Brought to you by TheJudge13 contributor Mattpt55
“It is in the character of very few men to honor without envy a friend who has prospered.”
― Aeschylus Agamemnon
Under azure skies and the relentless pressure of Nico Rosberg, Lewis Hamilton overcame numerous obstacles to eke out the narrowest of victories. In a long slow burn of a Grand Prix filled with battles up and down the grid, Mercedes dominance continued unchallenged and Hamilton’s 4th win in a row saw him unseat his team mate for the lead in the WDC. Sebastian Vettel drove an amazing race to come 4th after starting 15th following a gearbox penalty and Fernando Alonso and Kimi Raikkonen finally gave the fans the show they had been waiting for.
The start of the race saw Hamilton making an excellent start followed by Rosberg. Bottas was the quickest though and managed to sneak into 3rd past Ricciardo whose starts, though not as bad as his erstwhile countrymen Webber, are still the weakest part of his game. Meanwhile, Alonso tried desperately but was unable to get past Raikkonen while Grosjean was able to maintain his position going into turn 1, with the help of a massive lock up. Vettel did not have a happy start either, bogging down slightly and losing position off the line. Maldonado too failed to disappoint as he completely misjudged the distance between himself and Ericsson and immediately earned himself a 5 second stop and go for his efforts.
The magnificent Mercedes duo wasted no time in leaving the others, gapping the rest of the field at 1.5 seconds a lap. Rosberg set the tone for the race by dropping back and maintaining a 2 second gap to Hamilton, preferring to keep his powder dry for the end of the race. As the rest of the grid began to settle, it was only Ricciardo who took the bit between his teeth, closing on Bottas and clearly intent on taking 3rd as quickly as possible. Still, Bottas would have none of it and the Williams superior straight line speed essentially nullified the DRS advantage for Red Bull.
By lap 5 the top 10 had stabilized, with Grosjean, Raikkonen, Alonso, Massa and Hulkenberg finishing out the top 10. The spectre of tyre degradation raised yesterday by Rosberg at the presser began to make itself known over team radio as Rosberg received orders to save tyres for the end of the stint confirming his strategy compared to the previous races where he trailed Lewis. In fact, all of the top runners settled in to reasonable gaps except, of course, Ricciardo who seemed personally offended by the fact that Bottas was still ahead of him. Amusingly, after receiving a radio call from his team to back off to a 2 second gap, Ricciardo showed he was just as hard of hearing as his teammate as he pushed forward instead and kept after Bottas for another 2 laps before finally giving up and backing off as the cooling needs of his steed could be no longer denied. With Vettel mired in 14th behind Button it was clear that Red Bull would have to play the long game today to see any improvement as they lacked the power on the straights to overtake.
Lap 9 saw the action hot up in the midfield as first Kvyat and then Button passed Gutierrez for 11th and 12th respectively. Vettel managed to get him on the outside of Turn 10 whilst Maldonado had his penalty confirmed by the stewards. Mercedes reminded everyone they were still racing as Lewis turned in fast lap and Alonso began to tighten the gap to Raikkonen to under a second as he began to look to find a way past his teammate. Vettel began to move up on Button and by lap 12 he was just 0.4 off the McLaren but he boxed at the end of the lap instead of trying to pass.
At the back Chilton was under a second to Kobayashi, but this was ignored as Vettel popped on a pair of Hards and Ricciardo had one more go at Bottas. Grosjean was suffering and slowly falling back into the clutches of Raikkonen. Lap 14 saw Magnussen imitate the overtake of Gutierrez that his teammate achieved several laps earlier as Rosberg reported that the tyres were fine. Having once again failed to overtake Bottas Ricciardo went for the undercut instead, emerging on Options and immediately carving his way back through the midfield on older tyres. By lap 16 it was looking 2 stop for most runners and Alonso most unusually boxed ahead of Raikkonen. No matter, as Raikkonen boxed a lap later and managed to just come out ahead of his teammate. By lap 18 Hamilton was told to push and was brought in at the end of the lap, emerging behind his teammate on Options after a seemingly lackadaisical pit stop of 3.8 seconds. Still, Hamilton is inside the pit delta and Rosberg pits 2 laps later for the Hards. Rosberg’s time was 2.8 seconds, a fairly massive gain for Nico. He still emerges behind Lewis, but no doubt closer than Hamilton would like. The evidence for this comes less than a lap later as Lewis goes fastest. Clear echoes of Bahrain as the strategy will clearly put them back together with 10 or so laps to go. Bottas pits and is unable to clear Ricciardo who takes over 3rd. Back down the field Perez closes on Hulkenberg as it becomes clear that there will be a lot of action in the last 10 laps. A third of the way through and Hamilton, Rosberg, Ricciardo, Bottas, Grosjean, Raikkonen and Alonso still dominated the sharp end. Tragedy struck for Vergne on lap 25 as he was retired with a cracked exhaust, though he will likely get a new gearbox out of it as well.
The shape of things became clearer as on lap 24 Rosberg was told to maintain a gap to Lewis of 2 seconds, whilst Hamilton was told to increase the gap to 6 seconds in 20 laps. At the time, it was 3 seconds. Like watching the flag in a tug o’ war, the gap would wax and wane to the next set of stops, with neither able to gain the decisive advantage.The following lap saw Raikkonen take 5th with Alonso closing on Grosjean, whom he handily despatched for 6th. By lap 28 a note of desperation was beginning to creep into Hamilton’s voice as he asked his engineers for help with the diff settings. It was becoming obvious that his car was not as well set up as Rosberg’s, but despite this fact he was able to inch the gap back up, as the marbles that were prevalent in the GP2 race began to accumulate round the track. Massa boxed and hit the track in 14th with fresh tyres.
Hamilton’s set up woes continued as he voiced complaints about the rear of the car swinging loose. Rosberg serenely kept station with him despite having the harder compound tyre on his car. Ricciardo had crept away from Bottas and was driving in his own little bubble, 10 seconds up the road. As neither Rosberg nor Hamilton was able to make much headway, the loss of time in the pits was starting to loom large.
Lap 34 saw Raikkonen having finally closed up to Bottas who looked to be 2 stopping. Vettel boxed and emerged in 14th ahead of Maldonado on a fresh set of options. Grosjean pitted into 8th as Kobayashi had a big off and was forced to retire his Caterham less than a lap later with brake problems, his first ever retirement at Barcelona. Alonso was in lap 36 and Vettel rocked up a fast lap showing the true speed of his car for the first time. Ericsson was dinged for ignoring blue flags and it looked to play into Alonso’s hands as his victim was Raikkonen. Vettel clearly had the Ferrari of Alonso in his sights as Rosberg locked up his front left, the first sign of strain he had shown all race.
It was all coming down to the last laps of the last stint and it would be the lapped traffic and pit stops that would be the joker in the deck
Into Mercedes’ pit window lap 42 and Hamilton goes in with comical radio misunderstanding. Requesting not to be given 3 turns off the front wing for the Hards, he is instead given exactly that. To add insult to injury, the stop was a stunningly slow 4.3 seconds, especially when compared to the sub 3 second stop Nico was to enjoy just a few laps later. Emerging with the wrong front wing setting on the Hard tyre and a twitchy car, a note of desperate paranoia had crept into his voice as he asked if his outlap was too slow. Nico himself, in an ominous sign for Lewis, was beginning to struggle with graining on his set of hards at the end of his stint, suggesting that Lewis might have the same problem right when Nico would be lining him up. The gap when Rosberg boxed was exactly 4 seconds, precisely halfway between what each side of the garage wanted.
Lap 46 saw both Ricciardo and Bottas make their last stop. Traffic intervened and the gap between the Mercedes duo which had been down to 3 seconds stretched to 5 seconds as Rosberg navigated carefully through the backmarkers. Lap 49 saw Hulkenberg close on Grosjean to take 9th as Perez continued to press his teammate. Rosberg was taking huge chunks out of Hamilton’s advantage as the dénouement approached. Hamilton responded by posting fastest lap but he sounded increasingly unsettled over the radio.
Lap 52 and Kvyat took a place off Magnussen as Perez managed the overtake on Hulkenberg for 9th. Vettel was on fire and throwing tyre cautions to the wind he tore through the field to 6th. With 11 laps left both the Ferrari’s were now firmly in his sights as the gap between the Mercedes had dwindled to just 2.7 seconds. Rosberg was told to be careful with his tyres as he threaded his way through traffic, temporarily slowing his inexorable progress. One lap later it was down to 2.3 seconds.
Lap 57 saw the graining come onto Lewis’ tyres and he looked to be a sitting duck for Rosberg as Vettel set up Raikkonen neatly and took him on the inside of a turn for 5th. Lap 59 and both Hamilton and Rosberg headed into traffic, gaining Lewis a slight respite. Rosberg’s garage was full of hope as they radioed their man to think about overtake strategies and not without reason as he was pulling over 0.5 seconds a lap on Lewis. Lap 61 and now it was the turn of Alonso to shine, as he pulled up to less than 0.4 behind Kimi. The pendulum between the Mercs was being measured in tenths as Lewis managed to up his pace despite the car visibly understeering Turn 3 due to lack of front wing. The gap was down to 1.4 seconds thanks to some beautiful driving from Nico with 5 laps to go. Lap 62 saw Alonso agonizingly close to Raikkonen but not quite enough to pull it off on the pit straight as Kimi was saving all his ERS to defend. The gap continued to yo-yo between the Mercs as Vettel had closed to 0.6 on Bottas, continuing his stellar recovery and looking like himself for the first time this year. Lap 63 and the clock ticks for Rosberg as this looked to be the big push for DRS and victory. But we see none of it as Alonso lines up Raikkonen and the pair trade position from Turn 1 to Turn 4 before Alonso finally gets the upper hand and takes 6th from Raikkonen in an amazing display of driving virtuosity form both of them.
It’s down to 1 second between the Mercs as Vettel takes 4th from Bottas. Big lockup from Lewis and it’s less than 0.5 seconds on lap 65 but not enough and it’s 0.4 going into the final lap Raikkonen clears the way for the only unresolved duel on the racetrack. The last lap is agony for Hamilton with Rosberg delivering immense pressure and the knowledge that any mistake would let his rival through. Hamilton persists, though, and manages to cross the line less than a second ahead of Nico. Ricciardo crosses almost a minute later for 3rd. Staggeringly for the modern era, only the first 6 cars finished on the lead lap. Vettel, Bottas, Alonso, Raikkonen, Grosjean, Perez and Hulkenberg round out the top ten. Fantastic finish for Williams who move ahead of Mclaren in the Constructors and the promise of much to come in Monaco.
|3||Daniel Ricciardo||Red Bull||1:31.792||48.900||2|
|4||Sebastian Vettel||Red Bull||1:33.392||76.500||3|
|7||Kimi Raikkonen||Ferrari||1:35.536||1 lap||2|
|8||Romain Grosjean||Lotus||1:32.869||1 lap||2|
|9||Sergio Perez||Force India||1:32.774||1 lap||2|
|10||Nico Hulkenberg||Force India||1:33.627||1 lap||2|
|11||Jenson Button||McLaren||1:34.128||1 lap||2|
|12||Kevin Magnussen||McLaren||1:33.878||1 lap||2|
|13||Felipe Massa||Williams||1:33.800||1 lap||3|
|14||Daniil Kvyat||Toro Rosso||1:30.371||1 lap||3|
|15||Pastor Maldonado||Lotus||1:34.447||1 lap||2|
|16||Esteban Gutierrez||Sauber||1:32.540||1 lap||3|
|17||Adrian Sutil||Sauber||1:37.529||1 lap||2|
|18||Jules Bianchi||Marussia||1:33.304||2 laps||2|
|19||Max Chilton||Marussia||1:42.518||2 laps||3|
|20||Marcus Ericsson||Caterham||1:34.104||2 laps||2|
|R||Kamui Kobayashi||Caterham||RETIRED||30 laps||2|
|R||Jean-Eric Vergne||Toro Rosso||RETIRED||41 laps||2|
World Drivers Championship
World Constructors Championship