The F1 World Championship moved to Barcelona where predictably all the talk coming in to the weekend was about upgrades, and whether Ferrari would be able to drag themselves ahead of Mercedes and finally take their first win of the season.
As the weekend unfolded however, it became evident that the engine upgrade that they rushed forward along with the aero updates from Baku weren’t going to be enough. With every race that passes, we’re starting to see a trend that on the entry of the slower speed corners, the Mercedes is just a better car than the Ferrari. This came to the fore in the final sector of the lap here in Barcelona during Qualifying where Bottas was a massive eight tenths faster than Sebastian Vettel. That really doesn’t bode well for the red camp at the next race in Monaco!
The Bottas versus Hamilton story could be the one that replaces the Ferrari versus Mercedes one when we talk about the narrative of the World Championship battle. Valtteri’s Qualifying lap was absolutely brilliant. Lewis had a scrappy lap which probably exaggerated the gap, but even so, credit where credit’s due to Bottas – beating Lewis by six tenths of a second in Qualifying takes a pretty special effort.
His race was basically decided in the first 30 metres when he struggled with his launch and the other Mercedes seized the opportunity to get in front. Unlike Baku, Lewis didn’t brake an inch earlier than he needed to and parked his car firmly at the apex of turn 1 which all but sealed Valtteri’s fate for the afternoon. What I was a bit surprised about was how much Lewis was able to drop Valtteri in the race – before the safety car, the gap had grown to over 10 seconds which I suspect Valtteri would be disappointed about more than he would about losing the start.
Max Verstappen drove another brilliant weekend. The Red Bull isn’t yet as quick as the Ferrari but he managed to split the red cars in Qualifying and then, to quote Christian Horner, was metronomic in the race delivering strong times for lap after lap. In true Red Bull fashion, they thought outside the box, splitting the strategies at the second stint and kick started the pit stop sequence among the leaders. After the safety car, I thought that the Ferraris would be all over Max’s gearbox and challenging him but they actually had no response to his pace and he locked down that final step on the podium.
Pierre Gasly ran in the top six all weekend which is a step forward from where he started the season. Qualifying within three tenths of Max was a solid effort but his pace in the race was compromised by rubber in the front wing. The problem for Red Bull is that unlike last year, where it was clear they were losing out on the straights, this year, they seem to be losing out to Mercedes all across the lap. This once again puts Mercedes in the pound seat in Monaco, where Red Bull have had the quickest car in the past few years.
The Ferrari weekend was very underwhelming. The gulf between them and Mercedes in Qualifying was enormous and in the race, they once again got into the awkward team orders scenario. I think they were right to ask Seb to let Charles past early on but after the pitstops, when Charles was on the hard tyre and Seb on the mediums, I don’t really understand why they didn’t swap them round immediately as the German was faster and probably going to pit again. Either way, it was all academic and they were going to finish 4th and 5th anyway which on the whole is not where we expected to see them after pre-season testing at this same circuit.
Haas and Toro Rosso both had very good weekends in terms of pace but didn’t score as many points as they should have done. The wheel banging between the American team’s drivers hurt Grosjean’s rhythm and dropped him down while the delay at the double pitstop during the safety car period cost Toro Rosso a potential points finish with both cars. Daniil Kvyat seems to have grabbed his opportunity to return to F1 with both hands, which is great to see.
Carlos Sainz drove a superb race I thought. The McLaren looked like it was struggling for pace in the race but Carlos had better straight line speed than the Renault of Daniel Ricciardo and then pulled off some good opportunistic moves at the end to get another few points on the board. He’s really revelling in his switch to McLaren this year and as a team it was impressive to see the raft of updates they brought in this weekend.
Off to Monaco next and it will be interesting to see if Bottas can hit back with a victory there. He’s clearly got the one-lap speed sorted and pole position there is obviously of huge importance. Think back to 2017 and Valtteri’s lap to get third on the grid that day was superb so he can deliver around the streets of the principality. For the sake of everyone watching, I really hope that we see this inter-Mercedes battle develop into a season long fight because at the moment it does look like neither Red Bull or Ferrari are close enough to challenge the Silver Arrows.
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