Hamilton wins the F1 Grand Prix in Spain, second Bottas ahead of Verstappen, Vettel, and Leclerc. This the results of the fifth Grand Prix of the season after Australia, Bahrain, China, and Azerbaijan.
Ferrari: confusion reigns
Understanding this season of Formula 1 and its result is very difficult because performance changes considerably based on a multitude of factors, not easily identifiable outside the technical staff of the teams. In the winter tests Ferrari literally flew, now it is very slow, even losing a position compared to Red Bull. The cans are doing a great job, even if it is not clear why Gasly is so slow and inoffensive, and above all Honda has greatly improved its engine, with a very efficient cooling system as we have already seen in the case of the Azerbaijan Grand Prix.
Ferrari is too fast? According to previous reconstructions, Ferrari would have lost the key because it exaggerated the power of its engine. Having such a strong engine would hinder grip in slow corners. This confirms once again that in modern Formula 1 it does not only count the engine, as many have thought since the current hybrid turbo era has started: Mercedes, rather, enjoys a higher overall balance than the other cars, which concerns before tire management and maintaining the right temperatures of tires. Thus, the too powerful Ferrari engine could be a component, but it is not the only one.
The car seems very difficult to set up, because it has too low an aerodynamic load, perhaps to facilitate the new potential of the engine. In the third sector of the Montmelò circuit, Mercedes has, therefore, made the difference, starting from qualifying. The Ferrari instead was always in understeer, planted and with difficulty at the rear. If they lost 8 tenths in qualifying at that point it is clear that then in the race the gap respect to Mercedes, and also to Red Bull of Verstappen, has widened even more. Intolerable in a circuit that requires such fine balance, where you can now take the Turn 9 completely flat out. But at the same time, you have to have maximum grip in the last, very slow, sector.
That the Ferraris is completely in confusion is understood above all by the fact that they cannot overcome Verstappen after entering the Safety Car for the contact between Lando Norris and Lance Stroll, with fresher tires in the case of Vettel and with the help of the DRS. This shows net gap respect to the Mercedes that is the fifth one-two (also due to the misfortunes happened to Leclerc in Baku).
Why Valtteri Bottas did three pole position in a row?
Some started shouting at the scandal after seeing that Valtteri Bottas made the third pole position in a row. Where did Lewis Hamilton go? Has he suddenly become scarce or is there a plot to make him lose? It’s the exact same thing they did with Rosberg in 2016 season, they said. Every team has a machine to which it devotes more attention and since the limits no longer derive from the pilot, but from a thousand other variables to manage, having an imperceptibly better car helps you a lot. Mercedes doesn’t give a shit about Hamilton, he just wants to sell his brand, that’s why they do these things. “It’s a shameful sport because these are not sports rules, but company rules,” they said.
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The truth is that Valtteri Bottas has been given “a nice helping hand” by one of the Briton’s long-term race engineers crossing the garage to work with him. “I’ve got a new engineer and we are working really well together but it takes time to build relationships with people and to continue to grow,” said Hamilton in an interview. “When you take one element away, whatever element you take away, initially it’s not as strong as something you have built over six years.” The Finn’s previous race engineer Tony Ross left the Formula One team at the end of last season to lead the engineering side at the Mercedes HWA Racelab Formula E outfit that is due to debut later this year. His place was taken by Italian Riccardo Musconi, previously Hamilton’s performance engineer. In 2016 Hamilton was unsettled when the team switched five of his mechanics to Rosberg’s car, while others went in the opposite direction. Hamilton felt Bottas, who joined Mercedes in 2017 after 2016 champion Nico Rosberg abruptly retired, had also become more focused.
In fact, in qualifying, in Q3, Valtteri Bottas seemed to be the only one with grip. Even Hamilton, like the Ferraris, made a lot of mistakes in the good lap in Q3 and six-tenths of a second are many for a five-time world champion compared to a teammate who has always beaten. But, after seeing the race, everything seems to be overturned, with Hamilton recovering his solid advantage over his teammate. It is true that at the end of the race Bottas said he had problems with the clutch, but Hamilton’s advantage was considerable. Beyond any speculation, therefore, it seems to be truer that Hamilton has simply made mistakes in his qualifying lap.
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“Seb, Charles is faster than you”
The confusion at Ferrari does not depend only on the difficulty in understanding how to set up the car, but also in the race strategies. A problem that was evident with the Maurizio Arrivabene management and that does not seem to be solved even with the arrival of Mattia Binotto. For the first time, they gave a team order to Sebastian Vettel letting Charles Leclerc overtake. Finally, after the Monegasque seemed to be targeted in Ferrari. First unjustly slowed down in the Chinese Grand Prix when it seemed the only one able to chase the Mercedes. And then always penalized by Vettel, even at the start at Montmelò when he pushes him off the trajectory making him immediately lose a lot of time.
The start is all in today’s Formula 1 Grand Prix. It is there that Hamilton built his victory at Montmelò and there that Vettel damaged his race by spilling a wheel in an attempt to overcome Bottas. In this race, things went a little differently due to the overwhelming power of the Mercedes and the Safety Car, but without these elements, the start would have been decisive. The same Hamilton said after the race: “I won in the first curve”. Whoever exceeds at the start can no longer be taken up again mainly because of the turbulence that occurs on a car that follows another car, disturbing its aerodynamics. Until this problem is solved, above all in the old European circuits there will always be problematic races. In 2021 the aerodynamic regulation will change and the following car is considerably favored, but everything will depend on how the teams implement the regulation and if it will be possible to find tricks. But at the moment this is problematic because a Grand Prix cannot be resolved in a curve.
So the team order is right, but why take it so late? When you have to optimize everything to be able to pick up the Mercedes you can’t lose even a thousandth of a second, especially when it’s up to you. Giving a wrong team order is very counterproductive, moreover, because the maneuver to allow the teammate to overcome entails a loss of 1/2 seconds that can be precious. Leclerc has lost time at the start and for the delayed team order. But it is not only this: it is worse to have put the hard tires on Leclerc when everyone put the medium. The hard ones slowed him down too much and, due to the fact that Vettel had the medium tires, it caused a second duel between the two with a further loss of time. The opposite team order once again delayed by 2 or 3 laps: it all seems very self-defeating.