Images/GIFs and Audio from Formula One Management & Liberty Media
Formula 1 Spanish Grand Prix
Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya
A major change for the Barcelona circuit this year is that the old Turn 10 hairpin has been re-profiled (On safety grounds) from a tight hairpin to a fast curve, similar to the original layout of the corner that was used by F1 and MotoGP for many years.
Still, with the lack of overtaking during recent editions in Spain, thanks to the effects of dirty air causing so much time loss through the corners that it’s next to impossible to get close enough under DRS into Turn 1, as the old saying goes, it’s like polishing a turd.
Duncraig Dan 2021, Chapter 4: Take me Portugal, take me to Spain
From one side of the Iberian Peninsula to the other, it was time for the Spanish Grand Prix at Catalunya, and there was a twin ton celebration on offer for the two heavyweight title contenders this season, because on the same weekend that Lewis Hamilton went for his second attempt at a landmark 100th Pole Position, it was Max Verstappen’s 100th race for Red Bull, coming a week short of 5 years since he was thrust into the Red Bull seat aged 18 and promptly won on debut at Catalunya, mostly thanks to Lewis and Nico Rosberg memorably wiping each other out on the opening lap.
On a historical note, Sunday marked 28 years since the ’93 edition of the Spanish Grand Prix, which will forever go down in history as the only Grand Prix in which Alain Prost, Ayrton Senna and Michael Schumacher stood on the podium together.
If you do the math, that podium would combine for 183 Grand Prix victories, 341 podiums, and a lazy 14 World Championships.
The record of polesitters in Spain is one of the best in F1, with 22 out of the 30 drivers to start from P1 at Catalunya going on to win the race, with a further 5 winners starting on the front row, and to cut a long story short….
Lewis Hamilton didn’t need a second invitation to bring up the 100th Pole Position, raising the bat by 0.036s to Max Verstappen thanks to his first flying lap of Q3, and Pirelli gave the 7-time World Champion a commemorative C3 Soft tyre to celebrate:
Verstappen’s performance on Saturday marked Red Bull’s first front row start at Catalunya since 2011, when Mark Webber and Sebastian Vettel locked out the front row, and not too far behind Max & Lewis was the perennial 3rd-placed man in this two-horse race, Valtteri Bottas, as none of the Top 3 were able to improve their original times on their final flying lap.
In a rare sight for Qualifying under the current rules, the entire Top 10 qualified for Q3 on the Red Soft tyres, and finishing off the Top 10 starters, Charles LeClerc dragged his scarlet red lemon of a Ferrari into 4th on the grid, Esteban Ocon surprised everyone by starting in the Top 5, which was easily Alpine’s best starting position of the season, Carlos Sainz started 6th for his home race, which also put Ferrari in a very good position to reclaim some ground on McLaren in the fight for 3rd in the Constructors’ Championship.
Finishing off the Top 10, Daniel Ricciardo recovered from the Portugal debacle to start in 7th at a track the McLaren isn’t suited to, even after he never got a second run in Q3 after the team didn’t realise how much time was left, although his only lap was good enough to start ahead of the second Red Bull of Sergio Perez, McLaren teammate Lando Norris, and Fernando Alonso made it both Alpines, and both Spanish drivers, starting inside the Top 10.
Lance Stroll did out-qualify Sebastian Vettel, although his 11th meant Aston Martin didn’t have a car starting in the Top 10 for the first time this season, Mick Schumacher became the Haas driver to out-qualify another team’s car this season, starting 18th ahead of Nicholas Latifi’s Williams, and Nikita Mazepin was docked 3 grid places for blocking Lando Norris during a traffic jam in Q1.
Not that it mattered, as Mazepin started from last anyway.
Race (66 Laps)
19 drivers started on a set of Soft tyres, with the lone exception being Kimi Raikkonen in 17th, who started on the Yellow C2 Medium tyres, with no teams even considering using the Hard tyres, and unusually for a race in the Catalonian capital at the end of Spring, there was a threat of rain, which hadn’t happened during a Spanish Grand Prix since Michael Schumacher’s maiden Ferrari win in 1996 – However, it barely passed beyond a few drops, and Sunday saw another case of dry running in Spain.
Once the lights went out, Verstappen got his elbows out at Turn 1 and passed Hamilton to assume the early race lead, LeClerc clean passed Bottas around the outside of Turn 3 to take 3rd, and Ricciardo was into 5th around the outside of Sainz and Ocon.
Verstappen put 1.5 seconds on Hamilton on the opening lap, and it was the first time since Lap 33 in 2018 that Lewis wasn’t leading at the end of a lap at Catalunya…. On that occasion, it was also Max in the lead.
Pierre Gasly had a bad start from 13th, and to make matters worse he was investigated for being out of position on the grid, having put his front wheels beyond the white lines, which would lead to a time penalty:
Despite the DRS being activated, the dirty air effect generated by this current generation of cars began to kick in, as Bottas, despite having the superior machinery, couldn’t find a way past LeClerc’s Ferrari in the early laps, which was costing him a second per lap to Hamilton, and ruining Mercedes’ strategic plans to pressure Verstappen.
The first casualty of the race was Yuki Tsunoda on Lap 8, when his Honda engine cut out on the outside of Turn 10, which brought out the Safety Car (For the sixth race running) to give the marshals a chance to remove the stricken AlphaTauri.
Red Bull would’ve been mildly annoyed seeing the sister team cause a yellow flag after the start Max had, but it was nothing compared to Alfa Romeo, who pitted Antonio Giovinazzi to get him off the Softs, only for an astute mechanic to notice a puncture on the left front Medium tyre that was due to go on!
It turned out the puncture had been caused by a damaged valve, which cost Gio an un-used set of medium tyres for later in the race, and just to cap off the pain, a steering wheel error caused him to follow an FIA delta on his dashboard behind the Safety Car, which meant he couldn’t join up to the pack prior to the restart, which cost him another 10 seconds.
A few more lower order teams elected to take the early tyre change, the SC peeled in to end Lap 10, and Verstappen made sure Hamilton couldn’t get a tow on the restart, Perez came under attack from Ocon, Lance Stroll held tough with Alonso at Turn 4 and moved into the points with a pass at Turn 5, and Gasly was docked 5 seconds for his grid spot infringement.
Up the front, Verstappen and Hamilton were on another planet to everyone else, lapping some 8-tenths faster than LeClerc & Bottas, and at least 1.2 seconds faster than the rest of the Top 10, which had the effect of blistering Hamilton’s right rear tyre.
Actually, you could cut out most of that sentence and just read “Verstappen and Hamilton were on another planet to everyone else”, and you’d have a perfect short summary of the 2021 season.
With the drivers starting to seriously feel diminishing tyre performance as they attempted to a stretch out a one-stop strategy, Gasly was the first driver to pit under green conditions on Lap 18, also serving his penalty in the process, Alonso and Vettel stopped at the end of Lap 21, with Vettel briefly losing out to Gasly due to a slow change, Sainz and Stroll stopped next lap, and Bottas, Ocon and Norris stopped from points positions on Lap 23.
Despite dealing with the blistering, Hamilton closed up to within half a second of Verstappen, who was peeling in at the end of Lap 24, but the usually lightning quick Red Bull pit crew had a rare botched pit stop (4.2 seconds) after being late arriving with the new tyres, a problem caused by a misunderstanding between Max and his engineer that left the pit crew unaware that he was coming in, a mistake that would’ve seen him lose the effective race lead to Hamilton, although Mercedes chose to keep the race leader out long term.
Ricciardo pitted on Lap 25, emerging back behind the Williams of George Russell, and Hamilton was apparently losing time after coming into range of Nikita Mazepin, forcing Toto Wolff to make a menacing radio call to Michael Masi and the FIA about blue flags for the Haas, which also provided rare instance of a team message to the FIA actually being broadcast by FOM:
Looking at the onboard, Toto’s complaint probably wasn’t about Mazepin apparently blocking Hamilton (Because he wasn’t), it was that the Mercedes was caught in the dirty air created by the Haas, which, combined with the tyre disadvantage to Verstappen, would explain how Hamilton lost precious time.
Mercedes called in Hamilton decided to stop at the end of Lap 28, rejoining approximately 5.5 seconds behind Verstappen, albeit with superior tyre grip, Ferrari finally called LeClerc in and sent him back out in a comfortable 4th position, and Ricciardo passed Raikkonen on track for 5th place, right as Sergio Perez changed onto Mediums and resumed his pursuit of the McLaren.
In the first sign the race was starting to turn, the World Champion fired in a lap that was 1.5 seconds faster than Verstappen on Lap 30, closing the gap back down to 1.5 seconds by half race distance.
While that was going on, Perez had closed to within DRS range of Ricciardo, but the dirty air and the massive amounts of weaving on the straight (To break the tow) proved to be Daniel’s friend lap after lap, and in the midfield, Alonso had passed Giovinazzi for 12th place at Turn 1, the Italian was immediately lined up by Vettel’s Aston Martin, who had no idea Gasly was trying to line him up at Turn 4, but Seb held on, and after looking like he was about to drop a place, took Giovinazzi at Turn 5 in a rare example of decent racing at Barcelona.
Trying to make the one-stop work, Verstappen was having to nurse his tyres during the middle of the race, which was hard enough with the most successful driver in history sniffing up his rear exhaust, and right about now, Mercedes had probably realised that the 2-stop strategy was going to be the way to go, but it was still far too early to pit Lewis again.
Lando Norris reclaimed his starting position of 9th from Raikkonen on Lap 37, who ended his reverse one-stop strategy by pitting later that lap, and Aston Martin became the first team to commit to a 2-stop strategy by pitting Stroll and Vettel on laps 39 & 40 respectively.
Still trying to find a way into the Top 5, Perez got the closest he’d ever been to Ricciardo on Lap 40, during which time the Aussie was warned to stop excessively weaving on the pit straight, but the Mexican made an unforced error in the dirty air air by going wide out of Turn 4 on Lap 41, which briefly brought Carlos Sainz into play, although the Ferrari never quite had the speed to make the move and began dropping back again.
In the move that decided the race, Mercedes invoked the spirit of Hungary 2019 and called Hamilton in for a new set of Mediums on Lap 42, which left Red Bull thinking about pitting Verstappen, even though he would lose the 1 second margin on the out lap, but having missed the moment, the pit wall decided to go for broke and keep Max out, given he only had a set of Soft tyres remaining, and Max’s engineer Gianpiero Lambiase told him it could be Hungary 2019 all over again.
Even Red Bull knew what was coming.
So now Verstappen led by 10.7 seconds to Bottas, who was 12.7 seconds ahead of Hamilton, although Valtteri would inevitably be asked to move aside once Lewis caught up, although how Valtteri reacted to that message remained to be seen.
Having been stuck looking at a papaya-coloured exhaust for over an hour, Perez finally passed Ricciardo on Lap 46 by pulling a Daniel-esque late braking move around the outside into Turn 1, which quickly became the inside for Turn 2, and looking back, it was a superbly executed move on Sergio’s part:
With the Red Bull off and gone to finish in 5th, and having a healthy gap back to Ocon in 8th, Ricciardo and Sainz were both called in to change onto Soft tyres on Lap 47, and in what could only be described as muscle memory, Daniel’s engineer Tom Stallard called him ‘Carlos’ in the heat of the moment, given he’d worked with Carlos Sainz for the past two seasons before Carlos moved to Ferrari:
Both drivers emerged slightly behind Ocon’s Alpine and Norris’ McLaren, but with the tyre advantage, they were both going to pass the pair of them again sooner rather than later.
Back to the front, after trailing Verstappen by 22 seconds after his stop, Hamilton had cut the race lead down to 14.5 seconds to end Lap 49, and at the rate he was catching Verstappen, it wasn’t going to be a last lap passing attempt as AWS had predicted, it was going to be at least half a dozen laps earlier.
Norris allowed Ricciardo through into 7th on Lap 50, which helped buy Ricciardo a bit of time from the Ferrari, before Sainz rocketed by his former McLaren teammate to begin Lap 51, although Lando took him right to the brink with a late jink to the right, but Carlos guessed the right way and made a clean pass:
Ricciardo retook 6th place from Ocon on Lap 52, Sainz moved into 7th on Lap 53, and thus, Groundhog Day began for the Spaniard, as he was at least 4-tenths faster than Daniel, but the McLaren’s straight line speed advantage meant he never got close enough.
By this point in time, Hamilton had caught Bottas, who was given the call to change positions by the Mercedes pit wall, which the Finn naturally didn’t want to do obey out of pride, which forced Hamilton to make a seldom seen pass at Turn 10 on Lap 52, which looked more like a racing move than a team order:
Bottas pitted again on Lap 54, presumably to go and reclaim the fastest lap bonus point and to cover off Perez, which briefly lost him a place to LeClerc, although he was back ahead 3 laps later after smashing the fastest lap.
Red Bull decided to try and take the BP for themselves by pitting Perez on Lap 58, as Hamilton was now within DRS range of Verstappen to end Lap 59, and the change for the lead came with clinical ease down the pit straight to start Lap 60, and after that, Red Bull decided to save face and pit Max to give him a shot at the Bonus Point to soften the points deficit to Hamilton.
Have a look at that again, it was barely even a pass with the straight line speed advantage.
So with Hamilton off and gone to Grand Prix win No.98, the highlights of the final 6 laps came in the fights for the minor points finishes:
Ricciardo and Sainz were eternally separated by a second, Norris (Now a lap down) had stopped again and passed the one-stopping Ocon for 8th place on Lap 60, who was driving around with four carcasses that used to be tyres, and Alonso in the sister Alpine was also in major tyre trouble, as he headed an old-fashioned Trulli Train of five cars – George Russell, who was on 31-lap old tyres, Lance Stroll, who had stopped on Lap 40, Kimi Raikkonen on his reverse one stop, and Sebastian Vettel and Pierre Gasly, who were the fresh horses on the scene tyre wise.
It was that close between the six cars that Russell went from being within DRS range of Alonso to end Lap 58 and sniffing that elusive point for Williams, to ending up in 15th merely 2 laps later after Stroll passed him and set off the chain reaction of passes.
Stroll eventually bungled his first move on Alonso by going off the track and not rejoining on the left of the bollards at Turns 2-3, although he did surrender the place back before he got ahead again next lap, and all this was happening while Bottas was trying to lap all of them!
Alpine eventually pitted Alonso after he fell out of the points, a good 10 laps too late, and the incident with Stroll didn’t mean much in the end, as a charging Gasly took 10th off the Canadian, a pretty good recovery from the French driver after all of his adventures on Sunday.
But, capping off the 100th Pole Position, it was another fairly resounding win to Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes, thanks to that swift strategic move and a classic case of raw speed, with his fifth consecutive win at Catalunya equalling Ayrton Senna’s record at Monaco (1989-93) for the most consecutive wins at one circuit, and Hamilton also matched Michael Schumacher on six wins at the circuit, moving to within 2 victories of the landmark century, which is going to come sooner rather than later the way this season is going.
Max Verstappen would claim the fastest lap bonus point to go with another 2nd placing, Bottas completed the familiar podium combination with 3rd place, LeClerc comfortably finished 4th from Perez, Ricciardo would finish in a solid 6th by 0.9s from Sainz, who just didn’t have the straight line speed to negate the dirty air effect, and the pair of them were half a minute clear of Norris in 8th, who was the first of the lapped runners, which also marks the first time Lando has finished behind Daniel in 2021.
The all-French contest became highly engaging in the final lap, as the ailing Ocon and Gasly (Who was 8 seconds behind with 2 laps to go) finished wheel to wheel in 9th and 10th…. another lap and the AlphaTauri would’ve finished at least 5 seconds ahead.
Staying with that Ocon-Gasly finish, these were the margins on Lap 62 – As you can see, Ocon was some 20 seconds ahead of Gasly, who was yet to pass Stroll and Alonso:
Now, just to demonstrate how much time the 1-stoppers lost late in the race, here was the final margin on the line:
Pierre just needed one more corner.
One final note – Well done to young Jack Doohan in the season-opening Formula 3 round, as he scored his first-ever F3 points in Race 2 on Saturday, then he went on to claim his maiden podium after starting and finishing in 2nd place in the Sunday feature!
Jack didn’t score a point in his rookie season last year, but the son of Mighty Mick turned 18 over the offseason and broke that drought pretty convincingly, and sits in 5th in the Championship after the opening round, 13 points off the Norwegian Dennis Hauger.
Next Up: The Monaco Grand Prix next weekend!