Hello to all you experts. As you might be aware, I have been writing reviews of races for about a year now over at Podium Posts, my personal site. There you can find my coverage of all the races of 2018 so far, the entire 2017 season and a few other miscellaneous posts on drivers and general developments.
But now, thanks to a kind invitation from Anthony Durkin, I will also be bringing my articles directly to F1 Armchair Experts for the first time. I hope to continue to do so for the entire season. First, I would like to make something clear. My posts are long form. They are intended to be so. Whilst the "pointy end" of the grid rightfully gets most coverage from the media, I always despair at how often the other stories of each race don't get nearly enough words. I aim to be completely fair to all teams and drivers, should there be interest present. Read whatever sections you want! They are in order of the Constructor's Standings. I also seek to weave in any other news from the world of F1 into my race posts. Of course, my opinion is not absolute and I am always open to discussion with fellow fans. Feel free to contact me if you wish!
With that out of the way, let's look back at what we learned today in Spain. Usually, due to pre-season taking place here, this track can provide some pretty processional racing as the teams know the place like the back of their hand. But, with the threat of rain looming in dark clouds which already washed the rubber off the track overnight since qualifying, there was intrigue in strategy and conditions. Then, from the start, we lost 4 cars in a collision from lack of grip! The stage was set for an interesting race!
Race Result: Lewis Hamilton (1st) & Valtteri Bottas (2nd)
Points Total (after this round): 153
Qualifying/Grid: HAM: 1st (1:16.173) & BOT: 2nd (1:16.213)
Events & Analysis: Today was very processional for Lewis Hamilton. In fact, most of the weekend was. Allegations surrounding the change of tyre treads supplied by Pirelli for this weekend have ushered in conspiracies that Mercedes were favoured, having struggled with tear wear here in Pre-Season. Whilst I doubt any foul play, they certainly benefitted from the decision: their pace ramped up considerably from their performance in Azerbaijan. The stellar Hamilton pole time above was easily converted into the win, by a margin of over 20 seconds! There was no pressure. Bottas trundled to an easy 2nd place; though he did lose out to Vettel's Ferrari on lap one. But, as described below, they strategised well in comparison to the Italians. So, the inherent pace advantage in the silver car was allowed to shine and re-obtain crucial track position. Mercedes re-take the lead of the Constructors' championship again. Whilst Monaco will be a very different challenge, if they can dial in to the intense concentration required then they will start to put more pressure on Ferrari.
Race Result: Sebastian Vettel (4th) & Kimi Raikkonen (DNF)
Points Total (after this round): 126
Qualifying/Grid: VET: 3rd (1:16.305) & RAI: 4th (1:16.612)
Events & Analysis: Despite Vettel getting the jump on Bottas with a clever use of slip-streaming into the opening turns, Ferrari didn't make most of any advantage they could glean. By lap 10 they were already 3 seconds behind Hamilton. Then Vettel pitted very early, probably too early on lap 17, due to tyre wear caused by low grip conditions. But, at the time, the call was a good one. He retained track position after Bottas made his stop. The mistake came later under the Virtual Safety Car. Ferrari took an opportunity to make up lost time, but they made a bit of a hash of it. A slow stop of 5 seconds, due to another car coming down the pit-lane, meant time advantage often gained from a VSC stop, was wiped out. Vettel dropped down, even behind Verstappen in 4th place. Kimi Raikkonen, meanwhile, lost power on lap 25 and could only limp slowly back home to retirement. With Monaco coming up Ferrari will hope they can repeat last years feats of Pole and Race win to punch back with a haul of points.
Race Result: Max Verstappen (3rd) & Daniel Ricciardo (5th)
Points Total (after this round): 80
Qualifying/Grid: VER: 5th (1:16.816) & RIC 6th (1:16.818)
Events & Analysis: After their terrible accident during the race in Baku, both of the two Red-Bull boys had a lot of making up to do. Verstappen's podium today will do a little to re-assure team and fans alike that he hasn't lost his touch, despite clumsy incidents. He did manage to hit Lance Stroll under the virtual safety car, but it didn't matter for his performance. On the other hand, Daniel Ricciardo had a much quieter weekend, with far less opportunity for great over-takes! He was slightly down on pace during qualifying (only by a tiny slither as shown above) but that might have been down to the bizarre decision to run him on the soft compounds in Q3. As the race tyre is set by the tyre used in Q2; you would think that Red-Bull would always use the quickest tyre. I thought they were saving them for the race; but that proved to be false. Rumours abound about a move to Ferrari for the Australian. I urge caution; the Italians historically have always had a number 1 and a number 2 driver very early on into a season; meaning that the number 2 cannot fight fair. Ricciardo should go to a team who allows him to give his all, despite internal politics. Monaco's twisty track should be a better venue for their chassis than Spain; but they will be very pleased with bouncing back from disaster with a podium here.
Race Result: Carlos Sainz (7th) & Nico Hulkenberg (DNF)
Points Total (after this round): 41
Qualifying/Grid: SAI: 9th (1.17:790) & HUL: 16th (1:18.923)
Events & Analysis: Hulkenberg had a sordid weekend this time out. A fuel pressure issue in qualifying limited him to only 1 run; thus it wasn't a surprise he only started 16th. Then things got much worse for the German when he was collected by a spinning Romain Grosjean on lap 1 and instantly crashed out of the race. His team-mate Carlos had a much happier time. Good scraps with Ericsson provided mid-race entertainment in an event otherwise void of sparks of passion. He led fellow Spaniard, and his childhood hero, Alonso across the line too, despite some late on power issues. In all, Sainz's points not only allowed Renault to jump McLaren in points, but he also clawed back on a head to head which had him losing to Hulkenberg on all fronts. Both of those fights should be close throughout the year, so pay close attention to them in the coming rounds.
Race Result: Fernando Alonso (8th) & Stoffel Vandoorne (DNF)
Points Total (after this round): 40
Qualifying/Grid: ALO: 8th (1:17.721) & VAN: 11th (1:18.323)
Events & Analysis: First things first, well done to Fernando Alonso and the rest of his Toyota team for winning the 6 Hours Of Spa Race in the WEC on Saturday last week. The result was Alonso's first win in WEC (at the first attempt) and his first win in all kinds of Motorsport since this race in 2013. Fernando did well this weekend too; putting McLaren's nose-cone upgrades to good use to finish 8th in Qualifying after some strangely strong pace on the Medium tyres. Despite making an unusually slow start and dropping down to 11th, he avoided the collisions ahead and then put in an excellent move on the outside of Ocon around turn 3 despite having next to no grip. He had to hunt down the brilliant Charles LeClerc for the rest of the race and finally caught the rookie napping on the VSC re-start to move back to 8th place. Rumours are that Alonso might be considering his future; but McLaren are determined to hold onto him to ensure he neither retires or moves up grid next year. Stoffel Vandoorne, meanwhile, is under a lot of pressure. He is being trounced 5-0 by Alonso in both qualifying and race results. Today he had to retire late on with power issues, but was again nowhere near his team-mate. He is a good driver and deserves to be in F1; but right now is a difficult time. Monaco might not be the place to try and rectify that situation. It is the circuit of circuits. The ultimate challenge.
Race Result: Kevin Magnussen (6th) & Romain Grosjean (DNF)
Points Total (after this round): 19
Qualifying/Grid: MAG: 7th (1:17.676) GRO: 10th (1:18.209)
Events & Analysis: Grosjean's outings are going from bad to worse this season. After his utterly futile accident in Baku, he had another strange moment today. Admittedly, there was very little grip on the circuit following a night of rain, which saw all struggling for grip. But after spinning on the outside of the long turn 3, he decided that he would try to accelerate out of the problem; to flip the car around. Utterly idiotic in my view; there was only 1 way that was going to end with a stampede of racing cars heading at you. His race ended right there. He still has 0 points. He was also three-quarters of a second off Magnussen in qualifying. The dane, on the other hand, had a very lonely race. The huge gap between his Haas and the rest of the field, both ahead and behind him, is indication that the American team is right up there in challenging for the best of the rest this season. They were ahead of Renault, McLaren and Force-India on the circuit which is most practised by all the teams. They really need to sort out their accidents and mistakes to challenge upward now.
Race Result: Sergio Perez (9th) & Esteban Ocon (DNF)
Points Total (after this round): 18
Qualifying/Grid: OCO: 13th (1:18.696) & PER: 15th (1:19.098)
Events & Analysis: It is interesting to note how far Force-India have fallen since last season. Today has been the clearest indication of that. They fell from heights of 4th and 5th in 2017 to a best of 9th. Whilst Perez did deserve that result, Ocon's race was ruined by an abysmal 20 second pit-stop before he retired with power issues. The "pink panthers" qualifying was also peculiarly slow this weekend. I don't know whether VJ Mallya's investment, or any other funds, have waned since last year; but it is no secret that they are struggling far more now than before. I think only the pitiful Williams is keeping this from being a much bigger issue in the paddock. That being said, they still have shown they can do a job; when all the stars aligned to ensure they inherited a fortunate podium at the crazy Azerbaijan race. All I am saying is the kind of result they clocked today would have been below average in comparison to last year, or the previous two. The reality is, the ever consistent Force-India of yesteryear are kind of history. Today was only their 3rd points finish in total for 2018. I hope they can prove me wrong. They are a great team.
Race Result: Brendon Hartley (12th) & Pierre Gasly (DNF)
Points Total (after this round): 13
Qualifying/Grid: GAS: 12th (1:18.463) & HAR: 20th (NO TIME SET)
Events & Analysis: Brendon Hartley is coming under immense pressure; with some touting Pascal Wehrlein to return to F1 and take his seat should bad performances continue. He had it tough this weekend too; crashing hard in FP3 to completely wipe out his qualifying and ensure he started at the back of the grid. From there he had a quiet race and had many retirements and Ocon's wheel issues to thank for his 12th placed position. It could have been worse though; so credit for that. His Honda engine JUST managed to complete the race and conked out over the line. Perhaps slight improvement there from the Japanese manufacturers. See the entirety of their woes with McLaren at the Barcelona circuit for more details on that joke! There is little else to write about for STR-Honda this weekend; as Gasly, despite decent qualifying, was also embroiled in the early accident in the race and crashed out. Again, low-speed Monaco is another place where the under-powered Honda will want to do well to maximise point profit. They weren't great there last season though.
Race Result: Charles LeClerc (10th) & Marcus Ericsson (13th)
Points Total (after this round): 11
Qualifying/Grid: LEC: 14th (1:18.910) & ERI: 17th (1:19.493)
Events & Analysis: Another excellent drive from Charles LeClerc is quickly making him a rising star in the paddock. Whilst his team-mate Ericsson is the only man yet to make it out of Q1, their close fight is slowly moving in the direction of the Monegasque. Charles now leads 3-2 in both battles. Today he did excellently to hold off the hugely experienced Alonso, until a brief lapse in concentration after the virtual safety car ended allowed the vigilant Spaniard to dispatch him on the start-finish straight. With Romain Grosjean's troubles at Haas, some are calling for LeClerc to be looked at for a seat with the American team. Due to their ties with Ferrari, who are Charles' parent team, it might not be too far-fetched. I expect he might move there next season if these trends continue; as whilst he is talented Ferrari never really risk a race seat on a driver unless they have a few years of experience and often race wins. Ericsson is looking a little more punchy than my earlier evaluation of him suggested; he did very well to rise up to 9th on the opening lap and to battle hard with the much faster Sainz. For me he still has a lot to prove; to justify why he kept his seat over Wehrlein and Nasr before him. Their car is now clearly partially competitive, so now is his chance. With Monaco's precise nature helping to flatten out power imbalances in the cars across the grid, both drivers and the team will want to make the absolute most and get some good points. Haas and Toro Rosso might be in reach for them this year. A big change of fortune from previous campaigns.
Race Result: Lance Stroll (11th) & Sergey Sirotkin (14th)
Points Total (after this round): 4
Qualifying/Grid: STR: 18th (1:20.225) & SIR: 19th w/3 pl penalty (1:19.695)
Events & Analysis: Another poor weekend for Williams is regrettably now a return to form. As their old driver Felipe Massa looked on, I bet he was probably happy he wasn't driving this dog of a car. Test driver Kubica had damning words to say of the chassis, but is absolutely correct. Even on-board you can see Stroll and Sirotkin frequently sawing away at the wheel in an attempt to get the car in order. Alexander Wurz has described the team as being in "crisis" this season and it is hard to disagree. They and their head designer have parted ways, but it might well be too little too late.This weekend Stroll had a spin into the gravel in qualifying which topped off an awful session for both drivers. 18th and 19th on the grid is no shape to be in. The only highlight came from Stroll's excellent negotiation of the chaos ahead to rise up a mammoth 7 places on the first lap. Retirements and his perseverance massaged their finishing positions in 11th and 14th. They are now firmly behind Sauber in the rankings and will do very well indeed not to finish bottom this season. A sad state for this historic team.