The Spanish Grand Prix might have been a disappointment in terms of on-track action, but it wasn’t without drama and fun. Craig Norman gives you the low down with the Top 5 from Barcelona.
The fame in Spain
Every race should have a home hero and Spain is lucky enough to have two – Fernando Alonso and Carlos Sainz. Thanks to the teams that they’re driving for this season, the stands were awash with the colours of orange and yellow respectively.
But Alonso gave us the most heartwarming moments of the weekend by making one fans weekend, year, and perhaps life.
It all started with a gif. The official F1 account tweeted this fan celebrating Fernando’s P8 in qualifying and the ball started rolling. Alonso wanted the kid to make it to the paddock – which, don’t forget, was a story in last year’s Spanish race with the Kimi Raikkonen kid – and the sport duly delivered.
If that doesn’t warm your heart, nothing will.
The woes Grosjean
Romain Grosjean is having an utterly miserable season, mainly due to bad luck, but when that luck plays on someone’s mind it can mean they make rash decisions. That was Romain at Turn 3 in Spain.
Keeping his foot in caused a smoke cloud that, when cleared, had also claimed the cars of Nico Hulkenberg and Pierre Gasly.
Stopping on the circuit would have caused an obstacle, but Grosjean would have been a visible one that drivers could have swerved to avoid. Instead, no one was to know where each every car was in that cloud and if you’ve seen Days Of Thunder you know it doesn’t end well for all involved.
Grosjean has now lurched back into the territory he didn’t want to be in. He’s now the First Lap Nutcase again, someone who can’t catch a break no matter how much he tries to avoid trouble despite it following him around. He needs to step back and regroup to save this season, and, possibly his career.
Spain means upgrades
The F1 circus travelling to Spain means one thing; upgrades. The teams have been working on developing their cars throughout the first few races and now we get to see what they’ve come up with.
McLaren was the top of the pile when it comes to weird alterations. Their car now sports three inlets at the bottom of the nose, a pelican scoop underneath and vertical inlets down the side. The latter feels quite apt in the fact they look like card swiping machines, which should help with their sponsorship issues.
Ferrari brought the other strange visual update, with the Italian team making the decision to hang their drivers’ rear view mirrors from the Halo device, rather than mount them from the monocoque. While this could give an advantage in terms of reduced drag off the front of the car, or means that there is reduced vibration and a clearer vision for the driver, it doesn’t matter. The FIA has banned them.
Has Ferrari peaked?
Speaking of Ferrari, do we have to ask this question after round five of the championship?
There was little positivity to take from Barcelona for the Scuderia. Mercedes dominated them in every way – pace, strategy, tyre management and reliability.
Barcelona is the litmus test of how competitive your car is and Ferrari has fallen back a bit from the poles and wins from the first four races. The decision by Pirelli to alter the width of the tires moving forward might – and it’s a very slim might – have put Mercedes on top but the change was the same for everyone, and the field doesn’t seem as affected.
Ferrari simply wasn’t fast enough in Spain and now has to return to the drawing board. Switching Sebastian Vettel to a two-stop strategy on the fly didn’t pay off and without Kimi Raikkonen’s wingman ability, which has been so crucial in previous races, he floundered and missed out on the podium. Raikkonen’s engine woes were the icing on a disappointing cake.
Can Ferrari bounce back from this? History shows that they can once we head to tracks like Monaco and Hungary, but if the tables have turned and they’re now in damamge limitation mode, we could be on for another season of Mercedes dominance once again.
“That’s more like it”
Lewis Hamilton was back to his imperious best in Barcelona, obliterating the field, including his Mercedes teammate Valtteri Bottas, with a decisive set of fastest laps after the first Safety Car period.
Within a few laps a six-second lead over championship rival Sebastian Vettel appeared ominous, and indeed it was as the Ferrari, hitherto the best car in the field, couldn’t get anywhere near the back of the Mercedes.
Despite a patchy start to the season, the Brit leads the standings by 17 points, while the Silver Arrows are back atop the Constructors standings, their natural position since 2014.
There is no real sense, however, that Mercedes have solved their problems nor that they will necessarily enjoy such an advantage again.
This season it is all still to play for. The team played it down but Pirelli’s use of a 0.4mm thinner tread in Spain after blistering in testing may well have played a major part.
Mercedes had found performance in Barcelona, where they had form in testing, but it will be another task altogether in Monaco and Canada.
“This is more like it,” the four-time champion said after the race. But, all involved at Brackley will have to continue to work hard if the team returns to its status quo.