Spanish GP Review – By Bob Constanduros
Sunday’s Spanish Grand Prix wasn’t the best race of the season so far, that’s for sure, and in some ways it mirrors the Australian GP. The location is a favourite – although for different reasons – and it’s very difficult to overtake. Regarding the latter, Lewis Hamilton said he could feel the effect of a car in front when it was a full 100 yards ahead. Even he was surprised by that.
As for the location, we know that it’s a popular test venue because of the variety of corners etc, plus the long straight. It’s often the first circuit on the European part of the calendar, so there’s a good variety of tourists from abroad who come to the track. It was noticeable that the media centre was absolutely rammed, but I hasten to add, not uncomfortable. Several European journalists turned up who won’t be seen for the next two or three races.
In my preview, I quoted the drivers who said that this was a Grand Prix for the car, rather than the driver. The driver, they said, made little difference here. If that’s the case, we had a very good idea of the best chassis and engine combinations, and certainly at the front of the field, we know who is good – or do we?
Headlines that suggest that Lewis Hamilton ‘got his mojo back’ might be wide of the mark. If the driver had less to do with it than usual, a headline that Lewis ‘got his Mercedes back’ might be more accurate. Here, on a track that the teams and their engineers know really well, Mercedes were back on top. But even that is complicated.
Pirelli, as we know, brought a revised tyre to this circuit. Because of blistering recently, they reduced the tread depth by 0.4 millimeters on all tyres, which in this instance were two stages softer than in the past. They said that the drivers would not notice a difference in either performance or length of the stints, but it meant that the actual feel was harder. It has been suggested that this was to the detriment of Ferrari and to the advantage of Mercedes. Vettel, of course, had to make two stops – which, according to Pirelli, was the fastest option for the race – so perhaps he was at a disadvantage, but Ferrari weren’t making a big thing of it. And just to complicate matters further, there was also a new, smoother surface to contend with, and of course, the wind sometimes intervened as well.
All in all, then, a complicated race to analyse which resulted in a shuffled championship standing. It’s early days in the championship but what did we learn from Spain? That, on their day, Mercedes still have the best car but then you could say that on their day, so too, do Ferrari. Red Bull are close, but not close enough to be a permanent thorn in the side of the pair ahead, only occasionally. (Which of course, could change).
Best of the rest, on the basis of the races so far and the chassis-centric Spain in particular, is surely Haas. Kevin Magnussen had a very lonely race; he was miles behind those ahead, and miles ahead of those behind. Basically, Haas was in a class of its own. What to make of this team? It is one that is in flux; team members are leaving because they are unsure of its future. It’s not stable at the moment. And as for the drivers… Kevin Magnussen is a more consistent performer than his teammate, but frequently labelled as dangerous by his fellow competitors. He does perform on the limit. As for his teammate, quick but so inconsistent. Will they both be there next year? Can they afford to keep them? Can they afford to lose them?
You have to say that Renault is doing the job expected of them, with a good pair of drivers but surely must now be expected to take a step forward. McLaren? So much expected but not necessarily delivering. Williams? They say that they know the problem and it’s just a matter of getting it right. Paddy Lowe has proved that he knows about these things; we await his magic touch.
I think most observers are pleased about Sauber’s performance. This is a surviving team but they’ve just lost their somewhat volatile chief engineer. Having said that, there’s more talent to step up to the plate, so it’s not terminal. Charles Leclerc has proved what many of suspected, that he is a very special talent, and his performances have certainly caused Marcus Ericsson to up his game.
Force India have been disappointing, and Esteban Ocon’s position way down in the standings is not where he should be, particularly after last year. This is a team that should be where Haas is, but perhaps doesn’t have the Mercedes backing on the same level as Haas has Ferrari. Scuderia Toro Rosso is enjoying Honda backing but there has been a reality check since the optimism of Bahrain. Apart from Williams and Sauber, all these teams have had their day at least once in the five races so far, scoring double figures, and the Swiss team has been in the points as many times as Haas and Force India, and more than Toro Rosso and Williams.
So in my humble view, there is still loads to play for – well, there has to be after just five races of 21. And looking at the races ahead, it could all change big time. Next we have the madness of Monaco where someone – who? – will pick up an unexpected result. Canada can be pretty much the same again, a kind of Baku with a long straight and walls that are a touch too close.
Then we’re into the madness of five races in six weeks and how much could the championship change in that time? Teams, drivers, engineers and even us media have to be prepared for that. It’s going to be a particularly crazy time and we have to be ready for it. And after that, take a deep breath and see how we’ve all come out of it and how to tackle the second half of the season – actually, midway through those five races have a look and see how to work on the second half. Red Bull have changed the course of their season in the summer break in the past. Who’s planning to copy them?