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It has been a while but in the fifth race of the season Mercedes finally got the one-two finish that they have been craving. It was a weekend where everything seemed to go right for the Northamptonshire-based team. All three practice sessions saw the Silver Arrows finish first and second, and that continued into the qualifying session when – somewhat surprisingly – Mercedes locked out the front row of the grid.
In the race, Lewis Hamilton pulled away at the start while Valtteri Bottas lost his second place to Sebastian Vettel before the safety car had to be brought out. In the first stint, the Mercedes seemed to have much more pace than the Ferrari as Hamilton extended his gap out front. The pit-stop for Bottas was sluggish, which meant that he could not make the over-cut work and had to settle for third place but the Finn then managed his tyres while Vettel could not.
From the outside, the one-two finish looked completely comfortable but boss Toto Wolff added that it wasn’t as comfortable as it looked. However, due to the circuit suiting the Mercedes cars they were able to manage the tyres more.
Next up is the Monaco Grand Prix and things may not be as straightforward for Mercedes as they were in Barcelona. In the past few editions of the race, the reigning constructors champions have struggled with pace on the historic street circuit. The track is suited to teams such as Red Bull, who carry more down force allowing them to stick to the track and go much quicker in the final sector.
For the first time in 2018, Hamilton had an easy afternoon at the front of the race. At the start, the Brit pulled away from the rest of the field only to have some laps behind the safety car but when that was withdrawn Hamilton easily gapped the rest of the field. The Mercedes driver continued to pull away from the rest of the field, pitting a few laps after his team-mate and re-taking the lead once Max Verstappen and his Red Bull made their stop.
Hamilton spoke to the BBC after the race, “It has been a rejuvenating experience. It’s the greatest feeling to come here and have that kind of performance and have a convincing win. Not every win feels as great as this one. It’s my 64th but feels special and unique.
“People probably think it was an easy race and I was cruising, but I wasn’t. I was pushing every single lap using it as a test bench to understand what I liked about the balance – how can I play with it more, can I squeeze anymore?
“And then understand what I can get more from. The cool thing about being a world champion is the team listen to what you say and they go away and focus on those areas, and it’s an amazing process you do together and then you come back and it works.”
In contrast to their rivals, race day did not go to plan for the Prancing Horse. Vettel made up a place at the start, over-taking Bottas but once the safety car had been withdrawn the German driver could not to close the gap to his championship rival and race leader Hamilton. The Brit pulled away and Ferrari seemingly had no response.
Vettel decided to pit on lap 17 hoping to make the undercut work and it did but not because of Vettel, there was a small issue with the rear wheel which meant that the Finn was behind Vettel on track. However, the German could not manage his tyres until the end of the race and was forced into another stop which ultimately cost him his place on the podium. Vettel finished the race in fourth place and now sits 17 points behind Hamilton in the drivers’ championship.
Ferrari would have been hoping for a double points finish but that was not possible as Kimi Räikkönen encountered engine issues on lap 24. The Finn limped to the garage where his race ended and Ferrari now sit 27 points behind Mercedes in the constructors’ championship. The Scuderia will hope that they can regain their form on the streets of Monaco.
It was a dramatic start to the 2018 Spanish Grand Prix and that, in part, was down to the Haas of Romain Grosjean. The Frenchman got too close to his team-mate in turn three, which meant that Grosjean lost control and ended up spinning off and back onto the track in a cloud of smoke. The other drivers had to avoid the spinning Haas while trying to navigate through the smoke; however, Renault’s Nico Hulkenberg and Toro Rosso’s Pierre Gasly were unable to take avoiding action.
There are only two drivers out of the field of 20 who have not scored any championship points and one of those is Grosjean. The last two races have been disappointing for the Frenchman, who as well as retiring on the first lap in Spain, also crashed his Haas while heading towards a points finish under the safety car in Baku. It went from bad to worse after the race when Grosjean was handed a three-place grid penalty for the Monaco Grand Prix and two penalty points on his license.
Haas have proven this year that they have the pace to finish at least sixth in the constructors’ championship but their cause won’t be helped if the Frenchman continues to crash out when in promising positions.
Pirelli, the F1 tyre provider, altered their compounds for the 2018 Spanish Grand Prix – they have also done the same for the British and French races. The amount of tread on the tyres has been reduced by 0.4mm due to issues that arose with blistering during winter testing.
However, there were complaints from Ferrari that this favoured Mercedes. The Northamptonshire-based team have struggled to unlock performance through their tyres this season. Seemingly, Ferrari are able to make the tyres reach their required temperature quicker than Mercedes – especially after safety-car restarts.
Mercedes boss Toto Wolff spoke to Sky Sports about the decision taken by Pirelli, ” All the teams had very heavy blistering in testing – Red Bull, Ferrari and ourselves. The tyres wouldn’t have lasted in the race and the ambience and track temperature was arctic [in winter testing].
For that reason, Pirelli changed the thickness of the tyres to prevent the blistering, and they have been successful because we haven’t seen any blistering today. I don’t know where this rumour has come out from that we have been influencing Pirelli and the FIA. I’ve never seen anything like it. Why would they do it?”
The next Grand Prix will see Formula One continue its European tour, as the drivers take to the streets of Monaco on the weekend of 24th-27th May.
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