Ambient temperatures, track temperatures and tire compounds were all ingredients that combined to make this weekend’s Spanish Grand Prix an interesting game of chess. Would Mercedes overcome their tire issues they experienced at the British GP? The team know the Barcelona circuit well but they typically race here in cooler temperatures so the heat would be a new dynamic for all the teams.
Mercedes spent the past week working hard to cure their tire ills but were they successful? Qualifying may or may not reveal that and watching teams use up their red-labeled Soft compounds during FP3 would suggest that the Medium tire is the optimum choice. Friday’s practice might suggest that the Hard compound wasn’t the best alternative. Could Red Bull keep the pressure on Mercedes?
As the heat haze distorted the the view from the paddock down to turn one, the cars came out with 17 minutes left in the session led by the Williams of Nicholas Latifi. Could Latifi or teammate George Russell claw their way into Q2 again?
With 13 minutes left in the session, both Mercedes came out on Red Soft compounds with Valtteri Bottas leading Lewis Hamilton. Red Bull’s Max Verstappen was running just ahead of them on his own set of Reds. The big question for Red Bull is if they would try an alternate starting compound gamble like they did in Silverstone. The challenge was the delta to the midfield that Max might have because getting mired in 4-6th would ruin the gamble.
Hamilton jumped to the top ahead of Bottas by nearly four tenths with Sergio Perez and Lance Stroll’s Racing Point cars splitting the Mercedes duo in second and third. Russell jumped up to 15th and on the elimination line in his bid to squeak into Q2 again.
With 2 minutes left, most fo the cars came out for their final runs to cover any track evolution gains. Mercedes sent their cars out despite leading the time sheet while the Racing Point duo remained in the garage secure in their initial runs.
Pierre Gasly in a terrific 7th place with his teammate, Daniil Kvyat, in 13. Gasly has out-qualified his replacement, Red Bull’s Alex Albon, three times this season in an inferior car. Could it happen again?
Out in Q1- Giovinazzi, Latifi, Russell, Grosjean, Magnussen
With 14 minutes left in session, both Mercedes came out on their Red Softs. Red Bull sent Verstappen out on Reds too. Hamilton jumped to the top followed by Bottas with Verstappen in third just 0.505s behind Bottas. His teammate, Alex Albon was six tenths off Verstappen’s pace.
Perez had a bit of a bobble on his run and this left both Racing Point cars down in 5th and 6th. Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc jumped to 5th moving the Racing Point duo down but his teammate, Sebastian Vettel, could only manage 11th in the elimination zone.
As Q2 establishes the tire a driver starts on, it seemed that teams were considering a soft/medium strategy might be the way to go as the Yellow-striped Medium compounds may not have given enough grip to keep Verstappen out of the clutches of Soft-running midfield teams. Ferrari may have worried that Mediums would have risked Q3 altogether. Despite that, Kimi Raikkonen did qualifying Mediums.
Out in Q2- Raikkonen, Ricciardo, Ocon, Vettel, Kvyat
Racing Point had both their cars waiting at pit exit at the start of the session. With Red tires on, the teams had new Reds and wanted to give the best track position possible to make the best of their new shoes.
On initial runs, Hamilton took provisional pole over Bottas and Verstappen. Max was 0.708s behind which was slightly better Thant he typical 1 second+ that Mercedes has had over the rest so far this season. Perez led Stroll in 4th and 5th with Lando Norris taking 6th ahead of the remaining Ferrari of Leclerc.
With 3 minutes left, Mercedes sent Bottas and Hamilton out respectively. Leclerc radioed the engine was acting strange leaving the pit lane. Would odd engine issues cement his position behind one McLaren and two Racing Point cars?
Bottas just missed pole by 0.059s with Perez in 4th and Stroll in 5th. Verstappen secured 3rd while Leclerc sunk to 9th with both McLaren’s ahead of him. Albon’s 6th place kept Gasly behind him in qualifying.
A one-stop race is going to be marginal on wear, whichever combination of tires is used, so the best way is definitely a two-stopper for the 66-lap grand prix. The fastest way on paper is two 19-lap stints on the soft compound plus a 28-lap run on the mediums, probably using the medium for the second stint (so soft-medium-soft).
The second-fastest approach would be a three-stopper: three stints on soft of 15 laps each plus 21 laps on the medium – again probably running the medium for the second of those stints (soft-medium-soft-soft). There is always a risk in making several pit stops, so some teams may want to avoid this.
Finally, the third-fastest way at the moment is another two-stopper, and this will come into its own if temperatures are higher or degradation on the soft is a bit more than expected. That is starting on the soft for 16 laps and then doing two 25-lap stints on the medium (soft-medium-medium).
All these strategies are just theoretical of course, as they naturally depend on the individual circumstances of the race and each car – as well as the tire sets that each driver has available to them.
|3||Max Verstappen||Red Bull/Honda||0.708s|
|4||Sergio Perez||Racing Point/Mercedes||0.898s|
|5||Lance Stroll||Racing Point/Mercedes||1.005s|
|6||Alexander Albon||Red Bull/Honda||1.445s|
|7||Carlos Sainz Jr.||McLaren/Renault||1.460s|
|14||Kimi Raikkonen||Alfa Romeo/Ferrari||1.802s|
|20||Antonio Giovinazzi||Alfa Romeo/Ferrari||3.113s|