GRAND PRIX : Spain : Nico to the Fore

Posted on May 12, 2015.

Nico was faultless all weekend and deserved the win
Vettel joined the Merc boys on the podium again
Kimi lapsed into poor qualifying mode and had a tough race

Report by Alan Brown


After a three week break the F1 community continued its global westerly journey to land in Barcelona for the 25th running of the Spanish Grand Prix at it’s current home of the Circuit de Barcelona Catalunya to give it the correct title. Previously known as Montmelo after the local municipality where it is located just North of Barcelona, the circuit has been through a number of revisions over the years, which have shortened its length from 4.727 Kms to the 4.655 Kms the drivers are familiar with today.

Grand Prix racing has a great tradition in Spain, of course, with Fangio and Hawthorn winning races at the Pedralbes street circuit also near Barcelona in the early 50’s. Last year’s race was a very close call with Hamilton pipping Rosberg by just over 0.50 sec. Vettel had an outstanding race in the RB10 Red Bull fighting his way up from 15th place on the grid to take an eventual 4th. Alonso and Raikkonen in the F14T Ferraris only managed 6th and 7th respectively, despite significant upgrades.

This year again the Scuderia were reported to be introducing as many as 16 new components to the SF15-T mainly to the rear wing, floor and engine software. The front section of the car was unchanged. Other teams were experimenting with shorter nose profiles but the SF15-T’s sweeping chassis profile renders any ‘copy cat’ frontal changes difficult and potentially requiring further expensive crash testing.

During race build up speculation was flying around that Alonso may plan to hang up his helmet after his dreadful start to the season. He has a three year contract with McLaren, of course, but notwithstanding that he must be getting heartily fed up lining up on the grid, race after race, gazing several rows ahead down the exhaust pipes of the car ‘he could have had’. No doubt the new go-faster stripes introduced into the livery on his McLaren in Spain may come to the rescue!

Friday Practice got underway under normal Spanish blue skies and a ‘business as usual’ pattern soon developed. Nico marginally had the jump on Lewis in FP1, no doubt hoping to turn around his current form relative to the Brit. Ferraris secured the next two places, circling around a second off the Merc’s pace, with the two Torro Rosso’s rounding off the top six places. A highly respectable performance from a supposed ‘B’ Team manned by a couple of kids hardly out of short trousers.

By the time FP2 came round local temperatures and Sebastien’s pace both hotted up. The German by the session end had managed to elbow his way in between the two Mercs, beating Nico by a commendable 0.3 sec with Kimi holding station in 4th. The two Torro Rossos also remained in the top 10. By contrast however Ricciardo in the Seniors Team only managed a handful of laps before his Renault engine gave up. On my count both Red Bulls have now munched their way through the entire season’s quota of engines with penalties surely beckoning.

Qualifying on Saturday was relatively uneventful. Rosberg carried forward his strong showing from Friday throughout the qualifying sessions to pip his teammate by 0.3 sec to pole. This was to be Nico’s first pole of the season which Lewis (doubtless now dubbed ‘the Incredible Sulk’ after his moody post qualifying TV interviews) could not believe. Surely he is programmed to secure pole and win every race!

Ferrari had concerns from Friday’s running that the above upgrades were failing to close the gap down to the Mercedes. To hedge their position, Kimi’s SF15-T was switched back to pre-upgrade spec for qualifying whilst Seb kept all the new tweaks. Sadly this strategy didn’t quite work out and the Finn only managed 7th on the grid not helped out by losing a set of new tyres, overcooked in their tyre blankets, a set that ideally were needed in Q3. Seb held the ‘best of the rest’ title with 3rd place.

Looking down the grid, how disappointing it must have been for the Spanish fans to get as far as Row 3 before they could find their first countryman and then discover his name wasn’t Fernando Alonso. They had painstakingly to glance down a further 4 rows before spotting their ex-Ferrari hero. The two Torro Rosso cars had maintained their momentum from practice to lock out Row 3.

By Race Day the gusty wind conditions had died down and the field streaked off down the longest stretch of track on the calendar before they reach the first turn. Both Scuderia cars made dream starts with Seb emerging from T1 ahead of Hammy, and by the end of Lap 1 Kimi had rounded the two Torro Rosso cars to move up to 5th. The guessing game was then who would blink first on the pit stops. On Lap 14 when Vettel still in second position stayed out, Lewis got a late call to dash into the pits for another set of the option tyres. A tardy 5.3 second changeover ruined his chances of leapfrogging the Ferrari on the first stops and harder work out on the track was now required if he was to gain a further place. Seb was in a lap later also to take on the options.

Kimi stayed out until Lap 17 and was handed primes with again the Scuderia hedging their position and doubtless yearning for data on how the alternative rubber would perform under race day conditions.

Mercedes switched Lewis to a 3 stop strategy and despite a further impaired second stop the Brit managed to overhaul the leading Ferrari and secure a one-two for Mercedes. The gap at the end down to Seb in 3rd was 45 seconds. Kimi tried valiantly to get by his fellow countryman Bottas but again the pace of the Williams and the difficulties overtaking on this track left him 5th. Oh I almost forgot the winner was Rosberg who had a sublime afternoon and was a worthy victor. Statistically he should have been winner in any event, as 18 pole sitters out of the last 24 have won here and in the last 8 years no driver has won more than once.

As Ferrari ponder over what might have been, it appears their carefully crafted upgrades were matched if not bettered by developments at Mercedes also introduced in Spain. I am sure though Maurizio and his team are pressing all the right buttons but just need to keep pressing harder.

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