The Spanish GP was the first race of the European-leg of the season. There are always winners and losers at every race. It does not take long to go from hero to zero in Formula 1. Equally, a driver in crisis can turn things around quickly. Hopefully the losers at this race can stage a comeback at the next race, the Monaco GP (May 24 -27 2018).
Spanish GP – The Winners
After the fortuitous win at the Azerbaijan GP, Hamilton seemed unconvinced about the chances of his title defense in 2018. Hamitlon said:“At the moment l am punching below my weight – and that is not sufficient to win a world championship. I have zero comfortability. Since the last race, l have not thought for one second that l am leading the world championship.”
A commanding win with a 20+ second margin over his teammate in Spain is a big boost to his confidence. The defending world champion said:“Today the car and myself, I felt that synergy today, which I haven’t felt this year.” A 17-point lead in the drivers’ championship offers Hamilton a cushion going into the Monaco GP. This has been a race that has been difficult for the Mercedes team in recent years.
The Finn started the season with a crash in Q3 in Australia. But he has recovered from his slow start. Bottas outqualified his teammate in the next two races. He has lost the battle in qualification in the last two races by the narrowest of margins against Hamilton. Bottas also had a chance to win in the last three races before Spain. A sure victory was snatched away from him by a puncture in the last laps in Baku.
After he lost second position at the start to Vettel in Spain, a one-stop race saw him recover to second position. Even though a late race scare with the tyres led to some anxiety, the Finn is back in the title race in third position (58 pts). Bottas seems to be gaining in confidence and is on track for better results.
Four races and every race he has been plagued by mistakes. A crash with his teammate Daniel Ricciardo in the last race further ramped up the pressure on the young Dutchman. At the Spanish GP, Verstappen finished third and clinched the first podium of the season. His teammate Ricciardo had a forgettable race with some errors and finished a distant fifth.
A scare in the final laps with a crash with a lapped Lance Stroll damaged his front wing. But he brought the car home and the smile was back on Verstappen’s face. This could be the turning point in his season. Verstappen said: “Feels nice to be on the podium and nice to have a good clean race. Hopefully we can just work from here and score a lot of good results.”
A sixth position in Spain has seen him score all 19 pts for the Hass F1 team. Magnussen has outqualified his teammate Romain Grosjean 4-1. Even as the Frenchman struggles, the ever combative Magnussen is growing in confidence. Haas has appeared to be the team which is the best of the rest after the top 3 teams. The Dane’s performance in this race confirmed that.
A tenth position in Spain saw him score points two races in a row. The 2017 F2 champion struggled in the first three races of the season. But the talented young driver seems to have got the hang of Formula 1 now. The junior Ferrari driver has the measure of his more experienced teammate, Marcus Ericsson, in the last two races.
The Sauber team is on much stronger ground with its partnership with Alfa Romeo. The team has scored points in three of the five races and Leclerc could be on the way to an impressive season with the backmarker team. Leclerc said:“We got to Q2 and now P10 with one point to take home, so, points twice in a row, it feels great. It will be important to stay focused – the next Grand Prix will be my home race in Monaco, and I am very excited to drive my first Formula 1 race there.”
Seventh position in his home Grand Prix in Spain saw the Spaniard finish ahead of his fellow Spaniard and childhood hero, Fernando Alonso. After a slow start to the season, Sainz has scored points in the last three races. He has scored points at every Spanish GP he has driven in. This good race in front of his adoring home fans could be the turning point for the rest of his season.
The two-time world champion started eighth and finished in the same position. After an uncharacteristically wobbly start, he recovered to score points yet again. Alonso has scored points in all five races and has outclassed his teammate Stoffel Vandoorne. Another gritty drive in Spain was proof of his ‘never say die’ spirit. If McLaren can keep improving, could a podium be on the cards this season?
Spanish GP – The Losers
A bad start to the season keeps getting worse. The Haas F1 team has the potential to be the fourth best team this season. Pitstop blunders in Australia saw both the Haas drivers denied valuable points. Grosjean has struggled even in the free practice sessions at the races.
When it looked like he was on track to score his first points of the season with a sixth position in Baku, Grosjean crashed behind the Safety Car. It got worse at the Spanish GP with a first lap crash that took out two other cars. A three-place grid penalty at the next race and two penalty points on his license was the unfortunate outcome for him. Grosjean is a driver in crisis who needs to turn around his season, sooner than later.
The straight-talking Kiwi scored his first points of his F1 career in Azerbaijan. But a near-collision with his teammate Pierre Gasly in qualifying after Hartley suffered a puncture seemed to take the shine off the result. A heavy crash in the final practice session in this race saw him out of qualification.
Hartley has struggled and seems to be on the backfoot compared to his teammate, Gasly. With the ruthless Red Bull bosses looking over his shoulder, he knows he has to get his act together quickly.
After the acrimonious divorce from Honda and a new partnership with Renault for their engine supply in 2018, much was expected of the Woking-based team. They are not in the same league as the top 3 teams. They are not even the clear leaders of the tightly packed midfield.
The raft of updates in Spain improved the car, but surely not as much as they wanted. Alonso has kept the team afloat, but they will need to make huge strides with in-season development to keep their main driver happy.
The team with two young inexperienced drivers has struggled this season with a poor car. They are dead last and look woeful on track. The updates in Spain did not seem to improve matters. Robert Kubica who drove in the first free practice session said:“It’s difficult to say that it was enjoyable because our car balance was very bad and it was very difficult to drive, so it was difficult to enjoy it.”
Ed Woods, Williams Chief Designer, has left the team after four races. The team said it was for personal reasons. The Grove-based team needs to find some solutions fast and atleast keep improving race to race.
The team was the form team coming into the fifth race of the season. Sebastian Vettel won the first two races. Vettel has three consecutive pole positions from the second race onwards. But the team struggled in Barcelona. The one-off revised Pirelli tyres in Spain might have been responsible for the drop in performance.
Vettel finished fourth and Kimi Raikkonen did not finish the race due to an engine issue. The Italian team went from leading the constructors’ championship to falling behind arch-rival Mercedes by 27 points. A return to the regular Pirelli tyres in Monaco and a race in which they finished 1-2 in 2017 might be welcome relief. They need to rediscover winning ways to stay in the fight with Mercedes.
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