Almost 37°C in the air, sweltering heat and your eyes glued to the tires. The decor of this Spanish Grand Prix, with Charles Leclerc on pole ahead of Max Verstappen, was fairly easy to plant. The day after a qualifying session fell into the hands of Ferrari, everyone was very excited to see which rankings would emerge over the long stints.
In this event with very high strategic stakes, the entire grid made the same choice for the start, soft tyres, with the exception of one driver: Lewis Hamilton, who wore medium rubber at the start. When the lights went out, Verstappen appeared to jump better, but Leclerc immediately closed the door to protect his lead from the first brake. Further, Russell and Pérez took advantage of Sainz’s poor start as the series of first corners resulted in strong contact between Magnussen and Hamilton. The Dane started again despite his passage in the gravel, while the Mercedes driver had to pit due to a puncture. The incident identified by the race directors was not investigated by the stewards.
Leclerc and Verstappen, long separated by a huge second, escaped the lead by increasing the gap on Russell. Things went from bad to worse for Sainz as he lost his Ferrari under braking at Turn 4, his spin sending him into the gravel trap before bouncing back to 11th. A lap later it was Verstappen who had the same mishap at the same spot, also going through the gravel and finishing fourth. There was talk of a gust of wind on Red Bull Radio. After ten laps of the race, Leclerc was ten seconds ahead of Russell, while Pérez Verstappen allegedly opened the door.
The rise of the reigning world champion was punctuated by new DRS concerns, which were already evident in qualifying the day before, when the first pit stops for the lowest-placed drivers backed up. The two men pitted simultaneously for the first time on lap 14 to switch to medium. As the fight restarted, Verstappen accumulated the DRS problems, with this operating very randomly and preventing him from overtaking Russell.
On lap 21, Leclerc pitted to abandon the softs in favor of the mediums before rejoining the track with a lead of more than five seconds. Verstappen found use of the DRS from time to time and dove into Russell at Turn 1, but the Brit resisted with great manliness in the sequences that followed and reclaimed possession, leaving the Red Bull very little room to his left .
In that fight, one almost forgot about the untouchable Leclerc, alone on his planet until the slow-motion Monegasque appeared, a victim of lack of strength that simply forced him into his first retirement of the season! Screaming in anger over the radio, the championship leader returned to his pits to dismount.
At the front, Russell continued to defy Verstappen by not hesitating to zigzag at the end of the straight, urging Red Bull to call their leader into the pits a second time to put on soft tyres. Pérez enjoyed a perfectly working DRS and broke Russell just before halfway to logically take control of the race.
In a tricky afternoon for the Ferrari blocks, Zhou Guanyu also retired, shortly after a collision between Pierre Gasly and Lance Stroll, who were both fighting for points. The Frenchman found responsible by the commissioners received a five-second penalty. All of these events allowed Hamilton to return to the points zone halfway through the race, having already made two pit stops.
Very efficient on his new medium tyres, Verstappen made the connection for a reunion with Russell, then was called into the pits by Mercedes leaving the two Red Bulls in the lead, Pérez holding a 6.3 lead over his team-mate Runde Russell, clearing the way for Verstappen to take the lead in the race. Waiting for his third stop, Verstappen came in on Lap 45 to put on a final set of hard tyres.
The Dutchman started second, safely ahead of Russell and six seconds back to catch Pérez. It remained to be seen whether “Radio Red Bull” would run at full speed in a context in which the hierarchy between the two drivers is known to be clearly established internally. Verstappen returned quickly thanks to his new tires, Pérez received a clear message not to block his teammate in case of a fight. “It’s unfair, but OK”He accepted the Mexican, at least at a slower pace. The reversal of positions came moments later, punctuated by a thank you from Verstappen, heading for his third straight win, fourth of the season.
Russell watched his third save 13 laps from the finish, only briefly losing his third place to Bottas, recovering quickly. Pérez logically followed suit to defend his second place, adorned with the point for the fastest lap of the race. Although Bottas was the author of a superb race at the wheel of the Alfa Romeo, he logically gave way to Sainz and then Hamilton to win fourth and fifth respectively. Not to be outdone, the seven-time world champion put pressure on the Ferrari to take fourth place, ignoring Sainz’s pronounced zigzags on the straight.
The finish of the race for the two Mercedes was punctuated by fuel economy issues, leading to the pit wall begging Russell and Hamilton to save fuel with a serious risk of retirement. Hamilton couldn’t resist Sainz, who took fourth place. Bottas was solid from start to finish, finishing sixth ahead of an equally hard-working Ocon on Sunday. Norris finished in seventh place ahead of an Alonso Back from the Devil and a Tsunoda who was credited with the tenth place point.
Spanish Grand Prix
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