The Catalunya circuit is an interesting circuit by design but its also renowned for the often boring races it produces. Given this has been Mercedes’ most dominant season yet, it was no surprise to see them dominate the timing charts throughout free practice. The only possibility of excitement at the front was with high track temperatures which have proven to be Mercedes’ weak point when it comes to tyre management. However, it was not to be. Also, the tyre compounds were now the same selection as the British GP, i.e., the hardest tyre options.
There were no surprises in qualifying when the Mercedes were a lot quicker than everyone else and the battle for pole was only between themselves. Lewis Hamilton was only a tenth quicker than Valtteri Bottas to claim his 92nd Pole position start in F1. Max Verstappen was the third-fastest in qualifying while teammate Alex Albon was only sixth fastest. The two Red Bulls were split by the two Racing Points with Sergio Perez on the second row and ahead of Lance Stroll. The fourth row at the 2020 Spanish Grand Prix was occupied by the McLarens of Carlos Sainz and Lando Norris. Ferrari just about managed to get into Q3 with Charles Leclerc qualifying ninth fastest, ahead of Sebastian Vettel who’d be starting 11th on the grid. Both Ferrari’s were accompanied in their rows by AlphaTauri drivers Pierre Gasly and Daniil Kvyat.
When the lights went out on race day, Bottas had a slower start which allowed Verstappen and Stroll to get past him around Turn 1. The other Racing Point almost got past as well but Valtteri was able to find grip through Turn 3 and hang onto P4. Lewis had the best start and was able to stay ahead of the pack. By Lap 4, the defending world champion was already out of DRS range from Verstappen. The same wasn’t the case for Stroll and Bottas so the Finn was able to get past the Racing Point with ease using the DRS advantage on Lap 5. It was pretty much a procession from hereon with Hamilton comfortably ahead of all competition and Bottas just trying to catch up with Verstappen.
Max was the first of the leaders to pit after 21 laps, being very vocal about the lack of grip over the team radio, to switch from the soft tyres to the medium tyres. Mercedes reacted by pitting both cars two laps later which allowed Lewis to stay in the lead but brought Bottas out behind the Red Bull. It helped that Max’s stop was only 1.9s which was much quicker than both the Merc stop times. The Dutchman’s teammate had a much busier race after an earlier stop, changing to the hard tyres after just 17 laps on the softs which put Albon in traffic and down in P15. But the RB16 had the pace to overtake most of the middle order so Alex just needed to pick the right chances.
Most other teams decided to pit their drivers around the same time as Verstappen had pitted which allowed the two Ferraris to be seen as high as P5 and P6 in the race before pitting themselves. Vettel had started on the medium tyres while Leclerc was on the softs but they both pitted after completing 29 laps; Seb on a used set of softs and Charles on a fresh set of mediums. Daniel Ricciardo was on a long first stint as well on his set of medium tyres allowed him to get as high up as P4 in the race before pitting. The Racing Point duo was the quickest of the middle order with Stroll in P4 and Perez in P5. Around Lap 35, there was an interesting battle simmering for P10 between Esteban Ocon, Norris and Leclerc. The McLaren driver was doing a good job of keeping the Ferrari at bay which did make for SOME excitement in an otherwise dull race.
However, Leclerc’s race was about to come to an abrupt end a few laps later. While still chasing Norris, his engine cut out while rounding the penultimate corner which spun him around leaving him static and facing the wrong way. The Monegasque was able to restart the car but had to retire the car the following lap and was the only non-finisher of the 2020 Spanish GP.
Albon had made his way up the order but the hard tyre was too slow so he pitted a second time on Lap 40, this time to the medium compound tyre. He did have a brief contest with Sainz who came out ahead of him after making his second stop a couple of laps later but the Spaniard was able to hold off the Red Bull. With Leclerc out of the race, Ferrari decided (eventually and a bit late) to keep Vettel, who was in P5 at that point, on a single stop strategy. That meant the German had to make his soft compound tyres last till the end of the race which had been put on since Lap 30. The four-time world champion was able to dig deep into his tyre management skills but with 10 laps to go, he was starting to get caught by those on fresher tyres.
Hamilton took the chequered flag at Barcelona with a margin of more than 24 seconds over second-place Verstappen. Bottas was closer to Max at one point but he didn’t have the pace/grip to get past so Mercedes pitted him on Lap 65 for a fresh set of mediums. This allowed Valtteri to keep P3 and claim the fastest lap of the race for the extra championship point. In fact, the front three were a lap ahead of everyone else. So, they’re the only ones who did 66 laps and everyone else only did 65. While Red Bull didn’t have the same pace as Mercedes, Max was still able to split them and score valuable championship points.
Racing Point got their best finish of the season with Stroll in P4 and Perez in P5 with the Mexican driver on a single stop strategy. Sergio actually crossed the line ahead of Lance but he had picked up a 5-second penalty for not responding to blue flags soon enough. Sainz claimed a P6 finish which is pretty decent given that the McLaren didn’t have the same speed as the Merc-powered pink cars. Alex had stayed on Sainz’s tail but wasn’t able to get past Vettel in the final laps. The Ferrari settle for a P7 result after an astonishing 36 laps on the used soft tyres and even managed to keep Albon at bay in P8. The Red Bull driver spent most of his race in traffic and struggled to manage his tyres for grip. Pierre Gasly was able to secure a P9 finish and stay ahead of Lando Norris who had to settle for P10. The young Brit had never been able to recover from his less-than-great start where he lost a few places in the first couple of corners. Hamilton’s win also meant he’d now set the new record of most podium finishes in F1 (156).
The single-stop strategy didn’t work out for Renault as both Daniel Ricciardo and Ocon finished out of the points in P12 and P13 respectively. AlphaTauri driver Daniil Kvyat had crossed the line in P11 but he too had a 5-second time penalty for responding to blue flags so Daniel was moved up to P11 instead. The rest of the order was the usual mix of Alfa Romeo, Haas and Williams.
Overall, the Spanish GP was a very dull affair with the occasional spurt of racing action in the middle order. Sure, it was a fantastic drive from Hamilton to stay in the lead from start-to-finish but as a spectacle, it simply wasn’t one. Some say its partly down to the design of the racetrack and the aerodynamic nature of modern F1 cars. But it’s a circuit that won’t be missed from the racing calendar. On the plus side, the next track is one of the best ones ever — Spa.
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Final race standings
- L. Hamilton Mercedes — 1:31:45.279
- M. Verstappen Aston Martin Red Bull Racing Honda +24.177
- V. Bottas Mercedes +44.752
- L. Stroll Racing Point BWT Mercedes +1 Lap
- S. Perez Racing Point BWT Mercedes +1 Lap
- C. Sainz McLaren Renault +1 Lap
- S. Vettel Ferrari +1 Lap
- A. Albon Aston Martin Red Bull Racing Honda +1 Lap
- P. Gasly AlphaTauri Honda +1 Lap
- L. Norris McLaren Renault +1 Lap
- D. Ricciardo Renault +1 Lap
- D. Kvyat AlphaTauri Honda +1 Lap
- E. Ocon Renault +1 Lap
- K. Räikkönen Alfa Romeo Racing Ferrari +1 Lap
- K. Magnussen Haas Ferrari +1 Lap
- A. Giovinazzi Alfa Romeo Sauber Ferrari +1 Lap
- G. Russell Williams Racing Mercedes +1 Lap
- N. Latifi Williams Racing Mercedes +2 laps
- R. Grosjean Haas Ferrari +2 Laps
- C. Leclerc Ferrari DNF