BEHIND THE HEADLINES – Spain – New records but still close

Behind The Headlines Features

Sir Lewis Hamilton took the victory and his hundredth pole position in Barcelona, continuing Mercedes domination of the circuit stretching all the start of the hybrid era in 2014, excluding 2016 when the two Mercedes crashed into each other. But as has been the case all season, the battle proved to be about strategy as we often see in Barcelona

The race you have to believe that Mercedes strategy and the skill of Hamilton was the shift. Verstappen took the lead into the first corner before building the big lead early on to lead most of the race before Hamilton set after his rival with half the race still remaining.

One of the themes this season which has developed in the opening four races of the season is that Mercedes can beat Red Bull on strategy and if Verstappen is going to be a serious challenger for this title, we need to see better strategy. We know this season is going to be a long battle to Abu Dhabi unless there is a major swing to either Mercedes or Red Bull.

The other theme this season is about Hamilton reaching new records as he fights for his eighth championship, following his win he said the “long game” needing patience, staying close enough to the Red Bull for much of the race before hunting him down following Mercedes’ second pit-stop decision.

Mercedes know that they remain the favourites having won the championship every year since 2014. The clear move was not overtaking Verstappen before the second pit stop when the dutchman had a twenty-three second lead over Hamilton when he made his second stop on lap forty-two.

That proved pivotal as it meant Hamilton had fresher tyres and with sixteen laps to go watching the timing screens throughout the latter part of the race you could see the Englishman steadily closing the lap before getting within a second by lap sixty-one he dived down the inside to take the lead of the race before leading the remainder of the race.

Verstappen had led fifty-four of the sixty-six lap race, I believe the positive he can take from the race is the fact he was able to be ahead of the Mercedes at a circuit they have dominated since 2014. The Dutchman showed aggression in the first corner, Hamilton cleverly decided to back out of it to avoid a collision, if Verstappen is to become a multiple champions he needs to learn about the long game.

Red Bull still doesn’t have Sergio Perez on the back of Verstappen, four races in I believe that he is struggling for pace. They went into this race believing they had the genuine pace to challenge Mercedes, but on race pace, the Mercedes looked more consistent.

The question is why Red Bull in that position was, it was a repeat of Budapest 2019. Perez was brought into the team to be a ‘strong number two,’ but he hasn’t proved able to do that so far consistently.

There use of tyres played into Mercedes hands, Verstappen didn’t have a fresh set of medium tyres when Hamilton made the second stop, many predicted that this was going to be a one-stop race, but the way he used the undercut to get in a position to overtake proved key.

That pit stop wasn’t necessary, Hamilton could get to the end of the race on those tyres, but he had such an advantage it made sense for him to pit just to be safe.

The Mercedes driver could push them harder and go after Verstappen for victory. The seven-times champion we know has always been better on the tyres and car management, that proved to be his main advantage and we have seen before him pull off these amazing long stints

Hamilton already had the career record pole positions, but Barcelona provided him with the hundredth pole position and on a weekend where the long-term contract was talked about I think it shows at thirty-six retirement is not something he is thinking about.

He said, “The 100-mark is something that I don’t think anybody and particularly me never thought that I would ever get to that number. It’s crazy that it is 100 and it felt like one of the first.”

Back to the future

The battle for third is appearing slowly to emerge into a battle between McLaren and Ferrari, this has to be seen as a step forward for Ferrari. In qualifying, Leclerc was seven hundredths faster than the Alpine of Esteban Ocon and teammate Carlos Sainz being just over a tenth behind, however, the sizeable gap of four and a half tenths remains to Mercedes.

It carried that pace into the start of the race, with Leclerc managing to go around the outside of Bottas for third on the opening lap remaining there until the first stop. McLaren had a quieter day, but Daniel Ricciardo looked to have found more confidence with the car on his run to sixth place, narrowly defeating Carlos Sainz.

You need to believe this battle will change race by race throughout the season. This may not be the fight they have been in historically, but the battle for third is mainly being between these teams. You could see Alpine and Alph Tauri beginning to slip further behind.

Both Ricciardo and Sainz appeared to make progress, the Spaniard only problem was the fact he was unable to get past the McLaren, after losing out at the start.

The Australian had his strongest weekend so far since joining the team, saying “I would say the best weekend so far as a whole and I felt like I got the maximum out of the car today. I was defending the whole time!”

“We jumped a few spots at the start and I think naturally those cars were a little quicker, which left me defending. It meant that the pace was high, and it forced me to push the whole way.”

New La Casa

One of the talking points going into the weekend was the reprofiled Turn Ten, which some believed would increase overtaking. While the corner proved faster the following chicane effectively notarised any real chance for an overtake.

As we saw in the battle between Hamilton and Verstappen when he made gains with DRS, the final sector would undo all of it and break any momentum he was building up.

If Barcelona is to be livened up, then more changes are needed, even if the task is “difficult”, according to Alonso. “Maybe a little bit extra DRS, right after the last chicane, maybe being able to open the DRS is a possibility for the future,” he said. “I don’t know. Barcelona is always going to be tough for overtaking.”

Jack

Jack is responsible for the day-to-day running of Formula One Vault. He brings you all the brilliant content. Has an obsession with all things Formula One and anything with an engine.