Qualifying for the Formula One Spanish Grand Prix produced one of the most mixed up grids of the season. Charles Leclerc failed to get out of P1 and both Geroge Russell and Sergio Perez didn’t make the pole position shootout.
Charles Leclerc has a completely new rear end and will start from the pit lane since the Monegasque driver complained of being unable to get the rear tyres working.
Messy Barcelona qualifying
Perez for a second week in a row made a mistake in qualifying on his final run in Q2. The Red Bull driver ran through the gravel on his push lap and failed to clean his tyres in time to make the next and final run count.
George Russell was starting his final quick run in Q2 when he and his team mate came together in a bizarre accident at the start of his attempt. Hamilton attempted to slip stream his team mate who didn’t see him and jinked left to avoid a Ferrari.
The pair collided flat out, yet fortunately only the front wing end plate for Hamilton was broken.
Clearly the incident upset Russell’s rhythm and his final attempt was not good enough to see him into Q3.
Mercedes almost a second slower
Meanwhile Max Verstappen had used just one set of new soft tyres in Q2 with Lando Norris’s McLaren a surprise P2.
During the pole position shootout Verstappen smashed his Q2 time and didn’t bother to complete a second run, such was the dominance of the Dutchman’s time.
Lewis Hamilton could manage just fifth and was half a second behind Verstappen who was a further two tenths up on his run one time when the team told him to abort to save tyres from his final run.
The Mercedes was realistically eight tenths slower than Verstappen in the Red Bull around a circuit considered to be the best at revealing the true competitive comparison between the F1 cars.
Wolff “pissed off” with Verstappen
“I think Verstappen is just on a different level,” Toto Wolff exclaimed to assembled media on Saturday evening.
“It p***** me off to say that but that is the reality.
Whilst the Mercedes boss continued to praise the efforts of the Red Bull team in building a good car, it was notable he chose to say it was Verstappen who was on a “different level.”
Clearly after Perez latest mistake following similar driver errors in Australia and Monaco, whilst the RB19 is the class of the field, its not helping Sergio Perez to top the drivers’ championship.
Red Bull there on merit
The Mexican is set to drop more points to his team mate as his boss admits he will have a tough day on Sunday.
“There is a meritocracy, [Red Bull] have just done the best job, the drivers are driving excellent and they are just far away,” adds Wolff
“And that is something which only we have in our hands to get under control.”
Hamilton will start the race in P4 following Pierre Gasly being punished with two 3 place grid drops for impeding both Verstappen and Sainz in qualifying. Team mate Russell starts P12 behind Perez.
Is the new Mercedes car better?
Hamilton will line up fourth on the Spanish Grand Prix grid, benefitting from Pierre Gasly’s double impeding penalty, while George Russell is P12.
However, the big question is whether this substantially changed Mercedes W14 car is actually any better than its predecessor. At eight tenths down on the Red Bull this is what the team expected of the car before ditching the zero pods.
“I’m of the belief that this car is now a solid baseline,” Wolff maintains.
tyres create “massive swings” between team mates
“There’s no more talk about changing the regulations, raising the floor edges, and the bouncing is a de facto non-existent topic anymore. That did happen in qualifying, but we know which direction we should have gone.
“It is from here now we can seek performance, downforce, and all that. But obviously with the caveat that you can get it very wrong with the tyres.
“That’s why you see these massive swings between team-mates, and swings in performance depending on the ambient and track conditions.”
Huge gap to Red Bull
Yet the difference between the two Mercedes team mates was significant in Barcelona qualifying, something Wolff concedes is problematic.
“It is from where we can continue to work with a certain stability, and without needing to question certain parts of the car, whether it’s the bodywork, the floor, or the front suspension.
“It is now established, and this is what we are taking forward now.”
— Formula 1 (@F1) June 3, 2023