Spanish GP 2018: A race to forget for the Red Team

In terms of the pecking order, the tables turned in Barcelona. After Sebastian had taken three pole positions in a row, Mercedes bounced back on the Spanish soil and broke Sebastian’s impressive pole streak. Ferrari topped the timesheets in Q2, where all three top teams set their fastest lap times on the yellow-marked soft Pirellis. But when it came down to the shootout for pole, Mercedes had the upper hand on the red team. Pirelli had renewed the tyres for the Spanish GP weekend; it was confusing how small was the difference between the super-soft and the soft compound. Both Sebastian’s and Kimi’s first runs were tame. For the last flyer both Ferrari aces opted for the soft compound, as did Red Bull’s Ricciardo. Mercedes conquered the front row for the very first time this season; Hamilton edging his teammate Bottas by four hundredths of a second only! The red team locked down the second row; Sebastian being a tenth down on the pole-setter Hamilton, and Kimi three tenths down on his teammate. The third row was locked down by Red Bull, with Verstappen pipping his teammate by two thousandths of a second only, in spite of their different tyre choice. Haas' Magnussen, McLaren's Alonso, Renault's Sainz and Haas' Grosjean rounded out the top ten.

Due to the teams’ tyre strategy in Q2, Alonso in his McLaren was the only top ten driver to start to the race on the red-marked super-soft compound, whilst everyone else was on the more durable soft rubber. To be honest, the start was the most exciting moment of the Spanish GP. Hamilton took an impressive start and maintained his lead. However, the most stunning start was taken by Sebastian in P3. He managed to make it past Bottas, who had started to the race on the dirtier side of the track. Bottas was followed by his compatriot Kimi and the Red Bull duo of Verstappen and Ricciardo. The real action zone was Turn 3, where Grosjean lost control of his Haas and spun. Instead of hitting the brake pedal, the Frenchman kept his foot on the throttle, trying to spin his car back on track. This caused a dangerous-looking situation. Toro Rosso's Gasly and Renault's Hulkenberg had no chance to avoid hitting the recklessly spinning Grosjean; all three were out of the race. Since there was lots of debris on the track, safety car was deployed.

After the re-start the pecking order of the top eight remained unchanged. Hamilton in the lead had unbelievable pace that no-one was able to match. The Briton’s performance was definitely in a class of its own. And since Circuit de Catalunya is known for very limited chances of overtaking, Kimi had no chance to challenge Bottas for the third place. Sebastian opened the pit stop roulette on lap 17, opting for a fresh set of white-marked medium Pirellis. Bottas pitted a couple of laps later, opting for a similar tyre strategy. Due to a 1.5-second delay in the Finn's pit stop, Sebastian managed to stay ahead of the Mercedes ace. At this point everything looked promising for the red team.

However, the black clouds started to gather upon Ferrari at the halfway point of the race. On lap 25 Kimi's SF71-H was suddenly hit with a technical failure, which meant huge loss of power. The Iceman had no choice but to drive into the garage and retire the race! What a disappointing DNF for Kimi, who had had every chance to fight for a podium finish.

After the pit stops, Hamilton was back in the lead, with Sebastian second and Bottas third. However, something unexpected happened on lap 42. Force India's Ocon had had a power unit failure, and virtual safety car had been deployed. Ferrari called Sebastian in for a second pit stop! The pit stop didn't go exactly as planned, but it cost the German a couple of extra seconds. Sebastian re-joined the track in P4, having lost positions to both Bottas and Verstappen. This seemed as a wrong tactical call from Ferrari, as Mercedes or Red Bull didn't call their drivers in for the second time. However, after the race Sebastian stated, that they had no choice but to stop for the second time, as they were in trouble with the tyre degradation.

It had seemed that Verstappen was finally driving a clean and wise race after the mistake-filled first four races. But on lap 43 there was an inconceivable incident, where Verstappen hit the rear of Stroll's Williams, causing an end plate damage on the Dutchman's front wing. It looked like an open opportunity for Sebastian to get past the flying Dutchman. Nevertheless, in spite of the front wing damage, Verstappen’s pace remained unbelievably competitive.

With ten laps to go, Hamilton had already built a 17-second gap to his Finnish teammate. Verstappen was third and Sebastian fourth. It seemed utterly impossible to get within DRS distance from the driver ahead, so there were no exciting battles for positions at Circuit de Catalunya. Lack of overtaking made the Spanish GP quite a boring race, to be honest. Ricciardo, who finished the race 5th, was the last driver to be on the same lap with the race winner Hamilton. This was the first 1-2 for the Silver Arrows this season, and it definitely came in a dominant way.

After two wins in a row, Hamilton now has a 17-point lead to Sebastian in the drivers' championship standings. Bottas in 3rd is 20 points down on Sebastian, and Kimi 10 points down on his compatriot. Mercedes have taken back their position as the team to beat, and they have a 27-point lead in the constructors' championship standings. Ferrari definitely have some homework to do, especially in terms of understanding and analysing the new tyres. I hope the tables turned only temporarily and in the legendary streets of Monaco the red team will again have the upper hand! Forza Ferrari!

With passion for racing red, 
Iina Huhmarniemi

May 21, 2018