Having been dominated by his team mate all weekend, Lewis Hamilton knew he would need to get ahead of Rosberg before the first corner to have any hope of wining the 2015 Spanish GP.
Whilst the TV commentators droned through their pre-prepared material for the minutes before the red lights went out, something bizarre was happening on track. In one of the slowest formation laps in recent history, Lewis backed up the field by driving extremely slowly, causing Vettel more than once to find himself ahead of the Mercedes whilst hardly pressing the red pedal on the right.
Modern Formula One cars do not like trundling around or standing still. The engine, clutches and brakes become badly affected and we frequently see pit lane mechanics with dry ice hairdryers rush to the cars to prevent the systems overheating.
Presumbaly Lewis thought this would all get inside Nico’s head and cause him to be distracted from the task in hand when the drivers got the ‘get-go’ command.
In the end, it was to no avail. It was Lewis himself, who bungled the start and ended up being overtaken by Vettel’s Ferrari. Hamilton was forced into a desperate defence from the charging Bottas too, and his poor get away saw him pay the heavy price of thirty laps staring at the Maranello crafted exhaust pipe of the quadruple world champions car.
Lewis’ inability to pass Vettel on track rather force-fed humble pie to those who decried Rosberg’s ‘whinging’ and apparent inability to attack Hamilton in China. By comparison, Lewis’ task should have been relatively simple as Nico showed in Bahrain when the Ferrari was easy pickings for a man on a mission.
Lewis thinking prior to the start of the race, gives some credence to the theory that Hamilton is capable of a strategy which would back Rosberg into Vettel in Shanghai. After all, for Lewis – its all about the race win.
Adrian Sutil was co-commentator at Sky Germany, and he confirmed that given the current aero regulations and tyre structures, a driver has two laps at most to follow another car closely and get the pass done.
Otherwise the front tyres which are not as durable is the 2015 Pirelli rear tyres, are toast.
It was plain for all to see, that not even the great lewis Hamilton can battle the laws of aerodynamics and win.
In a reversal of the Vettel tactic on Rosberg in China, Mercedes went for an early first stop for Lewis as he tried the undercut. However, the mechanic on the air gun at the left rear corner of the car wasn’t sure the wheel was secure, so he took time to unfastened and re-fastened the wheel nut.
Given the latest reported FIA clampdown on loose wheels that TJ13 reported prior to the Barcelona weekend, this faceless individual did Lewis a huge favour – because a score of ‘Nil point’ would not have pleased the Englishmen one jot.
Yet Hamilton fresh from his hero’s battle with himself, decided to criticise the team for a poor pit stop. Who know’s when faced with a similar situation in future, the rear left wheel man with the air gun will respond.
The stop was 2.8 seconds slower than Vettel’s covering move one lap later, and for the current champ – it was now ground hog day.
But with pace aplenty, Mercedes decided to switch to “plan B”, putting Lewis on a three-stopper. Lap 32 saw the Brit came in again, for a stop that was still rather catholic by comparison to the 2.3 seconds efforts those clad in scarlet appeared to be pumping out all day.
Again, this is Mercedes just being smart and taking no pit stop risks to jeopardise the entire race for one of their drivers. And with the pace in hand, this is but a by-line from the Spanish GP.
James Vowles call for Lewis to switch to a three stop strategy worked well, though this was all because Ferrari inexplicably decided not to pre-empt this or cover the Hamilton undercut at the second stop.
Rosberg, Hamilton and Vettel were the only drivers with an additional set of fresh options, having negotiated Q1 by just using the Pirelli prime hard tyre. Yet the Italian’s chose not to split their race strategy between the two drivers.
Vettel had proven track position was king and he could hold off the red misted Hamilton with relative ease, as the window opened around lap 30 to make the second of three stops, the tifosi were surely screaming for Vettel to pit before Hamilton, thus ensuring track position were the Brit to continue with plan ‘B’ too.
By now Rosberg was a country mile up the road, and had Hamilton returned to a two stop strategy, he would have chased his German team mate’s shadows in vain on worn tyres, giving Vettel a shout of passing Lewis towards the end of the race.
Instead, Vettel slogged on with his second set of wearing medium tyres, losing as much as two seconds per lap to Lewis now on fresh primes. In that moment, it was game over so far as second place was concerned.
Possibly with fond memories of Bahrain, Ferrari also set Kimi off on a two stop strategy, but they delivered poor track position for the Fin and the hard tyre as tools for battle. The Iceman was never in with a chance of the podium.
However, Vettel’s strategy was unravelling and for a a lap or two with ten to go, it looked like the German would be swallowed up by Bottas and then Räikkönen. They were closing on Sebastian at over a second per lap. But the ensuing fight between the two Finns was enough to wear out their tyres and slow their progress, allowing Vettel to limp home third on his knackered primes.
A third on the podium is hardly a source for celebration in Ferrari-land these days, as the de facto order of things in 2015 invariably sees the champagne sprayed by various permutations of Rosberg, Hamilton and Vettel, with a Raikkonen once for good measure.
Not only does the Gestione Sportiva have some catching up to do on track, if they bask in the glory of their quick thinking in Malaysia 2015 for much longer – the ship will have sailed – once and for all.
Vettel can comfort himself with the thought that he and Ferrari will not be close enough to a title by the time the circus arrives at its final destination this a year. Which means the Maranello mentalists will be unable to screw him over like they did to Alonso back in 2010, during the desert finale.