Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya
This year’s Spanish Formula 1 GP proved to be a gripping (!) event for the second year running. Fortune once again played a heavy hand at the start but this time reversing the table from the dose of luck dished out last year. The gift of victory given to Max Verstappen the previous year by Hamilton and Rosberg crashing out at turn 3 was cruelly rescinded and paid back in full when Max and Kimi Räikkönen collided on turn 1 forcing each to retire. Their fates tied together for a second year at Barcelona, for in 2016 Räikkönen hotly pursued Verstappen lap after lap but remained unable to make the pass.
My sympathies went out to the legion of Dutch supporters, obvious in their orange attire, as their expectations of a promising show were mercilessly extinguished. I know because I myself and the legion of Brits experienced the same the previous year when Hamilton crashed out. Not to worry though, that year was an historic race win and one I feel privileged to have witnessed.
Hamilton versus Vettel
But, even preceding the drama of Max and Kimi, there was the drama of Vettel jumping Hamilton from the grid to take the lead by the entry to turn 1. Now, forgive me by blowing my own trumpet but this is something I predicted in my earlier blog about the pre-season testing at Barcelona. Then, Ferrari looked fast into turn 1 and continued to do so throughout the race as well. It illustrates one of their fundamental strengths over Mercedes. What followed were many tense laps observing slight changes in the gap between the two. At this point things appeared to favour Vettel as Hamilton seemed to be struggling to match him. Then Vettel pitted and Hamilton stayed out, by now some way ahead after Vettel’s stop but with Vettel getting progressively closer on his fresh set of tyres. This situation seemed to continue way longer than necessary, causing palpable anxiety amongst Hamilton supporters; “how long can this go on for?”
Finally, Hamilton pitted which brought Vettel up behind Bottas who was yet to stop and now in the lead and on older and slower tyres. Then, the plan became obvious! Bottas, the Mighty Bottas was to play rear gunner for Hamilton by holding Vettel up. This he managed to do for three laps, which allowed Hamilton to make up the distance between himself and Vettel.
It was not until the latter part of the race, after another set of pit stops that Hamilton was able to make the pass on Vettel and take the lead. The Mercedes tyre strategy paid off as Vettel was forced to finish on the slower medium tyre whilst Hamilton was on the faster soft tyre. The pass was glorious to see, on the run down to turn 1. I was slightly incredulous as it almost appeared as though Vettel moved over to let Hamilton pass, such was the difference between their speeds. From then on, barring acts of God, the result was a done deal.
McLaren Honda improvement?
A big event of the weekend was Fernando Alonso making it into Q3 to get into 7th position on the start grid and then actually making it to the end of the race for the first time this season. During Friday and Saturday McLaren looked faster on track than they did during pre-season testing but not enough to trouble the front of the grid. Which makes Alonso’s qualifying achievement all the more impressive.
Wow, it was much busier at the track this year compared to last. I would say there were around a third more people in attendance. Last year, we were impressed with the organization, the ease of entry to car parks and the availability of space for general spectating. This year, forget it. The infrastructure couldn’t handle the extra capacity. There were long queues into car parks, long queues for refreshments (17 race laps to get a cup of coffee) and crowds on the grassy banks. This was true of Saturday as well as race day.
Its great to see so much popularity for the sport but surely the extra numbers in attendance could not have been a surprise for the organizers. I guess the extra numbers are down to a more competitive field, new car specifications and Verstappen winning last year.
Another thing that’s galling is that whilst the general access areas were full of punters, large sections of the grandstands were empty! The only reason I can think of is corporate block booking, either for hospitality or by holiday companies, resulting in those seats not being taken. This impression is borne from my experience booking tickets and noticing very little seating availability in those areas; even soon after race dates are confirmed. Well, we didn’t let it spoil our time. Once racing starts, nothing else matters!