Just one week on from the Portuguese Grand Prix, F1 was back and better than expected. With few opportunities for overtake, Barcelona is always seen as a race to forget, but that wasn’t the case this year. Overtaking became hugely important throughout the field and the action kept coming at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya.
As lights went out in Barcelona, both Lewis and Max got good starts off the line but Max won out. The Dutchman passed Hamilton going into Turn 1 and the two quickly distanced themselves from the rest of the field. Charles Leclerc was also able to overtake Bottas after a poor start and the Monegasque was running in third place.
Within a few laps, half a second split Verstappen and Hamilton but the world champion had far from given up. He was making up time on the Dutchman. Lewis was massively helped by a safety car which came out on Lap 8. This came as Yuki Tsunoda had to prematurely end his race as his engine stopped on track.
As the safety car came out, some teams decided to start pitting their cars. Some were much more successful than others however. Antonio Giovanazzi in the Alfa Romeo was stuck in the pit lane for a long time as a punctured tyre was put onto his car. This resulted in all four tyres needing to be changed again to ensure a matching full set was attached. The Williams cars also pitted both cars onto mediums, with much more success than at Alfa Romeo.
With the safety car then going in, no one else took advantage of the stop and the race continued. Max controlled the start to ensure he stayed ahead, with Lewis following for many laps before tyre blistering became a concern. Max pitted reasonably early after a communication error with his engineer. This caught a usually rapid Red Bull team by surprise. The stop took 2 seconds longer than they would have wanted. Hamilton did not react, he was sure his tyres were still working and continued through the field. This strategy would have worked well for the Mercedes team had Mazepin not once again held up the race leader, as he did in Portugal.
Hamilton then pits safely but cannot stay in front of the Dutchman. Verstappen continued with a strong lead, although one that was interrupted by overtaking backmarkers. This left the gap to Hamilton drastically reduced once they were through. This is when strategy began to take precedence.
Strategy wins out:
Having pitted on Lap 29 and expected to finish the race on those tyres, Hamilton shocked everyone. The 7-time champion pitted again on Lap 42 and immediately the Red Bull garage became concerned. With Verstappen’s tyres weakening and Lewis on brand new rubber, it was going to be hard for Max to keep him behind.
With Lewis in third but on fresh tyres, he was making up time on his teammate every lap. Valtteri was not in the mood to give up his place though. By Lap 55, Lewis was right behind the Finn and team orders were communicated. Bottas did not respect them and made Lewis fight to pass him, much to the team’s annoyance. With Lewis in P2, Valtteri then pitted to take fastest lap, leaving everyone bewildered by the whole experience. Not a happy debrief, I’m sure.
The move for the win:
Hamilton was catching Verstappen more quickly than anyone predicted. Within 5 laps, Lewis overtakes and is in complete control of the race. Max took this opportunity to pit for fastest lap, with the gap to Bottas large enough to not lose a place. He was therefore able to take a point back from the Mercedes team.
Further down the order little changed until 10 laps before the end. Most drivers had gone up and down the order as pit strategies differed. Nothing hugely exciting occured in the mid-field until Lap 55. Russell found himself in the points but was being hunted down by the fresh tyres of Norris in the McLaren. The move was quickly pulled off and Russell began tumbling down the order. 5 cars were then battling for the final place in the points, after Norris took P9 from Alonso. Gasly and Stroll fought hard for that spot, with dangerous moves being carried out. Ultimately Gasly kept the place, finishing a rough weekend for the AlphaTauri team on a high.
Hamilton went on to win in Barcelona for the 6th time in a row. Verstappen took a very respectable second, with Bottas taking the third spot on the podium. The trio we are all so used to seeing were once again on top. Leclerc finished 4th, with Perez rounding out the top 5.