“Its lights out on a Sunny Catalunyan Grand Prix and straightaway the front row of Hamilton and Bottas disappear into the sunset as they turn into C1. Verstappen follows them in P3 but doesn’t have the pace of the silver arrows. He is followed closely by a bright pink duo of racing points. And its all chaos in the midfield as Mclaren, Renault, Alfa Tauri and Ferrari battle it out to remain in within reach of points.”
(I just squeezed in Ferrari in the list of midfield teams and no one seems to notice that anymore)
This is usually the commentary we come to expect given the way the season is progressing, and sure enough, the front row was a Mercedes lockout with Verstappen in P3 and two Racing Points in P4 and P5. Positions P6 to P10 had nothing between them in terms of qualifying times.
As the lights went out in blazing hot Catalunya, we were immediately gifted with some drama as Bottas has a disastrous start which was just enough for Stroll to cash in on P3. But sure enough, that lasted a mere four laps before Bottas fought back his position. In an attempt to catch his team-mate Lewis Hamilton and Verstappen, Mercedes employed a tactic called ‘Radio-Racing’ (It’s a term I made up so don’t run away to google it).
Its a form of racing where the race engineer decides what the driver should do by giving turn by turn instructions via the team radio. This type of racing sometimes begs the thought- why doesn’t the engineer drive the car and win the race?.
Example - Mercedes with Bottas, Redbull with Verstappen, Alfa Romeo failing to do that with Raikonnen.
That term I made up is going to help me explain many scenarios in the future. I’m sorry, but this is unacceptable. Mercedes were schooling Bottas in every corner of the track telling him how much milliseconds he lost on that corner and how many KPH he gained on this straight. Redbull tried the same with Verstappen, but the inner rebel in him came out and replied, asking :
“How about we just focus on our race first instead of looking for Lewis?”
“We’ll just make sure we do our job and let them do their job.”
I love Max so much.
On the other RedBull driven by Albon, things weren’t looking good. Albon was called in to pit very early in the race and switched to Hard tyres, suggesting RedBull were going for a one pit strategy, but that plan went south immediately. In Catalunya, a driver loses 1.7 seconds every lap when running on hard tyres. That would seem worth it if it pays off in a single pit race, but the medium tyres seem to last almost as long as the hard ones in this particular track and save a second in the process. At this point, we’ve got to feel it for the poor lad. But no matter what people think of him, he has shown some skills proving he has so much more to offer.
Amidst this all, the distant growl of some clouds suggested a small chance of a shower, which for us fans would have been a gift, in what was mostly a boring race. The rain gods didn’t answer our prayers, and that was that.
Now let’s head to the red corner or Chaos-Corner to be more accurate - Scuderia Ferrari. It doesn’t feel right to be watching Ferrari trying to keep up with Renault and Alfa Tauri in a competition that they used to dominate. But this 2020 team is filled with controversies, confusion, panic and a pinch of toxicity. Things were looking okay for the prancing horses up until lap 38 when Leclerc spun his car as the engine turned off mid-corner. Leclerc was mentally prepared to accept his fate and unbuckled his seatbelts. The team insisted him to try starting the car one more time, voila! The car came back to life, but now his belts were off, so he was forced to pit. The team retired the car, and poor Leclerc had to accept the situation for what it was. Meanwhile his team-mate Sebastian was trying everything he could to salvage some points for the team by going with his instinct of a one-pit strategy. This right here is the opposite of Radio-Racing, and it was enough to win a driver of the day award. It was truly fascinating to learn the fact that Sebastian drove on soft tyres for a whopping 36 laps. After the race, the shocked face of tyre engineers from Pirelli examining Seb’s tyres said it all. Well done, Seb.
Oh Kimi, we bow down to you. Kimi Raikonnen broke Fernando Alonso’s record of most kilometres driven in Formula 1 at the 37th lap of the Spanish GP, covering a whopping 83,847 kilometres in F1 tracks around the world. That is more than twice the circumference of the earth for context. This feat easily makes him the most experienced F1 driver in the world. But even at the age of 40, he seems to have no intentions to slow down. Thank god for Kimi.
The rest of the race? Well… It can be summarised in one short paragraph. Sainz had a great race in his home turf, Grosjean makes a dodgy move against Raikonnen, Perez and Kvyat get 5-second penalties for ignoring blue flags, Bottas gets the point for the fastest lap which seems like a consolation prize and Surprise Surprise! Lewis Hamilton wins yet another Spanish Grand Prix. This was a very comfortable race for Lewis thanks to the rampant pace of his W11. Led the entire race and finished 24 seconds ahead of Verstappen. This was Lewis’s 88th win in Formula 1 and along with it, beat Schumacher’s record of 155 podiums. We should consider ourselves lucky to be in an era where we get to watch Lewis breaking record after record. He is quite possibly the best driver of our generation and possibly for generations to come.
That was pretty much it, the 2020 Spanish Grand Prix. It was the least exciting race in the season so far but it’s a very hard ask to demand the kind of drama we got to relish at Silvertone for the last two weeks. Let’s say Gracias to Catalunya and shout Bonjour as we head up to Spa, Belgium. Catch you on next week’s article of What Just Happened.
Aditya Srinath for The Driver's Hub