ‘Qualifying Modes’ in engines, also known as ‘Party Mode’ by the start of the 2021 season, in some apparent attempt to slightly level the playing field to Mercedes, although with the FIA’s recent track record, it’s either going to massively screw over the mid-pack teams and make things worse, or do absolutely nothing at all.
Based on what Ferrari are doing, I’d say nothing at all.
Meantime, the mud-flinging between Racing Point and their rivals has also continued, even as Williams and McLaren confirmed they wouldn’t be joining in the appeal against the pink car’s brake ducts leaving Ferrari and Renault.
During the traditional team bosses press conference, Racing Point’s Otmar Szafuner, responding to McLaren CEO Zak Brown’s claims that their ‘Tracing Point’ design being based on photographs was “BS”, said that Brown had no idea about the current F1 rules, and that Brown knew more about historic car racing than he did Formula 1.
“A lot of what Otmar said is true, I’m not an engineer… but as CEO I’ve never been fined a dollar, let alone €400,000, and Otmar thought it was 7.5 points until Sky told him differently.”
“As far as historic racing, I think people that know me know I enjoy historic racing, and I’d invite Otmar to come join me, because he’s got a historic car that he’s currently racing.”
THE CALIFORNIA BEAR HAS BRANDISHED HIS CLAWS.
Practice & Qualifying
In FP1, Valtteri Bottas spoke in some kind of robotic dialect on a radio check:
I’m no expert, but surely that’s just him saying “Understood’ in Finnish.
Practice 3 ended in weird circumstances, as Esteban Ocon let Kevin Magnussen through at Turns 2 & 3 as the Haas completed a flying lap, and Magnussen slowed down and moved off the racing line, having been advised that traffic was coming.
Ocon did the same thing, but accelerated at the same time that he was checking his mirrors, having to swerve hard right to avoid smashing the back of the Dane’s Haas, hitting the wall front on, and bringing out a red flag.
The stewards cleared it off as a simple accident, Ocon was passed fit to race, and Renault had the car fixed for Qualifying.
In the opening Qualifying session, Kimi Raikkonen finally helped Alfa Romeo escape Q1 for the first time this season, while George Russell, despite being knocked out in the opening session, surpassed Fernando Alonso’s unofficial record of outqualifying his teammate at 27 consecutive events, having never lost a head to head duel in his brief career at Williams.
In Q2, as the usual suspects put a space between everyone, there was a mad scramble in the midpack to reach the final session, which was so tight that were was a mere 0.035 seconds splitting 8th to 13th.
Of course, Daniel Ricciardo just had to be one of the drivers to miss out, which was a really flattening result after how well Renault had performed at Silverstone, and the French team’s struggle was further exacerbated by Ocon being outqualified by Raikkonen, although they would have the apparent advantage of being able to start on a fresh set of Medium tyres against the degrading Softs.
Ultimately, it was Alex Albon and Lando Norris who scraped through by the width of their facial hair, as Sebastian Vettel, armed with a new chassis from Ferrari, was actually into the final session as time expired, but after Pierre Gasly fired in the lucky last time to jump to 5th place, Seb was bumped down to 11th, missing Norris in 10th by a mere 2-thousandths of a second, apparently the equivalent of 12 centimetres.
It may have been bone dry in Barcelona, but for Seb, when it rains, it pours.
As per usual in Q3, Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas were fighting over Pole Position (The grand prize being a mini Pirelli tyre) like two wolves ripping a carcass to shreds, and in a very familiar story, it was Lewis who started at the head of the field for a record 92nd time, as Bottas qualified a rather clear second by 0.059 of a second, Max Verstappen qualified 3rd in his pursuit of back-to-back wins, 7-tenths off Hamilton, and Sergio Perez was the only other driver to get within a second of the pole time, a decent result on his return from COVID isolation.
Yep, it was all set up for another Barcelona Borefest, which has been every year outside of Nico Rosberg hitting Lewis on the opening lap of 2016.
Race (66 Laps)
At the start, Hamilton led from a fast-starting Verstappen, as Bottas was taken by Lance Stroll in a daring Turn 1 move, as the Finn was bashed left right and centre by Stroll, Sergio Perez and Alex Albon, but there was no contact to speak of, and the race settled down.
Further down, Ricciardo did advance to 12th place ahead of former teammate Daniil Kvyat, but dropped back to 13th with Kvyat starting the race of a Soft tyre and getting past, as Renault began a long and frustrating afternoon, which was very poorly timed for the French team, because the new head boss of Renault Luca de Meo was in attendance to see the fruits of several hundred million Euros worth of investment.
With his race just about smoked at the start, Bottas finally got back ahead of Stroll with DRS on Lap 5, and would set off after Verstappen, who was doing an admirable job to match the race pace of Hamilton.
Despite recent history not being kind for tyre life in Barcelona, by Lap 13, the Soft tyre was still holding its own against the Medium tyre, as pretty much every driver was holding position, which made for some fairly dull action until the pit window.
Albon was the first driver to pit on Lap 17, going on to the Hard tyre, which proved to be a mistake from Red Bull, considering Albon was released back into traffic, which really became the story of his race, while Verstappen was starting to struggle for tyre life as Hamilton began pulling away in front, with the team seemingly more focused on what Mercedes were doing with Lewis than their own driver, which was a point Max (Apparently) got through to the pit wall.
Mad Max got his wish to pit on Lap 22, but the Red Bull pit crew produced their latest piece of majesty, a 1.9 second stop, which got him out in clear room ahead of the Racing Points, and proving how crucial that was, Max was posting purple sectors and looking good to stay ahea dof Bottas.
After noticing Max’s pace, Mercedes decided to call in both cars to cover the undercut,and despite a slow change on Hamilton’s left rear to give the hardcore Lewis haters a small flicker of hope, and he returned clearly ahead of the Red Bull, as Bottas returned back to 3rd place.
Around Lap 27, Bottas had closed to within 1.5 seconds of Verstappen, but he was encountering some ‘discomfort’ with bodyheat in the cockpit, and it was mostly the result of Mercedes’ good intentions.
Another rare highlight occurred on the next lap, as Ocon broke the DRS Train behind Magnussen (Yet to stop at this point) with a pass into Turn 1, which allowed Albon to make a daring move on the outside of the right-hander out of Turn 3, and soon after, Carlos Sainz was past the Haas.
Unfortunately for Alex, when it came to the Hard tyre, he was the canary in the coal mine.
Aiming for a one-stop strategy, Renault kept Ricciardo out in clear air, and it seemed to start paying dividends as he began taking several tenths per lap out of Vettel in their mighty tussle for effectively 11th place, and as soon as Daniel got within DRS range, Ferrari apparently recognised Seb’s existence and brought him in for a set of used Softs on Lap 28, because they’re Ferrari, and they’ve pretty much given up on their one-time Number 1 driver.
By Lap 36, both Renaults were still circulating around, with Ricciardo up in 4th, only to soon be overtaken by Stroll, which was the indicator Renault required to bring in Dan, and he went on to run a pair of Softs until the end of the race, re-emerging in 13th ahead of Raikkonen, which was pretty much where Renault’s race pace was at.
On that note, Kimi also brought up another record for longevity when he completed Lap 37 – The most distance covered in a Formula One career, at 83,846km, surpassing the record set by Fernando Alonso, who will have a chance at reclaiming the record (Assuming Kimi randomly decides he’s had enough) when he makes his comeback in 2021.
It was also around this time that the only retirement of the race occurred – Charles LeClerc, who was all over the rear of Lando Norris for several laps and applying the pressure, had his engine seize and totally shut down at the penultimate corner on Lap 37, and he apparently had to loosen his belts to restart the Ferrari using the battery, but despite getting going again, the Monegasque driver knew it was a fatal problem, and had to retire 2 laps later.
Driving with loosened seatbelts for 2 laps – Is that not an extremely dangerous safety violation?
As this was occurring, drivers were commenting on the looming threat of black clouds over the back of the circuit, with the radar apparently indicating the rain would hit around Lap 50, but with the way the teams predicted rain in Hungary, it wasn’t going to happen.
As Hamilton had the race done to a dinner still 25 laps from home, Verstappen pitted for the second time on Lap 42 as Bottas closed in, and in the mid-pack battle, Sainz stopped after making a second stint on the Soft tyre work rather well for the McLaren, emerging alongside Albon, who made a huge challenge around the outside of Turn 4, but the Spaniard in his home race was having none of it, and held him out.
Bottas was called in on Lap 47, going on to the Soft tyre to put the heat on Max for the final 19 laps, but it was a challenge that never really amounted to anything.
Hamilton made his final stop on Lap 51, comfortably retaining a 10 second lead to the Red Bull, while Vettel, who was yet to make his 2nd stop, was asking the Ferrari pit wall if he could make a one-stop strategy work by aiming for a target lap time and maintaining track position, given he had climbed up to 5th, which sparked another series of utterly hilarious, yet absolutely infuriating radio messages, as the team took 4 laps to respond to Seb…. by asking him what he thought about a one-stop.
STOP FIGHTING IN FRONT OF THE KIDS.
Funnily enough, Seb’s call ended up being the right one, which makes you think, who needs a strategist when the driver going at 200 mp/h is smarter than the dopey moron pouring over the data that claims to be the strategist.
Further down the order, Romain Grosjean’s defensive tactics, which were right in the spotlight at Silverstone, made another appearance on Lap 58, as Raikkonen flew past him with DRS on the pit straight, causing Kimi to call him a “****ing idiot” for his sharp turn as the Alfa peeled out to make the pass.
That wasn’t the end of Grosjean’s afternoon, as he hit the sausage kerb at Turn 8 on the penultimate lap when he was running last, but demonstrated some very nice car control to avoid spinning, and potentially suffering a nasty accident.
Meantime, Sergio Perez was investigated for ignoring blue flags with Hamilton right behind him, and the Mexican would cop a 5-second penalty, which wasn’t exactly an issue for Racing Point, given a flying Stroll, who had passed Vettel, would be promoted to 4th.
Kvyat was also investigated in 12th, and he would suffer the same punishment, pretty much consigning him to 12th, as he now had no hope of passing Ricciardo, and was 15 seconds ahead of Magnussen.
In a rare Renault sighting, Ricciardo was finishing the final laps with a flurry, and had caught up to Norris in 10th, but had no realistic chance of passing the McLaren, given he was latched on to the midfield DRS Train led by Vettel.
Out in front though, with another dominant performance, Lewis Hamilton started from pole and led every single lap, claiming his 88th win and a new record 156th podium, some 24 seconds ahead of Verstappen, with Bottas denying Hamilton the Grand Slam by pitting on the penultimate lap and setting a new lap record to get the bonus point, as he finished 3rd, THE LAST DRIVER ON THE LEAD LAP.
Stroll was promoted to 4th thanks to the Perez penalty, Sainz was 6th in his home race, and showcasing the parity in the midfield, there was only (Officially) about 4 seconds between Vettel in 7th and Ricciardo in 11th.
On Friday evening, it was the Germans giving a ball-tearing to Barcelona.
On Sunday afternoon, it was the Germans giving a ball-tearing AT Barcelona.
It was great to see Seb get voted Driver of The Day, pulling off 37 laps on a used pair of Softs in the heat after the Ferrari pitwall threw him aside to focus on Charles, who ultimately didn’t even finish.
By finishing 7th, the 4-time champion also passed 3000 career points, joining Hamilton as the only drivers in that exclusive club, which is pretty much thanks to them both dominating the sport since the introduction of the 25 point system in 2010.
Oddly enough, since there were 9 retirements in the opening race at Austria…. There have been a mere 8 retirements in the 5 races since.
There’s one thing that never changes every single year.
The Spanish Grand Prix is as boring as batshit.
Everyone up to 4th gets lapped, Mercedes crap on everyone, and there’s next to nothing to get excited about on a tight track.
It’s great for MotoGP because the bikes are small, and you can get some absolutely classic races, but with these fat and long modern F1 cars, there’s no frikkin’ chance for overtaking.
The midfield battle is the most enjoyable part of F1 right now, and at least the TV Directors are giving it the airtime it deserves, which at the same time is also the biggest problem, and will be until some genius figures out a way to bring down Mercedes-Benz from the inside.
Putting my green & gold glasses on, Renault’s one-stop strategy with Ricciardo was fine, it was moreso that the car was an absolute pile of arse, further compounded by starting outside the Top 10, on a track that the factory team have only had 2 points finishes at since they returned to F1 in 2016.
What a comedown after some very decent performances in the UK, suffering their first non-scoring points finish of the season, now confined to a very lonely 6th in the Constructors Championship.
Hopefully that vaunted 1000 horsepower engine that Cyril likes mentioning goes well at Spa and Monza.
Next Up: The Belgian Grand Prix in a fortnight