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12 May 2019

`Matt 'Trumpets' Ragsdale dissects the Spanish GP

Ambient 20° Track 42° Humidity 60% Wind 2.6 m/s


The sun hammered down through brilliant blue skies, as the paddock ground through their pre-race activities and journos roamed free and wild through the paddock, chasing whispers and rumours as the start of the race fast approached. And there was much to consider, starting with Hulkenberg's admission post quali that Renault strapped on an older spec wing to get him through after he removed his by cleverly driving into a wall. After a team reported this violation of parc ferme to the FIA, Renault tried walking it back by saying that indeed the wings were "similar, but the FIA were having none of it and he was relegated to a pitlane start and Renault decided to go ahead and gift him a new PU because why not at that point. No word on which team dropped the dime, so have fun speculating with that one....

Also putting new parts on the car, albeit WITH FIA permission, was Red Bull, who, after looking at the data, decided to give both drivers new driveshafts under the like for like rule that is the standard. The driveshaft has been a bit of a weak spot for the design thus far, and better safe than sorry is not a bad idea.

As for Ferrari, despite the new PU, they were still radically off the pace from Mercedes over one lap, and the only trick left for them was strategy, and, of course the start. Fortunately, they had retained an extra set of new Mediums which meant given the hotter temps on the day, a 2 stop was a potentially available strategy for them, though a 1 stop should just be assumed to be the favoured strategy at the sharp end. An early stop and split strategy for Ferrari could make things interesting indeed, especially with Red Bull looking to play the joker......

And one should never discount the intramural conflict, as both Mercedes' drivers understand full well that their entire result is quite likely to be shaped by the first 3 corners and they do have historic precedent for, well, shall we call it entertainment at this track... That said, if the higher temps do cause the tyres to overheat, that could hand an advantage back to Lewis, who seems to have an advantage when the car is at the margins of its performance window..

Regarding the midfield, with its quali performance, HAAS has made a class of one, and the higher temps will certainly help them get the heat into the tyres, an ongoing struggle for their design this season. Of course, one lap pace doesn't always translate to race pace, so it's not a done deal for the Sunday, and the fight in the midfield holds promise, with Toro Rosso, McLaren and Renault lined up behind along with Perez, genius at making tyres last and not entirely bad at starts.

Also worth noting is the fact that this is the last appearance of one Dr. Dieter Zetsche as Mercedes' boss, as he departs with the aim of becoming chairman in 2021. Incoming CEO Ola Kallenius has been rumoured to be not as big a fan of F1, and particularly Toto Wolff, which has driven the rumour mill wild with speculation, as there is a buyback clause that would allow Mercedes to retake full control of the racing team, should they choose that route... Raikkonen in P14 was starting on Mediums, along with Stroll, Kubica, Russell and Hulkenberg as the formation lap got underway...

Lights Out!!!! Rocking Start by Hamilton, as Bottas tried to close the door on him but it was too late and then Vettel took advantage going outside and 3 wide into T1 they went. Massive lock up for Vettel and he went wide and off the track, Bottas gaining the advantage despite a lurid moment as he got on the power and lit up the rears. Rejoining, Vettel caused Leclerc to check up and, taking advantage of Vettel's momentum loss, Verstappen swept round the outside and into P3. Behind, Grosjean and Magnussen were able to defend their P7 and P8 with failry little drama.

Into the second lap it was Bottas driving the action, setting fast lap and clearly trying to use his push window to retake P1 from Hamilton. At Ferrari, the issues were larger, with Vettel having severely flat spotted his front left in his attempt into T1 and now with Verstappen ahead to boot.... Further down it was Ricciardo within a second on Sainz for P11 and Stroll the same on Perez for P13....

Lap 7 Giovinazzi in for Hards, an odd choice indeed and trouble was already brewing for the Ferrari strategists, as with his flat spot Leclerc was within DRS on Vettel and looking racy indeed. Team orders? Not immediately as Vettel continued to bleed time and Leclerc flexed his pace. Over and over again, he got close and not a hint of intervention as on lap 11 it was a half second a lap they gave up....

Lap 12 saw Leclerc let by, with a net loss of around 2 seconds and now it was Leclerc, immediately setting best first sector having been unleashed by Ferrari.. In the midfield, Kvyat was tracking Kmag at about a second, but Grosjean was 4 seconds ahead. Perez had gained 2 places but it was Ricciardo, unable to get round the McLaren of Sainz and within DRS onlap 15 for P11...

Vettel was urging an early stop, with the vibrations from the flat spot being an increasing problem for him. Problematically, that would have put him out behind Albon, and open the door for a Gasly overcut...
At the front, Hamilton was putting his foot down, purpling the first sector and putting Bottas 4 seconds down as the window for the 2 stop was just 4 laps off and Vettel was increasingly urgent about his request for a stop...

Lap 19 and Leclerc chunked nearly half a second out of Verstappen, and that took him under the 4 second barrier and ever that much closer to a proper undercut. At the back, Hulkenberg was the only real mover, up to P15 but with Stroll and Perez up next, his hard work was just starting.

Lap 20 and Vettel was in, and a problem with the rear left, losing an additional 2 seconds and putting him out P10, behind both Kvyat and Albon. Ouch. Verstappen responded immediately and was back out on Softs, definitive for a 2 stop as Leclerc was promoted to P3. Bonus, he rocked out into the gap in front of Grosjean and immediately set out to chase down Bottas. Leclerc was now running half a second up on Bottas as everyone waited to see Max's first times on the Softs. But it was Vettel, resetting fastest S1 on his new set of Mediums.

Lap 22 and Gasly was in, dead on for a 2 stop according to Pirelli, back out int P9. Stroll was in as well as lap 24 got underway. Unlike Verstappen, Gasly was onto some Mediums but Stroll chose the Softs and another 2 stopper was underway.

HAAS decided to play and brought in Magnussen on lap 24 as Grosjean continued to set a representative time on the Softs. Kmag was out just behind Norris in P14, but crucially in front of Kvyat, who had been trapped behind Raikkonen after his earlier stop. Ricciardo and Sainz were next in the pit stop dominos as at the front it was Vettel setting fast lap and his teammate winged into the pits on lap 26. He was back out on the Hard, and another slow stop, rear left again, ahead of Vettel but behind Grosjean.

Bottas was in and out then, lap 27 and ahead of Verstappen, with another stop yet to do. Hamilton was in next lap, also on a new set of Mediums, and back into the lead. Leclerc was pushing, trying to trim his 11 second deficit to Bottas and taking a half second on lap 28. Bottas responded the following lap though and it was now all about Verstappen's pace after his second stop.

In the midfield, Magnussen was into DRS on Hulkenberg, who was running long and yet to stop. Vettel, meanwhile, had caught up to Leclerc and again Ferrari was set upon with a need to manage its drivers, with Vettel this time being the one to lose time on a different strategy.

Lap 33 and Magnussen did the business on Hulkenberg with Kvyat wasting no time at all following through, leaving Albon with all the work to do. 3 laps later and it was Kvyat on the attack, into Magnussen's DRS as they headed throught the final sector and the long straight. As that battle developed, Leclerc finally let Vettel by and it was his sector times that now became the focus of attention. Kvyat slipped Kmag into T1 with DRS and he was looking at nearly 8.5 seconds to Grosjean as Albon began to track him down, the Toro Rosso's looking every bit the challenger on race pace to HAAS.

Hamilton then radioed in to say that he thought that it might be a stretch to get the Mediums to the end, but looking at the times they were running one wondered if perhaps that was more of a strategic call, than a real issue....

Magnussen meanwhile, was working hard to keep Albon at bay, upping his lap times to match the young driver both in the 1:22.6's. Their slow duel was interrupted by Vettel into the pits on lap 41, using the second set of new Mediunms he had available, and behind Gasly with 25 laps in the race...

Not for long, as Gasly got off line fairly rapidly and the Ferrari driver executed the coup de grace with utter ruthlessness... and wowser!!! Vettel's first full lap was in the 20's, 2 seconds up on Hamilton. In came Verstappen then, as the threat from behind was obvious. Out on lap 44 with a set of Mediums, behind Leclerc and ahead of Vettel. Now it was getting interesting, with a slightly slower Leclerc set to hold up Verstappen and Bottas' free second stop under threat should Verstappen get by. In he came, as Lewis cracked off a 1:20 in preparation for his stop. Out in front of Leclerc as a yellow flag was out and then the Safety Car as Norris and Stroll took each other out in T2. Bang!! immediate reset as Hamilton's pit stop could worked out fairly well... both Bottas and Hamilton were out on a set of Softs. Leclerc was then in and everyone in the field was in for new tyres as they came into the pits.

On replay it was Norris keeping his nose into T2 after not getting it done round T1 was the proximate cause of the incident, but there was a heaping amount of stupid involved and plenty for each participant. Keeping track, Verstappen was on 4 lap Mediums and Vettel very much wanted to grab a set of new Softs, as Hamilton complained of the slowness of the Safety Car. This brought keeping the tyres in the window into focus, theoretically an easier job with the Softs as Toro Ross was not ready for Albon and that cost him a spot to Sainz. Lap 50 and the gaps were closed, with Vettel not having gotten his fresh set of Softs as the lapped cars were released to go round and a juicy restart beckoned.

It was a mad bucket of weaving, adjusting brake balances and maintaining gaps as lap 52 kicked off and the end of the Safety Car loomed large in everyone's wing mirrors... In this lap was the call as they rolled through sector 2 with 14 laps left to run.

Off went Hamilton early, good gap but it was Gasly on Leclerc and then a lockup for the Red Bull driver.. Magnussen by Grosjean as Romain locked up in similar fashion and then the HAAS driver took advantage of Gasly's misstep and got side by side with him for three consecutive turns, before Gasly got it together and managed to stay clear for the moment, as Kmag stayed in DRS. Grosjean wound up wide and was just able to get back in front of Sainz.

The following lap Gasly began to pull away and Grosjean had caught up to Kmag, less than half a second off and nail biting time for Steiner et al as Grosjean clearly had pace on Magnussen. After inspection, it looked to be contact between their tyres that sent Grosjean off and no doubt a a cloud of f bombs on the HAAS pitwall. Their battle allowed Sainz to edge in and lap 59 again rubbed tyres sent Grosjean off again and the HAAS driver cut back onto the track ahead of him. But DRS was hard to deny at this gap, and the following lap Sainz flew round the outside and there was nothing to be done for it.

Lap 60 then and it was Vettel, a second and a half off Verstappen. 2 laps later and it was Kvyat, by Grosjean and now his first haul of points was under serious threats as he was down to P10. The team was saying no damage to his car, but the message to Albon, chasing him down, was that he was struggling with his tyres.

AS Grosjean gradually fell out of DRS on Kvyat, Albon crept up slowly to his gearbox and lap 64 saw the first serious effort, almost by but Grosjean covered the inside and he wasn't quite able to get the job done. Ahead, his teammate was able to slowly pull away from Sainz as Albon lost the DRS temporarily.

Surprise, lap 66!!! Vettel was still 2 seconds back of Verstappen and it was last chance for Albon, too far for a T1 lunge as ahead, Kvyat was half a second off Sainz. Checquers then for Lewis, who had also brought home fast lap to even up the odd point he was behind, followed by Bottas and Verstappen to round out the podium. Vettel, Leclerc and Gasly were next then the cheeky Kmag. Kvyat was ultimately unable to find a way round Sainz and it was Grosjean just hanging on by his fingernails to bag his first championship point. A big victory for him, but the fratricidal restart cost HAAS a fair chunk of points they could ill afford. Happy days for Red Bull, as Vettel's T1 gamble and Ferrari's indecision paid off handsomely for them with a podium.

In the midfield, the three point loss of a P7 P8 becoming a P7 P10 meant that they were 2 points back of Racing Point instead of 1 ahead, albeit with positive indications going forward. McLaren made the most of their late race restart and extended their hold on P4 in the Constructor's championship and an honourable mention then to Toro Rosso and Kvyat as well... Renault and Alfa no doubt were off to lick their wounds, and at least in the case of Renault, ponder their life choices. A position that Ferrari, perhaps as well, found themselves in. Dominant drive for Mercedes, and especially for Hamilton, who looked untroubled from the moment the lights went out. Monaco up next, and with it's slow twisty nature and Mercedes utter dominance of said corners is an ominous look indeed.


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