Red Bull Reigns, But Mercedes Back In The Mix At Spanish F1 Grand Prix

Formula One / 7 Comments

It was a disaster for Ferrari and team-order controversy for Red Bull, but all eyes were on Lewis Hamilton at Catalunya.

As one of the more classic circuits on the F1 calendar, the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya is known as one of the more boring tracks for F1 to visit, with more than two-thirds of the last 30 races there ending with the polesitter taking victory. There's only one straight long enough for a DRS overtake, which means the rest of the time, drivers are locked in twists and elevation changes that, while fun to drive, don't necessarily equate to exciting racing.

2022's Spanish GP once again lived up to much of the stereotyping, but there were a few key differences this time as the pole-sitter, Ferrari's Charles Leclerc, didn't win the race. He didn't even finish. And yet he didn't put a single foot wrong from the moment the lights went out. The Spanish GP was a disaster for Ferrari, which saw its championship lead slip away, a delight for Red Bull, which picked up another 1-2 finish despite controversial team orders dictating the eventual winner, and a surprise for Mercedes-AMG, which brought a substantial upgrade package to the sixth leg of the 2022 season and finally seemed capable of racing with the top dogs.

Mercedes-AMG F1
Red Bull Content Pool
Mercedes-AMG F1

Disaster For Ferrari

Starting in P1 and P3 on the grid for Sunday's GP, Ferrari was looking good. Charles Leclerc had pulled out a champion's lap to qualify at the front of the grid, despite spinning off on his first hot lap attempt in Q3 on Saturday. He got away cleanly when the lights went out on Sunday, responding quicker than Max Verstappen in P2 and quickly pulling out a safe lead ahead of the rest. It was looking like another start-to-finish procession and perhaps Leclerc's second F1 Grand Slam. Even after pitting on Lap 22, Leclerc emerged in the lead. But on Lap 27, disaster struck. "No. No. NO. NO!" came the radio from Leclerc as his power unit failed and he coasted back to the pits.

Ferrari
Ferrari
Ferrari
6 Times Ferrari Made Less Than Perfect Cars
6 Times Ferrari Made Less Than Perfect Cars
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7 Things About Mazda You Probably Didn't Know

As for Ferrari's second driver, and one of two Spaniards in their home race, Carloz Sainz Jr. in the second Ferrari didn't have much luck either. Starting P3 on the grid, he launched badly, his car activating anti-stall to keep the engine running. But this mistake saw Sergio Perez and George Russell get ahead of him. Then, while fighting for position and trying to recover, a tailwind on the way into Turn 4 turned into a crosswind, sending Sainz spinning off into the gravel - the third time in four races for Sainz. F1 cars are geared for air to flow over the car from the front, and when you're as long and as wide as a BMW X5, crosswinds turn these cars into kites that catch the wind and can go just about anywhere. Sainz managed to get back on track and spent the rest of his race playing catch up, eventually finishing fourth - his best-ever result in his home Grand Prix - but one that he will likely still be disappointed with.

Ferrari
Ferrari
Ferrari

Controversial Red Bull 1-2 At The Expense Of Sergio Perez

The race ended with a Red Bull 1-2, Max Verstappen winning ahead of teammate Sergio 'Checo' Perez. But the result could've been very different, as Perez relinquished the lead of the Grand Prix under the auspices of team orders, effectively handing the win to reigning champion, Max.

Max's race started well with a clean launch from second, but he was falling behind Leclerc from the get-go. Then disaster struck for Verstappen when a lap after Sainz had spun off, he caught the same crosswind as Sainz going into Turn 4. He managed to avoid a spin, but still went off track and lost position. More trouble awaited as Verstappen's DRS system seemed to be functioning erratically on the main straight - the same issue that had ruined his final qualifying lap the day before - preventing him from building the necessary speed to cleanly overtake George Russell's Mercedes into Turn 1.

Red Bull Content Pool
Red Bull Content Pool
Red Bull Content Pool

On one occasion when Max was able to get the rear wing open, he dived down the inside of George and seemingly made the move stick, but Russell, having defended so ardently earlier on, fought back, giving us a glorious string of side-by-side corners before he eventually retook second from Verstappen.

Despite Max fuming over the team radio - Red Bull has struggled with reliability this season in a big way - the team changed strategy from a two-stop to a three-stop race, pitting for the soft tire compound on Lap 29 in an attempt to overcome the deficit of not having DRS available. The move worked, and Verstappen was lapping two seconds quicker than the rest of the field, passing Perez on a different tire strategy and then Russell when the Briton pitted on Lap 37. Max pitted once more on Lap 45 for a set of mediums before catching and being allowed past Perez after Red Bull told the Mexican to let his teammate through.

Red Bull Content Pool
Red Bull Content Pool
Red Bull Content Pool

Perez, who had been racing a faultless race, pitted for a set of softs and claimed the fastest lap and second place overall. But he rightfully questioned the team's decision to put Max in front. Perez was on a two-stop strategy and was nursing his tires sublimely. He'd been quick, he'd raced clean, and he was in the lead. He didn't need to pit a third time. And why should Checo have to give up his lead to Max who had a faulty car? Who had run off the track in the early stages of the race? Who hadn't been able to overtake George Russell? One might argue that Max was quicker on track than Checo was, but if that was the case, why not let them race for position?

Red Bull might have achieved the 1-2 finish every team yearns for, but the whole ordeal left a sour taste in the mouth of fans, and no doubt Checo Perez himself, who said, "OK, but we have to talk later," on the team radio after being given the instruction.

Red Bull Content Pool
Red Bull Content Pool
Red Bull Content Pool

Mercedes-AMG: A Champion’s Drive From Lewis Hamilton

Mercedes has started the 2022 season on the back foot with an uncompetitive car, despite sitting third in the Constructors' standings thanks to actually finishing races and a slew of fortunate performances from George Russell. But at Catalunya, Mercedes brought a massive upgrade package for its car, one that supposedly eradicated porpoising on the straights and let the team lower the ride height and improve grip in this new era of ground-effect cars. The upgrade seemed to work as Mercedes was competitive throughout qualifying, lining up with both drivers inside the top six. But when the race started, disaster struck for seven-time champion, Sir Lewis Hamilton.

Mercedes-AMG F1
Mercedes-AMG F1
Mercedes-AMG F1

Fighting alongside Haas's Kevin Magnussen, the two drivers collided. K-Mag went off the track and Lewis picked up a puncture, dropping the pair to the back of the field. A despondent Hamilton came onto the team radio after pitting for a set of used softs at the end of Lap 1 to tell his race engineer Peter 'Bono' Bonnington that the team was better off retiring the car and saving the power unit. Bono was having none of it, quickly telling Lewis that they felt P8 and valuable points were within reach.

Lewis seemingly had a quiet race thereafter, with not much TV coverage on him until the final stint. As predicted, he'd managed to get back into the top 10, but Hamilton surprised everyone by pushing harder still and climbing up into fourth place after a stellar overtake on Carlos Sainz. While Hamilton had managed to fight his way back up the order, K-Mag struggled, finishing P17 after some questionable strategy from his Haas engineers. Lewis, meanwhile, was on track for P4 before Mercedes told both drivers to slow down or risk not finishing the race.

Haas F1 Team
Mercedes-AMG F1
Mercedes-AMG F1

A coolant leak on the power unit - overheating warnings had plagued Russell from the start of the race - meant both Mercedes cars might not finish the final few laps. Hamilton relinquished position to Sainz, but managed to come home in P5, while George Russell, who was comfortably battling for P2 for most of the race, finished on the podium in third.

Hamilton picked up Driver of the Day, deservingly so. Barcelona proved that while Mercedes hasn't been up to scratch so far this season, when given a competitive machine, Hamilton still has what it takes. After Lap 1, Hamilton had been 50 seconds behind race winner Verstappen. When he was told to slow down with just a few laps remaining, he'd reduced that deficit to under 40, despite dropping back at one point around Lap 20 to more than a minute adrift. Those who wrote Hamilton off at the start of the season might soon be eating their words - there are still 16 legs of the season to go, and Mercedes might just have found its mojo.

Mercedes-AMG F1
Mercedes-AMG F1

The Best Of The Rest

While much of the race focused on three teams, others performed admirably. Had it not been for misplaced strategy, Valterri Bottas in his Alfa Romeo could've finished higher than P6. Lando Norris drove a solid, albeit relatively anonymous race to pick up points in P8. However, the strongest showing from a midfield team came from Alpine. Esteban Ocon finished P7 with two-time champion Fernando Alonso finishing in P9, despite starting the race from the back of the grid. There's pace to be found in the Alpine car, and Alonso still has the hunger to make a go of it when conditions suit. The last of the points positions was awarded to AlphaTauri's Yuki Tsunoda.

As for the rest of the drivers, Sebastian Vettel had some glimmering moments but ultimately finished 11th, McLaren's Daniel Ricciardo had a race to forget in 12th, and Mick Schumacher, who qualified 10th and was in the running for points for much of the race, ultimately finished P14 - Haas's strategy leaving him out in the cold (or immense heat in this case) on worn tires when everyone else had pitted for fresher rubber. The son of the seven-time champion will have to wait to pick up his first F1 points.

Alfa Romeo
Alpine Racing
Alpine Racing
Haas F1 Team

Where To Next?

The teams head to Monaco in less than a week's time for Round 7 of the 2022 F1 season. It's a race in which Charles Leclerc - a Monaco native - will be looking to break his home-race curse, which saw him retire from pole position last year and, just a week ago, crash Niki Lauda's historic Ferrari F1 car in the Monaco Historic Grand Prix.

Monaco is famed for being not only one of the oldest and most prestigious legacy circuits in F1 but also the tightest of the street circuits, which in recent years has turned the race into a procession with almost no overtaking. That means qualifying is of the utmost importance, and Red Flags are almost guaranteed. Will Max and Charles continue their battle, or can Lewis and Mercedes find the right tune for the newly-upgraded W13 to produce a competitive qualifying race? We'll have to wait and see.

We head into that with Max Verstappen and Red Bull Racing topping both championship tables, six and 26 points ahead of Leclerc and Ferrari in second, respectively, and Mercedes steadily racking up points to remain third in the Constructor standings.

Mercedes-AMG F1
Mercedes-AMG F1
Haas F1 Team
F1
Mercedes-AMG F1
Mercedes-AMG F1
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