Formula 1’s Spanish Grand Prix wasn’t one that will live long in memory despite two drivers toppling all-time records at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya on Sunday. With his victory, Lewis Hamilton is now the outright top podium finisher of all time with 156 visits. Of course, Hamilton is primarily chasing down the most wins and championships this year. After his performance this week, there seems little in the way of stopping him. Elsewhere, a shoutout to Kimi Raikkonen, who has now driven more miles in F1 than any other man before him with 52,009, as his poor season continues. The Finn may take heart that any non-Hamilton driver also isn’t enjoying the season they’d like.
That sentiment may also extend to any fans eager to see battles at the front. In contrast to being outdone by Red Bull on strategy as we saw at the 70th Anniversary Grand Prix one week earlier, Hamilton’s victory in Spain was flawless. He started from pole position, and once he remained ahead of the chasing pack by the first corner, Lewis had little to trouble his Sunday afternoon drive. His only complaint was not wanting to use the soft compound of tire, highlighting how relatively smooth this win was.
Max Verstappen and Valtteri Bottas once again shared the silverware in second and third. Verstappen benefited from a slipstream off the line with the long run into turn one and passed the Mercedes number 2 driver for second place. Bottas didn’t just lose out to the Dutchman. He unexpectedly had both Racing Point cars battling him too. Fast starting Lance Stroll edged by at the second corner before teammate Sergio Perez almost outdrove Bottas into turn three, but the Finn held on. Unsurprisingly, Bottas only took a few laps to make it past with DRS assistance, but there was no way to progress back into second place.
Unlike the previous two races, it was Red Bull and not Mercedes who were struggling on the tires in the early laps. Verstappen vocally chastised his race engineer with his displeasure on how long he had to drive the soft tire compound while he lost time to Hamilton. Although Max comfortably defeated Bottas, any shot at taking the lead would be through the pit stops. Red Bull excelled again with their lightning 1.9s tire change for Verstappen. This only ensured he remained ahead of the two Racing Points, however. The double-stacking Mercedes team lost no time nor places when they switched to the mediums two laps later.
Behind the usual top three suspects were a gaggle of midfield runners showcasing how close the five teams are. Racing Point decided to split the strategy with their drivers by having Lance Stroll go for two stops while running Sergio Perez with a long second stint on the mediums for a traditional one-stop approach. The two found themselves fending off Sebastian Vettel, who opted for a one-stop like Perez, and Carlos Sainz, who pitted twice. Stroll had more to do as he needed to keep Sainz behind while also passing Vettel. The Canadian managed both and converged with the sister Racing Point at the flag. The team enjoyed their best result of the season finishing in 4th and 5th place.
Vettel, in particular, did well to be so far up the field after another dreadful qualifying where he couldn’t escape Q2. His Ferrari ran the unfavored soft compound Pirelli’s for over half the race, but he crossed the line in 7th. He couldn’t hold off Sainz and Stroll behind him but did keep Alex Albon at bay in the closing laps. The struggling Red Bull driver complained about losing time in sector three, which made overtakes difficult.
Albon, again, looked like he was racing for a different team from Verstappen and went backward from starting 6th to finishing 8th. He was the first to stop, which put him in the middle of Sainz, the Renaults, and Kevin Magnusson, where he lost time. He only passed the Haas, whose tires fell off the cliff, on lap 28 in a race to forget for the Thai driver.
Charles Leclerc was the only retirement of the race. His Ferrari completely shut down after hitting the curbs in the final chicane. The rear wheels seized, and the Monegasque driver watched helplessly as the entire field passed him. He eventually got going again, but only after he had undone his seatbelt. He crawled his scarlet car back to his garage one lap later to end his race. Had Leclerc’s power unit remained off, it would’ve resulted in a safety car that would’ve been just what this Grand Prix needed to bunch the pack back up. Instead, by the end, only the top three finished the race on the same lap.
Overall, it wasn’t the worst race that Spain has ever produced. Multiple tire strategies made the running order for the lower positions change throughout the 66 laps. But after the two races in Britain, I had hoped Verstappen could’ve done the same for the top spots too. With a well-earned one week break before the next race at Spa-Francorchamps on August 30th, we might see some upgrades that upset the running order at a race track where Mercedes haven’t won at for the last two years.
Originally published at https://www.fortloc.com.