Although the Spanish Grand Prix set off to a gentle start, its final stages very much resembled the thrilling Bahrain GP finale. And as the latest race result brought on a new championship leader, the intra-team battles continue to gather momentum – not only at Mercedes.
For a circuit considered not very welcoming of overtaking, there was a considerable amount of on-track action to keep everyone in Barcelona entertained, and hanging on the edge of their seats on the final laps or the race – not less so team engineers following closely the progress of their drivers and praying that no failure would hit their cars.
The highest emotions must have run in the Mercedes garage, despite their overwhelming advantage over their closest placed rivals on the grid: 49sec adrift across the line. The radio messages to both drivers in the lead covered all sorts of concerns and warnings, from tyre graining to fuel usage, and what was kept silent this time was the hope that the two would not collide at some point, robbing the team of a total of 43 points towards the constructors’ championship. Regardless, just like in Bahrain, the management allowed Nico Rosberg to pursue Lewis Hamilton, who clung onto the lead right from pole. The Brit sounded seriously threatened by his team-mate, asking his engineers if there was “anything else I can do” to extend the rapidly narrowing gap; but in the end he had done enough, as he claimed the chequered flag just 0.6sec ahead of the German.
This fourth 2014 win for Hamilton has put him on top of the drivers’ championship table as well as in the Formula 1 hall of fame next to Damon Hill and Jenson Button – the only Brits who won four consecutive races in the sport’s history. On top of that, it filled another gap in Hamilton’s portfolio of world circuit wins, as his first Spanish victory to date.
This meant, of course, that Fernando Alonso did not repeat his feat from last year – which was also the last time himself or Ferrari won a race. But the Spaniard provided enough excitement for his home crowd by also battling his team-mate Kimi Raikkonen in the final stages, and winning the position – but too far from the podium than the Prancing Horses would have liked, finishing in 6.
Although the result reassured his 3. place in the standings, he is now miles (relatively) away from the lead – with 49 points (51 behind Hamilton) and under threat of the standing champion, Sebsatian Vettel.
The Red Bull driver should probably collect the laurels for the most commanding race that afternoon; after a difficult weekend marred by gearbox issues (resulting in lack of Friday practice running, Q3 on-track failure and a five-place grid penalty for changing the unit before its six-race due date) the German finished the race just outside the podium, in 4., having progressed 11 places from the start. Although Vettel’s unquestionable driving skills came out clear in Barcelona, on the straights it was obvious his car was lacking the outward speed of the Mercedes.
This was confirmed by his team-mate, who, however, had the upper hand that weekend and used it to finally claim his first, fully-legitimate podium finish.
“We knew a boring race would be a good one for us,” Daniel Ricciardo said off the third step o the podium.
“We looked like a third-placed car, in the end that’s what it was.
“Really nice to be on the podium and I’m sure I’ll be able to keep it this time,” he added.
Wedged between the champions at Red Bull and Ferrari was Valtteri Bottas, who, following another great qualifying performance which allowed his Williams a 4. place start, finished just one place behind, in 5. The Finn outperformed his team-mate once more, as Felipe Massa finished only in 13.
Elsewhere Romain Grosjean recorded his best finish of the season, by claiming the team’s first four points from an 8. place finish. His Lotus’ team-mate Pastor Maldonado got into early troubles with Caterham’s Kamui Kobayashi, to eventually cross the line in 15.; while the Japanese driver’s run finished midway through the race due to a breaking system failure. He joined Toro Rosso’s Jean-Eric Vergne who retired on lap 24 with exhaust problems – now equalling Sauber’s Adrian Sutil’s three DNF’s this season.
But among all these stats and figures it’s impossible not to think of Nico Rosberg – especially with the looming Monaco Grand Prix where the German has his first shot at glory last year, repeating the feat of his legendary father Keke by claiming the elusive Principality trophy. Having lost the chase to his team-mate by a matter of split seconds once more this season, the determination to “do one better”, as he said himself on the Barcelona podium, was clear on his face.
The tension between the two drivers was palpable in the pre-ceremony refreshment room as they hardly looked at each other, let alone speak to one another. Having lost his leader’s position in the drivers’ standings, Rosberg is now only three points behind Hamilton – but how capable is he of retaining the lead, if he keeps on loosing out to the Brit, despite having – as the paddock agrees – the faster package overall?
“The start was unfortunately poor,” Rosberg admitted in the post-race podium conference.
“It is a bit of a weakness I have at the moment. Three bad starts in a row and that has cost me. It is not good and we need to work on that.”
With only five races behind us, the Mercedes battle – and Red Bull game of catch up – are just beginning to fire up. Let the drag racing Formula 1 style begin!