The Spanish Grand Prix was not a classic when compared directly to the previous four rounds, but one thing is still very much on everybody?s minds. And what is that?
It seems that all we seem to talk about is tyres, tyres, tyres. What about the on track action? It?s a strong debate and one that I will touch on later in the column.
Last weekend?s race really kick started the already bubbling battle, with teams, drivers and fans all having very different opinions. I will get to that in a bit, but first lets have a look back at the race and pick out some of the highlights.
The start to the race was typically interesting and shook up the order. Because of the Circuit de Catalunya?s long run to the first turn, cars were able to use the slipstream and overtake. This enabled Alonso get alongside Raikkonen and meant Vettel managed to jump Lewis Hamilton for second. Unfortunately that was just the beginning for Hamilton?
I always predicted Alonso to be fighting for the win. He got his usual flying start but it was the confidence and commitment that he had on that first lap that really impressed and astounded me. My pre-race prediction was for an Alonso victory 0n home turf, with Vettel finishing second and Raikkonen in third. I got the most important part right (shame about the rest!)
The Spanish hero swept past Raikkonen and Hamilton around the outside at turn three, a tricky place to overtake and one that had me on the edge of my seat. Great stuff. From then on, things started to settle down (a little bit too quickly for my liking to be honest) and we really started to get a glimpse of whether drivers would be able to pull of a three stop strategy or not. For most it was the latter. Rosberg was slower out front and soon developed a train of cars behind him (Trulli train anyone?). He was picked off by Vettel, Alonso and Raikkonen in quick succession and it was far from plain sailing for his team-mate either, Hamilton?s struggles were obvious from the get go.
If you read this column on a consistent basis, you will know that I?m a big Jenson Button fan. So you can imagine my frustration when he dropped to 17th on the first lap, not a happy chap and I bet he wasn?t either! I imagine a few swear words being shouted through his helmet, thankfully moving on to a three-stop strategy helped him hugely and he was actually able to keep up a good pace. He was one of the few to actually keep ahead of the 20 second deficit that the four stoppers had to face, alongside Raikkonen.
The first round of stops came quicker than I first thought, Webber pitting on lap seven surprised me to say the least and it was soon made clear how few laps the tyres were working for. That pit window saw Grosjean retire from the race which was a huge shame. I think Eric Boullier said it was a technical failure so the Lotus team need to get that sorted but seeing what Raikkonen did on Sunday afternoon, he definitely lost a good helping of points. I also think that I spotted Maldonado in the background going into the wrong pit box, I may be wrong but Martin Brundle also noticed it too.
Rather impressively, Esteban Gutierrez led a few laps as the leaders fell into the three stop traffic. The Mexican had a good race (surprisingly) and despite it not yielding any points, it was good to see that the leaders didn?t close on him in such quick succession (about time). (I just realised how much parenthesis I?m using in this piece?)
The leading battle was interesting throughout the middle stint of the race but I always knew that Alonso and Raikkonen were the main contenders. The former really kicked it into a higher gear after his second stop and started to pull away and knowing that Kimi was on a three stop strategy, his pace was very good for someone that was meant to be nursing his tyres. Someone who was somewhat under the radar at that time was Felipe Massa, he started to make gains on Vettel throughout the first third of the race and when he emerged from his stops ahead of the German, I knew he would stay there.
Unlike the past few races, we got a glimpse of who the podium finishers would be at around the 40 lap mark when it became clear that Alonso, Raikkonen and Massa all had to make one final stop. That was when it became clear that 1) no one was going to hunt down Alonso, 2) Raikkonen was safe in third and 3) Massa?s strong late race pace was enough to give him the edge over Vettel. When Alonso crossed the line the atmosphere at the circuit could almost be felt through the TV screen, the fans were celebrating like there was no tomorrow and it was great to see that support.
What frustrated me post-race was the fact that Alonso was asked to visit the stewards for slowing down to collect a Spanish flag. What kind of sport do we have where a driver can?t celebrate? You don?t see someone score a goal in football and just walk casually off to continue playing. Well not that often anyway (but I?m not a big football fan so?) It wasn?t even that dangerous either, he stopped clear of the marshals and they walked towards him.
I was very impressed with Alonso but like in China, I was not surprised. Another typical ?Alonso? victory then and another norm-defying strategy call that found success for Kimi Raikkonen. He may have been disappointed not to win but it certainly proved where their strengths lie, tyre wear. I was extremely pleased to see Massa return to the podium, he deserved it after a difficult start to the season and he definitely proved that it was worth Ferrari keeping him.
Away from the podium my predicted second place finisher Sebastian Vettel dropped to fourth, blaming high tyre wear for his problems. He was over half a minute down on Alonso which came as a bit of a shock because he was harrying Rosberg for the lead at the start. Webber did brilliantly to fight, something he always does very well, through the field after a poor start for fifth, ahead of a rightfully downbeat Rosberg.
Mercedes yet again found trouble during the race with their balance and tyre maintenance. Hamilton felt he could not get heat into the tyres but also found that he could not eke out his stints. Rosberg suffered a similar fate but to less of a degree, hence why he finished sixth and Hamilton finished 12th. Nico also managed a three stop strategy which was actually quite impressive, but the wrong decision in the end as he would have finished higher had he replicated Alonso and Massa?s strategy.
Paul Di Resta put in another stellar performance for seventh and is really proving his worth, being the best Brit. Button was some way behind in the lead McLaren and as I said earlier, it was a good result considering his first lap problems and the fact that he actually trailed and lost time to Esteban Gutierrez in the first stint (where I almost lost hope). Perez was effectively told to stay behind Button which was the wrong decision. It would have been great to see them battle but personally I?m not sure if he could have got past in the end as DRS was not as effective as first thought and Bahrain would have been firmly in his mind.
The last points finisher? Daniel Ricciardo, another good drive from the popular Aussie and it could have been a much better result too. He had to extend one of his mid-race stints due to team-mate Vergne retiring his car and that cost him time. Overall though I was, again, impressed with his race performance. His team-mate was caught up in a unusual pit lane incident where Nico Hulkenberg ran into the back of him after he emerged from his stop, as the Frenchman pulled into his pit box. It was a clumsy move by the Sauber and he was rightfully penalised, I don?t think it was necessarily an unsafe release but when the car in front is braking to go into his pit box, you brake too. Simple.
The race may not have been the most exciting and it was slightly predictable, but I enjoy all Formula 1 races and it was still more dramatic then Spanish Grand Prix?s of the past. However it highlighted the Pirelli tyre debate and there are two very clear views on this.
1) The tyres are ruining the racing, drivers are meant to push and race 100% to show who is the best. Pirelli have done a rubbish job as there are too many pit stops and it is meaning drivers have to nurse their tyres, go slowly and struggle.
2) Pirelli were told to increase the wear rates, they have, we have sorted our troubles out and that is why we are succeeding. We can still race and drivers can push but racing is about so much more than just going flat out all the time
Well those are the two main views, there are many more but it would take far too long to type them all out.
Where do I sit? Well I?m personally bored of all this tyre talk. I think Pirelli has done a great job by producing tyres with higher wear, something they were told to do, and that has created exciting racing on the most part. This is evident in the first four races but the fifth round in Spain saw problems which were worrying.
The tyre delaminations are a concern but I don?t think that all comes down to the higher tyre wear and it is something that Pirelli can hopefully fix without having to adjust the compound structure too much. I think that if they did change them, they should not dramatically change the compounds but move them slightly towards the 2012 spec which seems to be more ideal.
Teams who are struggling need to get to grips with the tyres and stop complaining. Lotus have done it, Ferrari have done it so far. It?s doable and realistic so I don?t see why changes are needed as it is fair at the moment, changing will just be unfair to those who have worked hard and found a solution.
At the end of the day, Pirelli will never please everyone. There will always be a team or some fans that are against what goes on, but that is the same for every aspect of the sport. They seem to be fighting a battle that they will always lose which is a shame as I think they have met the brief given and have done a good job with the situation they are in.
So not a classic race but one that certainly was intriguing. I also must say that the GP3 series kicked off in superb style and it was great to see the Brits battling at the front, even if they didn?t necessarily finish there. Well done to Tio Ellinas and Aaro Vainio who drove superbly to win race one and two respectively, the racing was exciting and I can?t wait for the next round.
On a similar note it?s big sister GP2 put on another good show, with a mix of fantastic and downright stupid driving. Robin Frijns impressed me immensely by winning the feature race (in only his second GP2 race weekend!) and Stefano Coletti who took victory in the sprint race. However in the latter there was some very poor driving, particularly Johnny Cecotto Jnr hitting the crash-magnet Sergio Canamasas and Rio Haryanto?s clumsy crash at the chicane.
Next up is Monaco and one of my personal season highlights. I love the circuit and the glamour, hype and challenge of the whole race weekend. Let?s see what that race weekend hold?s!
Author: Jack Leslie
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