Highs and Loews: Spain

Highs

Lewis Hamilton – 1st
It’s races like this that can make or break a championship. Despite taking pole, Hamilton’s fondness of starting slowly gifted Vettel the lead going into turn one. However, what played out afterwards was a mixture of good fortune and ability that any driver racing for a world title needs. Mercedes strategy worked to perfection, thanks also to some handy defensive work from Valtteri Bottas, and Hamilton did the rest to rescue what was a difficult situation. Had Vettel won, Hamilton would trail by twenty points, as it is six is the gap now, a win in Monaco and Hamilton will lead for the first time this season.

Daniel Ricciardo – 3rd
The fact that the Red Bull was nearly lapped by Hamilton and Vettel will be a huge concern for the team, but Ricciardo isn’t about to turn his nose up at his first podium of the season. He of course also benefitted from the Bottas/Verstappen/Raikkonen collision and Bottas’ subsequent engine failure, but the Australian needed the points however they came.

Sergio Perez – 4th
Another huge beneficiary of the first lap incident which took out two of the top three, but Perez continues to get the maximum on offer, much to the delight of those at Force India. His successive points finishes now stands at 15, he is a safe pair of hands yet so much more on top.

Esteban Ocon – 5th
Five races, five points finishes, three of which were just one place behind his more experienced teammate. Had you offered this to either Ocon or Force India before the season started, they’d have likely bitten your hand off. It’s the kind of consistent strong performances from a 2nd driver that teams such as Renault and Williams must be hugely envious of.

Nico Hulkenberg – 6th
It’s hard not to heap praise on Hulkenberg after yet another strong points finish and healthy advantage over his underperforming teammate. What will also be promising for the German was the way he moved forward on race day having qualified 13th, bucking the trend of previous weekends.

Carlos Sainz – 7th
Carlos Sainz continues to impress in the Toro Rosso, with rumours gathering pace as to what his future holds. Spain’s greatest ever F1 driver might have qualified 7th, but it was the country’s emerging talent Sainz who finished there, and you have to think it’s only so long before he finds himself a drive at the front. Whether that be at Red Bull or one of their rivals remains to be seen, but performances like this only add to his growing reputation.

Pascal Wehrlein – 8th
Despite the F1 fans voting inexplicably for Sebastian Vettel as driver of the day (presumably just for the Bottas pass), the clear stand out performance in Spain was from Wehrlein. Sauber have struggled in recent times, but a driver of Wehrlein’s obvious potential gives them an extra edge, the ability to achieve what on paper seems out of the Swiss team’s reach, and he achieved that on Sunday with an expertly driven one stop strategy. Those points could be vital to the team come the end of the season, and the early season critics are now conspicuous by their absence.

 

Fernando Alonso – 12th
Okay so Sunday may not have panned out the way Alonso had hoped, but he deserves huge praise for his frankly miraculous performance in qualifying. A McLaren that could be argued to be the slowest car on the grid, and Alonso sticks it in 7th. Very few drivers could achieve this, and it will be very hard for some rival team bosses to ignore the fact his contract is up at the end of the season.

Loews

Felipe Massa – 13th
There is huge pressure on Massa this year at Williams, whilst his inexperienced teammate attempts to find his feet, Massa as the elder statesman must perform to keep Williams in the hunt for 4th. An unfortunate incident on the first lap hampered his chances in Spain, but regardless it was another weekend without points for the team, and the gap to Force India widens.

Kevin Magnussen – 14th
Running in the points and ahead of his teammate, Magnussen was on course to make another statement of intent in his Haas in Spain. Having lost out to Kvyat under blue flag conditions just a few laps from the end though, he made an unnecessarily aggressive move on the Russian into turn one to take back the place, gaining a puncture and ending any chance of points for himself.  The team didn’t lose out too much, given that his place was taken then by Grosjean in the other Haas, but in competitive inter-team battle, he just gifted his rival a point.

Jolyon Palmer – 15th
There are only 6 drivers who haven’t scored points this season. Two are Sauber drivers (one being Antonio Giovinazzi who had two races), two are McLaren drivers, and two are Lance Stroll and Jolyon Palmer. Given that Nico Hulkenberg has 3 points finishes from the last 3 races, it’s clear Palmer is not in the same league as his teammate. The clock continues to tick on Palmer’s F1 career, he’ll do well to get to the mid-season break at this rate.

Lance Stroll – 16th
See above. The only thing on Stroll’s side is that he is 8 years younger than Palmer and is in his first season. However Williams sit 6th in the Constructors Championship, and will know with the car they have that they should be closer to Force India in 4th than Renault in 7th, who they currently sit just four points in front of. It’s increasingly looking like it was perhaps too much too soon for the Canadian.

Valtteri Bottas – DNF
Following his excellent time out in Russia, Bottas was reminded just how fickle the world of Formula One can be. He was competitive on Saturday, but his performance on Sunday where he couldn’t keep near Hamilton before his retirement prompted further questions to Toto Wolff about driver status, and whether Bottas is now a clear number 2. This seems incredibly premature in truth, but the fact remains that Bottas must build on his successes if he is to be taken seriously as a genuine title threat, a win must be followed by a strong performance. He’s already now 41 points behind Vettel, and being used as an aid to Hamilton in Spain doesn’t help his cause. It may be argued that the refitting an old engine effectively ruined his chances in Spain, but it’s more likely damage sustained during the collision on the first lap contributed, damage that he may have brought on himself by braking much earlier than those around him.

Stoffel Vandoorne – DNF
Whilst his teammate was getting into Q3 and qualifying 7th, Vandoorne was failing to get out of Q1 and qualified 19th. A driver error then ended his race, as he apparently didn’t see Massa coming up the inside into turn one. If you’re driving a McLaren, it doesn’t matter how far back the driver behind is coming from, expect them at least alongside you by the end of a straight.

Max Verstappen – DNF
A DNF that’s not his fault of course, but from a victory here a year ago to having his race ended at the first corner represents a huge low for Verstappen and Red Bull. Now behind his teammate Ricciardo in the championship too, Verstappen will want to move on quickly from Barcelona this time around.

Kimi Raikkonen – DNF
Was also not at fault for the first lap incident that ended his race, but like at Mercedes, another weekend which will only add fuel to the driver status debate.

 

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