Kimi Räikkönen & Sebastian Vettel

Kimi Räikkönen & Sebastian Vettel

maanantai 14. toukokuuta 2018

Spanish GP: Mercedes bounced back by taking 1-2!

After the first four races of the season I believed strongly, that Ferrari was the team to beat this season. Having said that, Mercedes bounced back massively at Barcelona. The Silver Arrows took their first front row lock-out of the season in qualifying, with Hamilton edging teammate Bottas by four hundredths of a second only! Ferrari had topped the timesheets in Q2, where all top three teams had opted for the yellow-marked soft Pirellis. But when it came down to the shootout for pole, Mercedes had the upper hand on the red team. Pirelli had renewed the tyres for the Spanish GP weekend, which led to an interesting tyre strategy in the final segment. Both Ferrari aces had had a tame first attempt, and both Kimi and Sebastian opted for the soft compound on their last run, as did Red Bull´s Ricciardo, too. Sebastian pipped teammate Kimi to 3rd, by a clear margin of three tenths. Red Bull locked down the third row, with Verstappen edging his Australian teammate by two thousandths of a second only! It was confusing, how small a margin there was between the soft and super-soft compound. Magnussen made a convincing job by finishing 7th for Haas, and Alonso qualified 8th for McLaren. Renault's Sainz and Haas' Grosjean rounded out the top ten.

Due to the teams' Q2 tyre strategy, Alonso was the only top ten driver to start to the race on the red-marked super-soft compound. The most exciting moment of the Spanish GP was the start. Hamilton on pole took an excellent start and maintained his lead. Sebastian in P3 took a rocket start and passed Bottas, who had started on the dirtier side of the track. Kimi maintained his fourth place, and the Iceman was followed by the Red Bulls of Verstappen and Ricciardo. Turn 3 was a true action zone further down in the pack. Haas' Grosjean lost control of his car and spun. But instead of hitting the brake pedal, the Frenchman kept his foot on the throttle, trying to spin his car back on the track. This led into a dangerous-looking situation, as both Gasly's Toro Rosso and Hulkenberg's Renault crashed into recklessly spinning Grosjean. All three were out of the race, and safety car was deployed, as there were loads of debris on the track. Sauber's Leclerc had had a stunning opening lap, as the Monegasque had gained five positions and was already in 9th.

The re-start took place on lap 6, and the pecking order of the top eight drivers remained unchanged. Hamilton started to bang amazing lap times, which no one else was able to match. Circuit de Catalunya is known for very limited chances for overtaking, so Bottas, either wasn't able to challenge Sebastian for P3. Hamilton's pace was in a class of his own. The Briton was half a second faster than his rivals, so Mercedes really had found their missing pace!

Sebastian opened the pit stop roulette on lap 17. He pitted for a fresh set of white-marked medium Pirellis, and re-joined the track in P7. Bottas drove into the pits a couple of laps later, opting for a similar tyre choice to Sebastian, but the Finn's pit stop took 1.5s too long. Due to Bottas' delayed pit stop, Sebastian managed to stay ahead of the Finn. However, black clouds started to gather upon Ferrari on lap 25, as Kimi's SF71-H was hit with a technical failure. Kimi's superb P2 turned into a bitter DNF, and the Iceman had no choice but to drive into the pits and retire. Meanwhile, Hamilton pitted for a fresh set of medium Pirellis, re-joining the track in P2. Red Bull's Verstappen was now leading the race.

The Red Bulls pitted on the sequential laps, Ricciardo on lap 35 and Verstappen on lap 36, both opting for the hardest compound. Hamilton was back in the lead, with Sebastian second and Bottas third. Lap 42 saw a surprising turn, as Sebastian pitted for the second time, for another set of medium Pirellis. Everything didn't go to plan in terms of the pit stop, and it cost the German a couple of extra seconds. Virtual safety car had been deployed due to Ocon's power unit failure. This strategic call with the delay made Sebastian drop down to P4, behind Bottas and Verstappen. Ferrari seemed to have expected Mercedes to make second pit stops as well. However, Mercedes didn't call their drivers in despite the virtual safety car!

By that point it had seemed, that Verstappen was finally driving a clean race after the mistake-filled first four races. But on lap 43 there was an inconceivable situation, where the Dutchman crashed into the rear of Stroll's Williams, causing an end plate damage on the Dutchman's front wing. This looked like an open opportunity for Sebastian to get past the flying Dutchman. However, in spite of the front wing damage, Verstappen´s pace remained amazingly competitive.

With ten laps to go, Hamilton had very a dominant lead of 17 seconds over his Finnish teammate. Verstappen was third and Sebastian fourth. It seemed impossible to get within DRS distance from the driver ahead, so there were no tight battles for positions at Circuit de Catalunya, which made the Spanish GP quite boring honestly. Ricciardo, who finished 5th for Red Bull, was the last driver on the same lap with the race winner Hamilton. Magnussen (Haas), Sainz (Renault), Alonso (McLaren), Perez (Force India) and Leclerc (Sauber) were all a lap down already. This was the first 1-2 for Mercedes this season, and it came in a dominant way. I was happy to see Verstappen on the podium, because he really needed a great result! But I would have wanted to see Sebastian there as well...

The turning point in the race was the second pit stop, which was costly for Sebastian. Hadn't it been delayed, Sebastian would have made it on the podium. But obviously it was a wrong tactical call from the red team, as Mercedes managed to make the one-stop strategy work. By winning the second successive race, Hamilton increased his lead to Sebastian into 17 points in the drivers' championship standings. Bottas in 3rd is now 20 points down on Sebastian, and Kimi in 4th is 10 points down on his fellow countryman. Mercedes now seems to be back on top form and the team to beat, as the Silver Arrows have a 27-point gap to Ferrari in the constructors' championship standings. The red team definitely have some home work to do before going to the legendary Monaco!

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