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Stat Wrap: Spanish Grand Prix

The crowd watch from the grandstand as the 2017 Spanish GP battle continues

By Sean Kelly, C4F1 statistician

No, a young Kimi Raikkonen fan didn’t see his hero get beyond the first corner.

No, we didn’t get an 11th different winner in the past 11 Spanish GPs.

No, we didn’t get a winner from outside of the Mercedes/Ferrari cartel.

And no, we didn’t get a winner from below the front row, something that has only happened three times in 27 Catalunya F1 races.

Put those nuances aside though, and the 2017 Spanish GP will be remembered for the classic duel between Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel, settled in the Briton’s favour as the championship gap narrowed to 6 points, in what increasingly looks like a head-to-head for the title.

Hamilton had kicked off the weekend by taking the 250th pole position by a British driver (more than any other nation), 67 years to the day since the inaugural world championship event at Silverstone in 1950.

In the race itself, he not only added victory but also the fastest lap, giving him the 12th “hat-trick” of his career, surpassing Jimmy Clark for 2nd on the all-time list, and trailing only the inimitable Michael Schumacher (22).  It gives Hamilton the chance to tie Monaco GP legend Ayrton Senna’s 65 career poles two weeks from now in Monaco itself, which in turn would leave him 3 short of Schumacher’s record, which has stood since 2006.

Vettel lost the battle on Sunday, but it’s important to remember that before Vettel’s efforts this weekend, no non-Mercedes had been on the front row in Catalunya since 2012, and no non-Mercedes got within 0.680s of pole in that time.  In both the 2014 and 2015 races, Mercedes scored a 1-2 with nobody else within 45 seconds of them.

Ferrari’s big jump in performance ensured those streaks ended, and Vettel remains the only driver to finish on the podium in every race this year.  This 6-race run of podiums – which stretches back to last season – is Vettel’s longest of the turbo hybrid era.  His last streak of this length when he was on the podium in 11 straight races to end his 2013 championship year.

The German’s 25th podium for Ferrari also surpassed Gerhard Berger’s total, putting him 7th in team history already, albeit a long way short of Michael Schumacher’s 116 for the Scuderia (Note: One day we may get through one of these articles without mentioning Schumacher at least three times, but it probably won’t be anytime soon).

While he may admit to being the beneficiary of other drivers’ misfortunes, Daniel Ricciardo won’t complain about a first top-three finish of 2017, having maintained his odd distinction of never being on the podium in the opening four races of any season of his career.  The Honey Badger had plenty of time to himself in this race – he was 62 seconds behind Vettel, but 40 seconds ahead of Sergio Perez.

With fourth-placed Perez a lap down by the end of the race, the 2017 Spanish GP had the fewest finishers on the lead lap (3) since the torrentially-wet 2008 British GP – coincidentally also won by Lewis Hamilton.

This shouldn’t detract from Force India’s big weekend, as both cars came home in the top five, something they have only achieved twice in their history (Bahrain 2014 and Belgium 2016).  Perez’ remarkable classified finish streak is now out to 35 consecutive races, 6 short of Nick Heidfeld’s record, and he’s scored in the last 15 in a row.

Teammate Esteban Ocon took a career-best finish in fifth, and the Frenchman has now finished the first 14 Grands Prix of his career, scoring in every 2017 event.  This season is shaping up very well for the Silverstone-based giant killers, who are only 19 points behind Red Bull in the Constructors’ Championship, and who already have 39 more points than they had at this stage last year.

The jury is still out on the wisdom of Nico Hulkenberg’s decision to leave them to join Renault, but the German’s sixth place finish on Sunday was his best ever in Catalunya.  Remarkably, it was only the second top six finish for the Renault/Enstone squad since the beginning of 2014, the other one coming when Romain Grosjean was third in the 2015 Belgian GP.

Racing on home soil seems to work for Carlos Sainz. Having secured a career-best sixth place finish here in 2016, the Spaniard added seventh place on Sunday, taking points for the fourth time in five Grands Prix this year and pushing Toro Rosso back ahead of Williams for fifth in the Constructors’ Championship as a consequence.

Sainz originally finished eighth on the road, but was promoted one position due to a 5-second penalty to Sauber’s Pascal Wehrlein.  That penalty could have had catastrophic consequences for both Wehrlein and Sauber, who are not likely to have many opportunities to score this year.  When it was originally levied, it would have dropped Wehrlein out of the points completely, but his pace reduced its effect to only one place by the chequered flag

He therefore claimed a career-best finish, Sauber’s first points of the year and the team’s best finish in ANY race since the 2015 Russian Grand Prix – pulling them clear of McLaren in the contest to avoid this season’s wooden spoon.

Daniil Kvyat had an interesting weekend (although not as interesting as 2016, when he was demoted from Red Bull back to Toro Rosso), scoring points for the third consecutive Spanish GP, and his first top ten since Australia.  Such a result seemed a long shot after he was the slowest qualifier on Saturday, the first time he’d suffered such ignominy in his career.  A decision to start on medium compound tyres and dump them in a lap 1 pitstop paid handsome dividends.

Although Haas scored in this race, they had cause to be mildly disappointed after both Romain Grosjean and Kevin Magnussen ran in the points for much of the day.  A late-race puncture for Magnussen cost him ninth place, but conversely it handed Grosjean the final point, giving the Frenchman his second score of the year, following on from Bahrain.

Fernando Alonso’s weekend was a real “what if?” story, as the Spaniard wowed observers by not only getting his recalcitrant McLaren Honda into Q3 for the first time this year, but then having the audacity to put it 7th on the grid, matching his best performance since rejoining McLaren at the start of 2015.

With the first corner collision between Kimi Raikkonen and Max Verstappen ahead of him, Alonso would have emerged from it in fifth had he not had to take to the grass in avoidance of Felipe Massa, leaving him too much ground to make up in the rest of the day – but setting the fourth-fastest race lap (beaten only by the podium finishers), showed what was potentially achievable.

Alonso eventually finished 12th, the first time that he has actually seen the chequered flag this year.  The Indianapolis Motor Speedway now beckons as Jenson Button is summoned from the bench to make a 306th career start in Monaco, which will tie him with Michael Schumacher (okay, so that’s FOUR Schuey mentions now).

Some of the unusual results on Sunday were a function of some big name retirements.  Valtteri Bottas suffered Mercedes’ first retirement of the year, while the aforementioned first-corner contretemps handed Kimi Raikkonen a first-lap retirement for the ninth time in his career.  Verstappen’s lap 1 DNF meant he couldn’t possibly have had a greater contrast to his ground-breaking victory on this track one year ago.