Spanish Grand Prix – Aside from a first corner challenge, Max Verstappen was untouchable in Spain as he beat the Mercedes by over twenty seconds.
There’ll only be 18 drivers waiting for lights out on the grid as Charles Leclerc and Logan Sargeant, who’d qualified P19 and P20, have to start from pitlane after they both changed their suspension setup, as well as a new Energy Store and Control Electronics for the Ferrari driver and a brake cooling change for the Williams racer, while the car was under parc ferme conditions.
George Russell had a bit of a moment on his lap to the grid, the Mercedes driver said he was testing out some wide lines but found grip lacking at one point so that left him taking a trip through the gravel, but everything seemed to be fine with the car.
As the build-up started there seemed to be an even split of blue skies and dark clouds but as it got closer to lights out the clouds had taken over and it looked like rain could start at any moment.
Max Verstappen and Carlos Sainz will be starting on the front row while Lando Norris and Lewis Hamilton share the second. The Red Bulls of Verstappen and Sergio Perez P11 along with Sargeant were the only drivers starting on the medium tyres, Leclerc would be on the hards while everyone else had chosen the softs.
It was almost a perfect start for the Spanish crowd as Sainz challenged for the lead at the first corner but Verstappen had the inside and was able to hold station. It was disaster for Norris though as and Hamilton made contact and the McLaren driver had to pit for a new nose and hard tyres at the end of the opening lap.
As Norris and Hamilton had their moment, Lance Stroll took advantage to get past the McLaren and he was very quickly past the Mercedes too to take P3 for Aston Martin. It only took Verstappen seven laps to pull out over three seconds on Sainz while the Spaniard had a second and a half of a buffer to Stroll behind him.
Meanwhile, lap 7 saw the Mercedes on the move, after starting P12 Russell had made it up to P6, passing Fernando Alonso to take that spot, but the Brit had been noted for leaving the track and gaining an advantage at the first corner of the race when he went across the run-off, but after a review the Stewards let him away with it. Hamilton demoted his own Aston Martin then, muscling past Stroll for P3.
Russell continued his march towards the front on lap 11 when he got the better of last week’s podium finisher, Esteban Ocon. There was a more impressive move further back however as Nico Hulkenberg overtook Zhou Guanyu on the inside as they raced down to T1 and then switched to the outside to get past Yuki Tsunoda who’d just emerged from the pits ahead of them.
Stroll ducked into the pits on lap 15 dropping from P4 to P12 as he switched to the red rimmed softs. The second placed driver, Sainz, was called in for his first stop the following lap he complied despite questioning the strategy, just as Hamilton was closing up on him, to put on a fresh set of softs before emerging in P9.
Alonso made his way into the pits on lap 20, he dropped from P4 to P10 while he swapped to the softs, emerging behind Tsunoda and Zhou who’d undercut him after being some of the earliest drivers to pit.
The top four then were Verstappen, Hamilton, Russell and Perez, none of whom had pitted so far and Russell had been on the radio to his team asking whether a one stop was possible as the tyres were good.
Lap 25 saw Hamilton bail out to the pits, swapping to the mediums and rejoining in P5, three seconds behind Sainz. Russell followed suit the next lap and he came out in P6, a couple of seconds behind Stroll.
The race leader made his stop on lap 27, he’d had a 28 second gap to Perez in P2 and still had six seconds to spare when he headed back out with the hard tyres one. As Perez made his stop the next lap, rejoining in P9, as Russell reported some rain at T5.
After the stops Verstappen led Hamilton by 12 seconds, Sainz was a couple of seconds behind in P3 while Russell was putting in fastest laps as he aimed to close the 5 second gap between him and the final podium position. Alonso was sitting in P8 though Perez was closing on him and it wouldn’t be long before the Mexican demoted the Spaniard to P9.
Lap 32 and Russell was back on the radio querying whether anyone else had seen rain as he’d reconsidered and, if he’d been the only one, then it mightn’t have actually been rain but rather sweat on the inside of his helmet. His engineer let him know that it’d only been him so “I suspect it might be the sweat”.
No surprise that Russell was sweating though as he’d been closing the gap to Sainz and on lap 35 he went down the inside at T1 to make it a provisional double-podium for Mercedes. At the same time Stroll was called into the pits from P5 to put on the hard compound and he returned to the track in P12.
Sainz was on the radio to Ferrari a few laps later telling them to “find the best way to beat Checo” as the Red Bull racer, who started P11, was closing in on him at a rate of knots. Lap 42 saw the Spanish racer make his second stop to change to the hards while Ferrari pulled off a loose double-stack with Leclerc entering the pitlane as Sainz exited it. The two emerged in P6 and P14 respectively.
On lap 43 Red Bull asked Verstappen’s opinion on his tyres, he said they weren’t great and the front was overheating which was making him struggle under braking, it didn’t sound like he wanted to remain on those hards for much longer.
Alonso stopped from P5 on lap 45, the Aston Martin racer switching softs to hards as he rejoined in P10. Russell made his own second stop the following lap changing out his mediums for softs.
The commentators reported heavy rain nearby but it didn’t seem to be on course to impact the race. Verstappen meanwhile was told to watch out for track limits as he’d already received two warnings.
Hamilton and Perez pitted on lap 51 for softs, the Mercedes driver holding his P2 while the Red Bull racer dropped behind Sainz again in P5. The Spanish crowd were given something to cheer about as Alonso got past Esteban Ocon for P7, the home favourite throwing sparks up across the white border at the start of the pit exit as the Alpine racer tried to slam the door on him.
Verstappen made his stop a couple of laps later, finally getting rid of the hard tyes that he wasn’t enjoying to stick on the softs and continue to lead the race with a 16 second gap. He was then shown the black and white flag for exceeding track limits for the third time, which meant that if he’d done it again he’d start getting time penalties.
There was a bit of controversy after Tsunoda was handed a 5 second penalty for forcing Zhou off the track as the Alfa Romeo driver tried to pass him at T1. The commentators in disbelief over the penalty, as it was thought to be a racing incident and they were more critical of Ocon’s attempted defence on Alonso.
In P7, Alonso had closed up to his teammate but got onto Aston Martin to let them know that he wouldn’t be challenging for P6 and to let him know not to worry.
In the end the rain stayed away and Verstappen took the chequered flag 24 seconds ahead of Hamilton, the Dutch driver also taking the fastest lap, a 1:16.330. Russell came home in P3 to give Mercedes a double podium and take his first of the season.
Perez took P4 ahead of Sainz as the Aston Martins took the flag line astern in P6 and P7. Unfortunately for Alonso his worst result of the season comes at his home race, his previous worst had been P4 in Baku. Ocon was P8 while, as a result of Tsunoda’s time penalty, Zhou took P9 with Pierre Gasly taking the final point in P10.