In the young season’s best race so far, Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton gave everything he had to come out on top in a mano-a-mano duel with Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya in Spain. Hamilton started on pole but made a less than spectacular getaway that saw him quickly passed by Vettel as the lights went out. But Hamilton survived a big bottleneck in Turn 1, which was more than could be said for Vettel’s teammate Kimi Raikkonen and Red Bull’s young phenom Max Verstappen. With Mercedes’ second driver Valtteri Bottas looking for an advantage over Raikonnen on the inside at that pivotal first bend, the two cars touched wheels. That sent Raikonnen’s blood red Ferrari across the track and into the ambitious Vestappen’s Red Bull, who had also stuck his nose into the melee on the outside, terminally damaging both vehicles’ suspensions. In less than a lap, two premier runners were out of the race and Vettel had lost a crucial ally.
Nevertheless, Vettel swanned away from the pack and up the road, leaving Hamilton to bide his time and settle in for the chase. Vettel pitted early on Lap 14 for another set of the better performing soft tires, on which he had started the race, while Mercedes ran both Hamilton and Bottas longer, with Hamilton going to Lap 21 and then switching to the slower but more durable medium compound Pirellis. And with Bottas yet to come in that enabled the Finn to hold up Vettel somewhat when the German Ferrari man was desperate to put as much distance between himself & Hamilton while on the superior soft rubber. That small impedance by the second Silver Arrow may have proved pivotal as Hamilton did not lose as much time as he might have without Bottas’ entirely legal obstructions. Vettel managed to pass the Finn on Lap 25 and Bottas subsequently let his teammate by quickly and then came to the pits for his first stop and his own set of medium tires on Lap 28, indicating that Mercedes were committing to a 2-stop strategy for both their cars while the sole remaining Ferrari’s options remained open.
And then Mercedes, which had been caught flat-footed in the season opener that saw Ferrari outsmart them for a Vettel win in Australia, had the strategic coup of the race. Continue reading →
Mercedes’ Hamilton takes pole in Barcelona over Ferrari’s Vettel; Bottas P3 in second Silver Arrow
Eager to regain his momentum after a disappointing fourth place finish in Russia two weeks ago, Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton stormed to a blisteringly fast pole position on Saturday at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya in Spain. With most of the cars sporting significant upgrades entering Round 5 and the beginning of the pivotal European portion of the Championship, Hamilton ran a remarkable 1.19.149 lap during the latter part of Q3. It was good enough to keep him in front of the hard charging Ferrari of Sebastian Vettel on the warm and windy track if only by a scant .05. Hamilton’s Silver Arrows teammate, Valtteri Bottas, who is coming off the high of his first F1 win at Sochi, was not quite as quick as the elite top two despite pushing his ride to the limit. That separated Bottas from his teammate and pushed him onto the second row in P3. Vettel’s Prancing Horse teammate Kimi Raikkonen slotted in alongside Bottas in P4, once again seeming to be very fast in all the practice sessions but then missing that final special something when the real qualifying began.
The two Red Bulls struggled for top end speed and stability somewhat versus their top-flight opposition despite their own upgrades. Max Verstappen once again outpaced his senior teammate Daniel Ricciardo, P5 to P6. McLaren had a surprisingly good day coming off a huge oil leak issue in practice, with Spaniard Fernando Alonso vaulting his troubled chassis all the way up to P7 despite a serious lack of track time. Must have been the home cooking and tennis break on Friday while the mechanics scrambled to fix the Honda-powered car. Spain will be Alonso’s last race before he skips Monaco and takes on the daunting challenge that is the Indianapolis 500 in two weeks. He and the team would dearly love to grab some points before that cross-continetal adventure after a slew of DNFs to start the season.
Rounding out the Top 10, the two Force Indias once again made a very representative showing, with Sergio Perez qualifying P8 and young Esteban Ocon taking P 10 on the grid. Felipe Massa spilt them with his P9 time for Williams.
Tomorrow’s race airs live on NBC Sports at 8AM Eastern here in the States. With Ferrari nipping at Mercedes’ heels and Lewis Hamilton desperate for a win it should be all to play for on a track these drivers all know so well. Hope to se you then!