Lewis Hamilton led home a Mercedes 1-2 finish today at the Circuit de Catalunya in Barcelona – Mercedes’ first 1-2 finish of the season. It was a storming drive from the Briton. He started on pole position and after the first lap had already built a lead of more than 2 seconds; he was faster than anyone by more than a second till the first round of pit stops!
Pirelli had introduced a thinner tread super soft tyre in order to control tyre wear and over-heating due to the newly laid surface. The tyre will be used for the French and the British Grands Prix as well. It was observed that the soft tyre had comparable, and sometimes even better pace and durability than the super soft, during race, and qualifying simulations in practice; the super soft tyre wasn’t able to last even one complete lap! Consequently, teams completed most of their running in Q1 and Q2 on soft tyres. In both the sessions, Ferrari were fastest, prompting suggestions that they had been sandbagging in practice. In Q3, the supersoft tyre was used which left Ferrari lacking in pace and down in 5th and 6th positions, almost 1.5 seconds adrift of Hamilton in provisional pole. Ferrari then decided to do their laps on soft tyres, and were immediately faster although still unable qualify on the front row (because the soft tyre is slower with a delta of about 0.5-0.8 seconds). They started the race with Vettel in 3rd and Raikkonen in 4th, while Red Bulls occupied the 3rd row.
The following image shows the percentage gap to pole position for all teams. It has been compared with the 2017 average, and the average gap in the 2017 Spanish GP.
- Ferrari were slightly slower than their last year’s qualifying time, but their gap to pole was smaller than 2017’s average.
- Mercedes were faster than last year, and that can attributed to the new surface that has been laid. It has led to some blistering lap times. This year’s pole position lap was almost 3 seconds faster than last year’s.
- Force India have fallen back. This has been confirmed with a poor qualifying performance. Catalunya isn’t a track that suits their car, but this time they were worse off.
- Haas are perhaps one of the biggest improvements. They were way faster and higher up the field than last year.
- McLaren’s new Renault partnership has helped them. They have also made considerable improvements and with a heavily upgraded car this weekend, Alonso was able to make it to Q3.
- Red Bull too have made big gains compared to last year. This is a track which traditionally suits their chassis.
- Renault’s gap to pole is similar to their last year’s average, but way better than what it was at last year’s race.
- Sauber were using 2016 Ferrari engines in 2017, hence were often the slowest car. This time, with the latest Ferrari engines, the gap to pole was considerably less although slightly more than last year’s race.
- Despite using Honda power, Toro Rosso actually had a smaller gap to pole this time out than last year. However, they still failed to finish in the points today, when Gasly, who was their best bet to score points, was taken out at the start.
- Williams are worse off this time. They had a torrid time in qualifying, which is highlighted by an immense gap to pole position this time. It’s hard to digest this, given that they were among the front runners in 2014 and 2015. There must be a fundamental issue with their car.
The race, as expected was a bit like a procession. After a dramatic first lap in which Grosjean, Hulkenberg and Gasly were eliminated, a safety car was triggered. Once the safety car period ended, Hamilton sped away and opened an early lead of 4 seconds over Vettel who had overtaken Bottas at the start. The rest of the field were evenly spread out, with drivers having difficulty overtaking the car in front, thus highlighting the aerodynamic nature of this circuit and how difficult it is to follow cars in front.
It was expected to be a one-stopper race. None of the drivers, with the exception of Alonso used the super soft tyre given how it had performed during practice and qualifying. Vettel, however did a two-stop race which didn’t help him at all. He had been running in 2nd place and when a Virtual Safety Car was triggered, Ferrari decided to pit him which put him behind Bottas and Verstappen. Vettel had his work cut out. He would have to pass at least Verstappen to finish on the podium but even with damage to the Red Bull’s front wing, he was unable to do so. He finished the race in 4th place. Magnussen scored another fine points finish for Haas in 6th place, Sainz was 7th while Alonso was 8th. Perez finished 9th after he overtook Leclerc in the final laps of the race. Leclerc finished 10th to score his second successive points finish. He drove a clean race, defended hard and was opportunistic.
Uncharacteristically, there were quite a number of retirements: Grosjean, Hulkenberg and Gasly were eliminated at the start, Raikkonen had to retire due to an electrical issue with his car, Vandoorne retired due to gearbox issues, while Ocon retired due to engine issues.
Hamilton now leads the championship by 15 points from Vettel, with Bottas in 3rd place.
Mercedes have taken the lead of the constructors’ championship with their 1-2 finish and Raikkonen’s retirement from the race. Renault have overtaken McLaren for 4th place in the constructors’ standings, while Haas are now 6th. Sauber are 9th, with Williams in 10th.
(Image source: Google)