Brought to you by TheJudge13 contributor Mattpt55
Ambient 24° Track 44° Humidity 41% Wind 2.0 m/s
Heh, if it’s Sunday then it must be a McLaren and today it was Stoffel the Waffle taking a 5th Energy Store and Control Electronics and a 10 place grid drop after Honda found a sensor issue. Of course, since he was already P19, effectively it’s a 1 place penalty for putting 2 new components into his pool of parts, so not a bad strategy.
For race fans the sad news is that the chance of rain appears to have plummeted but the rated gap between compounds (Soft and Medium) is 2s a lap which means that strategy game is ON!!
2 stopper with Mediums run as short as possible is the official call, but choosing the correct stint to run them should provide some entertaining variation and potential overtaking, even at the top should they be on different compounds. 3 stopper might be quicker though and the undercut is also liable to be powerful and traffic, as ever, looms as a joker in the deck.
Also playing a role again is the wind, which is predicted to be high. If you ask Hulkenberg, it was the main reason why they struggled yesterday in quali and it’s worse today, so expect some unanticipated off-roading, especially amongst the midfielders.
Alonso P7 and the gap to Red Bull also worth clocking today, as Danny Boy reckons they’ve found something, but not unlocked its full potential yet. Lingering tyre issues for Bottas after his lockup and extra laps on his race set loom for Mercedes’ strategists.
The sky was the harsh azure so typical of Catalunya, clouds scudding across the brilliant banner as flags whipped in the wind, that crazy tension of the start enforcing a certain quietude in the paddock as engines sprang to life. The massive run to T1 beckoned as the packed grandstands eagerly awaited the start….
Lights out!!! Brilliant getaway from Vettel alongside Hamilton, Ferrari’s new fancy start bit doing its part. Vettel took up the inside line into T1 along with the lead in the race. Contact between Raikkonen and Verstappen behind with Lewis just holding off Bottas for P2. Alonso was in full offroad mode as well, not the best choice for his underpowered car, having been forced there by Massa, who had picked up a puncture in avoiding the of the Raikkonen/Verstappen incident.
Ricciardo took P4 and a blinder for Perez in P5, taking advantage of the collision as Verstappen tried to limp it into the pits, along with Massa.
2s gap at the end of lap for Vettel but Lewis settled on lap 2 and began to stem the bleeding. Verstappen was done but Massa made it out, though with a severely damaged floor from his puncture, with big implications for the WCC as Force India lapped strongly in P5 and P6.
By lap 5 Hamilton was slowly pegging the lead of Vettel and on replay it looked like there was potential contact between Bottas and Raikkonen that started the chain reaction. Following through, it was Massa collecting a puncture and forcing Alonso off as well. It was also Phase 2 that saw the Ferrari of Vettel clearly by HAmilton.
In the midfield it was Hulkenberg, Magnussen and Sainz taking P7-9, and a real battle between Sainz and Magnussen had started brewing lap 4, with the Toro Rosso of Sainz trying to dance round the Haas into T1, but not quite being able to make it.
Further back it was Alonso, who had been working his way through the pack, that had fetched up behind Grosjean, whom he was unable to get past despite having more pace over the full lap. A call to his engineers sent them scrambling to look at alternate strategies to avoid losing time behind the brilliantly defensive Frenchman currently keeping them out of the last of the points paying position.
By lap 10 it was apparent that Bottas was not nearly as fast as his teammate, being weighed down by his old, tired and heavier PU. Hamilton continued to keep the gap around 2s, but several laps earlier he had radioed in the difficulty of keeping Vettel in sight, not a call often heard over Mercedes’ airwaves.
Lap 14, Sainz Magnussen in, fight on the way out. Onto the grass for Sainz and the incident was “noted” by the stewards. Lap 15 was Vettel’s turn and the front left delayed him on the way out 3.2s and stuck behind the Red Bull of Ricciardo as Hamilton had lost the undercut. Fastest lap for Lewis was the result and he kept it out for a 2nd lap.
Down the straight lap 16 and Vettel easily eclipsed Ricciardo, but the damage was done. Except that Mercedes kept Lewis out on his old tyres in an effort to clear his pit window. Big question number 1 as on lap 16 Vettel took nearly a second out of him.
Lap 19 and Hamilton was still out, now 3 stopper being reported on Sky. Perez was in and out. Vettel was chunking 2s a lap out of Hamilton now and the only thing that made sense was that Mercedes was going very long to create an offset at the end of the race.
Grosjean in lap 20 and out in front of Kvyat and Alonso as well, who had become stuck behind the Russian. Lap 21 Hamilton radioed that his rears were going and you could clearly hear him huffing and puffing as it was obvious the cars were on the limit.
Out came the Mediums for Lewis and Ricciardo was in as well and also on the Mediums. Bottas stayed out and Vettel fetched up very firmly behind him. Lap 23 was suddenly crucial, as Valterri on incredibly old tyres, did his best to keep the Ferrari behind him.
No action on Sainz reported lap 24 as again Vettel had a go. Inside for Bottas outside Vettel. No dice so Sebastian went for the switchback T4 and again couldn’t close the deal, letting Hamilton close 2s off his gap to the Ferrari, down to 4s at the end of the lap.
For the 3rd time in a row, Vettel attacked down the straight the following lap and sold Bottas a massive dummy. Extraordinary move on the inside, with 2 wheels on grass to get him ahead, but the damage was done from Mercedes’ point of view, Vettel having lost crucial hunks of time
Bottas moved aside for Lewis the following trip down the straight and 4 seconds separated the 2 leaders of the race. Job done, Bottas was in lap 27 for a set of Mediums and out ahead of Ricciardo, who was taking full advantage of his teammate’s absence to maximise his haul of points.
Lap 28 pointed out the difference between the 2 compounds as once clear of Bottas, Vettel eked out a full second, which Hamilton would be looking to claw back when he ran his final stint on the Softs to Vettel’s Mediums.
Bottas on the Mediums set fast lap the following go round as midfield traffic began to have an impact on the laptimes of both Vettel and Hamilton.
Lap 31, Mercedes called for Hamilton to match Vettel then close the gap. Entertainingly, Lewis pointed out that he was on the wrong tyre for closing in. Sounded as if Mercedes expected degradation to began impacting Vettel’s laptimes. As the gap had gone out to 7.5s, evidence for that conclusion was a bit lacking.
Lap 33 saw Alonso in for the 2nd time, whilst the Hulk, Magnussen, Sainz troika continued to run together, this time in P9-11. Hamilton called in a complaint about getting round a Sauber that was being less than cooperative
Lap 34 and Vandorne made it interesting by going off T1 trying to get round Massa and beaching it. VSC was out lap 34 for that loss of concentration. Vettel and Hamilton both skipped the pits, but Hulk, Magnussen, Sainz, Stroll Kvyat and Wehrlein all took advantage for a shorter stop.
Lap 35 and it was Mercedes out into the pitlane but again Hamilton stayed out, as both cars went past. Lap 37 and Hamilton was in just as the VSC was off whilst Bottas stayed out. Mercedes having waited as long as possible and taking advantage of him trailing Vettel to get a low cost pit stop in. It was out on the Softs for Lewis and a brave new world for Mercedes.
Onto the Mediums and immediately reacting was Ferrari but it was too late as Hamilton and Vettel were side by side. A bit of contact sent Lewis over the kerb on the outside of T1, but Vettel was able to hang on to the lead and it was game on, with Vettel on the Mediums and Hamilton on the Softs.
The following lap and again Hamilton attacked down the straight and again not quite close enough to seal the deal for the Mercedes man.
Lap 39 and Bottas was suddenly off the track with a smoking Mercedes, his ancient engine having given up the ghost, and the podium loomed for Ricciardo who had just exited the pits, as the leaders hit a patch of particularly thick traffic.
Again not quite close enough for Mercedes, as they encountered Wehrlein at the end of the straight and Lewis kept the pressure up without being able to find a way by.
Lap 42 and now the rules committee were getting involved as on the one hand, it was being argued that Vettel failed to leave room, and on the other Lewis failed to rejoin properly as he went right of the bollard erected for just that purpose.
Lap 44, again Lewis went but Hamilton around the outside this time as Seb went defensive inside but Hamilton’s brilliance on the brakes plus a massive DRS advantage saw him round. Ferrari were onto the radio to Seb straightaway, telling him to wait for the Softs to degrade, but the immediate problem for Lewis was scything through the traffic without burning up his tyres. Lap 45 and sure enough, Lewis was on the radio saying his rears were overheating and asking for guidance as to saving versus pushing.
The stewards, meanwhile had been effectively doing their duty and had decided that 2 wrongs apparently made a no further action as they announced nothing would be done about the T1 incident between the two at the top.
Lap 50 and Wehrlein was given a penalty for not staying right of the bollard at pit entry and Sainz, stuck behind him, no doubt rejoiced.
With Hulkenberg 17s up the road he was a P7 was looking promising and the limit of what he might achieve. The race director also clarified that hitting the speed bumps was prerequisite for staying left of the bollard when rejoining in T1 and thus Lewis committed no foul. Hamilton had carefully eked his gap out to 2.5s as it was unclear whether Mercedes wanted him to manage gap and save tyres for the end or go for it and try and hold on.
Lap 53 and Hamilton was into the 1:23’s but Vettel was keeping the wick turned as he was only 0.3s off Lewis time the previous lap. Vettel was called in for Plan C as Ricciardo was nearly a full minute ahead.
Mercedes response was to tell Lewis to push as they would need the gap to respond as Vettel would get the undercut if he came in. Of course, Plan C could also have been a ploy by Ferrari to get Lewis to burn his tyres up as the next lap ticked by without Vettel having boxed. At the back, Ericsson got by Stroll, giving a rare overtake for the telly.
Having heard the team, Lewis kicked off some fast laps and pulled the gap out to 4s on lap 57 and with 9 laps to go it appeared that Plan C for Ferrari appeared to not be so much on the table. Mercedes appeared satisfied that they were safe and Lewis was told to manage the gap.
Lap 60 cost Hamilton 0.5s as he was forced to navigate lapping Massa, a problem that repeated itself for Vettel with even more dire consequences, costing Seb nearly a full second when all was done and dusted.
The following lap saw Sainz with power issues, not helpful when Magnussen in a HAAS was 6s back with 5 laps to go. For Wehrlein it was looking good for at least P10 and a point for Sauber, taking into consideration the 5s penalty awaiting them at the end of the race.
A careful look at the Massa incident showed that an attempt was made, but Vettel likely outbraked himself. Alonso was suddenly having fun, up to P13 and actually able to go fast.
Penultimate lap and Hamilton gave the game away by setting fast lap and taking 1.2s out of Vettel. The hope of a late race fight was a mirage, settled early on by Mercedes’ perfect timing of the VSC, converting their P2 on the road into an unassailable lead with the aid of Bottas doing a strong job holding up Vettel when it mattered most.
Checkers flown and, no surprise, no surprises on the last lap. Across the line, Hamilton, Vettel and Ricciardo with Perez and Ocon crushing it for Force India. Sainz’ engine issues meant that Pascal Wehrlein got to hold onto his P7 for a boatload of points for Sauber, and well done to Ruth Buscombe for that, managing a 1 stop to throw some serious shade at Macca for being the only pointsless team on the grid.
Well done to the Hulk as well, pulling a P6 out of the bag. Kvyat P9 and right behind his teammate also a remarkable result from basically the back of the grid. Happy days for Ricciardo back to the podium, but less convincingly Red Bull appear to have made no impact at all on the gap to Ferrari and Mercedes, despite their strong words to the contrary. Grosjean salvaged a solitary point for HAAS and they will happily take what they can get.
But the victory, and his 55th, belonged to Hamilton who closed the gap to Vettel to just 6 points in the WDC. However it was a complete team effort for Mercedes that saw Lewis collecting the silverware and a brutal tug of war with Ferrari that shows no signs of abating. As Vettel remarked in the cool down room, without the VSC it would’ve been Ferrari sailing off into the distance. So no looking in horses’ mouths as it were, race fans.
A special shout out to Alonso, who finished his first GP of the year, albeit a disappointing P13 after his brilliant qualifying. The cruel and vicious race gods chose yet again to cast Fernando out of the temple of the points into the cold and merciless world of the bottom of the grid, whilst tempting Honda with dreams of improved reliability. Monaco will provide a shot at redemption, but not for Alonso who will be circulating at 350+kph and tempting an entirely different sort of fate.
Also proving to be on it today were Ferrari and FOM, who, having spotted a child in tears at the destruction of Kimi’s race, arranged for the youngster to get into the paddock and meet the Kimster in person. A brilliant move and well done!! Like them or not, Carey and Co. seem set on changing how F1 perceived in media and by the audience.
Thanks, as always, for stopping by.
And remember to play nice in the comments!!