‘Sandbagging’. That’s what Lewis Hamilton accused Ferrari of after the Practice sessions. Come the race and one could surely accuse Mercedes of the same thing? The Silver Arrows were totally dominant at Circuit de Catalunya.
After the high drama in Baku, the Spanish GP had a lot to live up to. The start promised more of the same, as Romain Grosjean spun at Turn 3 and took out Nico Hulkenberg and Piere Gasly in the process, resulting in an early finish for all three of them. Grosjean was deemed culpable and has been handed a three-place grid penalty for Monaco.
When asked about the incident, Nico Hulkenberg did not mince his words: “He (Grosjean) didn’t look great in that scenario. Generally he likes spinning, but on the first lap is not a good time to do it with everyone there. He has to look at it and do some work on himself.”
Ahead of the melee, Sebastian Vettel had already managed to pass Valtteri Bottas and a Safety Car period meant immediate pressure for Lewis Hamilton with the German breathing down his neck. If Hamilton felt any pressure, he didn’t show it. Scooting clear at the restart the Mercedes soon had a comfortable advantage.
There was little danger from that point on and a bloodless victory ensued. Maximum points for Mercedes as Bottas came home in second place. Not a classic Grand Prix but Toto Wolff didn’t care, declaring his team: “back in business”.
What happened to Ferrari? It just wasn’t their day. Kimi Raikkonen retired from second place with an engine failure on lap 24. Retirements happen. But to Kimi they seem to happen more often than most… As for Vettel, an early pit stop forced Ferrari into a two-stop strategy. In hindsight this was an error, but Ferrari claim their tyre degradation made this the only option. In any case, a 12-point haul for Ferrari compared to Mercedes’ 43, was not a good day at the office.
It’s still fiercely competitive amongst the middle order teams. Local favourite Fernando Alonso put in a great shift. His pass on Estaban Ocon was spectacular and allowed McLaren to salvage some much-needed points from an unpromising position. Charles Leclerc also deserves a mention with another points finish for Sauber.
Williams have big problems and are already starting to look adrift. Robert Kubica got his first taste of the car in practice on Friday. His comments were less than flattering: “It’s difficult to say that it was enjoyable because our car balance was very bad and it was very difficult to drive,” They need to do something quickly before the season turns into a disaster.
Monaco is less than two weeks away now. The new-found pace of the Mercedes must surely make them favourites and Ferrari will be desperately trying to eek out some extra pace. It has been known to rain during Qualifying in Monaco too, and that would really throw the cat amongst the pigeons…
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