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View from the Pit Lane: Spain

A good call from the Mercedes pit wall helped Hamilton win a humdinger in Spain
By C4F1 technical analyst 
Karun Chandhok

I tell you what that was one heck of a race!  The Spanish Grand Prix was really gripping stuff from start to finish and yet another sign that this 2017 world championship is going to be one of the best ever. 

There were such close margins in qualifying and the race, and the way that Ferrari and Mercedes are having to juggle strategy is absolutely brilliant.

It’s one of the races that I really enjoy going to; the weather is normally amazing and the city is quite close to the circuit which makes it good fun.  

The organisers told me that the crowd this year had over 30,000 fly in from Britain – and fortunately we had plenty of others watching us on Channel 4! 

It was a busy weekend for me as I managed to finally secure a development driver deal for my protégé Arjun Maini with the Haas F1 team and then he went on to win the GP3 race which was a good way to celebrate the deal!

Also keeping me busy is the fact that Barcelona is traditionally the race where all the teams bring updates. Most do bring bits and pieces to other races but by the start of the European season they have four races’ worth of data and they are closer to their factories, so logistically it’s easier to bring in new parts.

Spot the Difference

Roaming the pit lane on Friday was all about looking around and seeing who had bought those updates. In the end it’s fair to say that from the outside – visually and visibly - Mercedes looked to have made the biggest upgrade.

The W08 had a dramatic scoop under the nose, changes to the bargeboard, engine cover, rear floor and monkey seat, even the camber amounts had been re-profiled.

In contrast, the Ferrari and Red Bull didn’t look as though they had bought as many new parts. Ferrari had a new T-Wing and a couple of edits to the bargeboard, Red Bull had a few minor tweaks but neither looked as dramatic as the Mercedes. 

But you have to take things with a pinch of salt from the outside as we don’t know the teams’ design philosophy and we don’t know what’s going on under the skin, or under the radar.  Engine updates are a classic example of that and so is weight.

Lap times are the ultimate judge and Ferrari looked to be still be right in the hunt with the Mercedes despite all those bells and whistles on the Silver Arrow, so that suggests the Scuderia had updates that we couldn’t see. 

Tenths left on the track

Third practice showed that Ferrari were in the hunt, with Kimi Raikkonen and Sebastian Vettel topping the timesheets, and qualifying didn’t disappoint. 

Lewis Hamilton claimed pole position but I don’t think his ultimate lap was perfect, in fact he did his best time on the first run of Q3 (1m 19.149s). He definitely still had a couple of tenths left in the tank – but so did Sebastian Vettel. 

His first and second sectors were really good but he made a bit of a mistake at the chicane. We heard him ranting down the radio with a lot of swear words, all weekend he said he’d been missing the apex of the chicane and he did it again in qualifying.

Sunday work out 

Once we got to the start of the race Hamilton and Vettel were hooked up. You only had to listen to Hamilton’s team radio to hear him huffing and puffing, showing how hard he had to work. 

I think that’s great! Whether you’re watching Olympic running or swimming or the Tour de France you want to see the athletes using every little bit of energy and pushing to their limits.  We’ve not seen that in F1 in the recent past but this generation of cars from 2017 has certainly helped that; the physical strain on the drivers has gone through the roof and that’s been really good to watch.

How the race was won

The racing itself was fantastic in Barcelona. If you look at the moves Vettel had to pull on Valtteri Bottas and the way Hamilton had to come at Vettel in the dirty air, it was mega stuff.

Once again, we’re seeing some quality moves.  OK Hamilton’s move on Vettel was DRS-assisted but he still had to be close enough to make that move. 

There’s no doubt Hamilton was helped to his second victory of the season by some good thinking on the go from the Mercedes pit wall. 

They made the interesting choice of going to the medium tyre in the second stint of the race. That was after they prolonged Hamilton’s first stint by seven laps over Vettel which meant he had less to do in the next two. 

Mercedes chose to go to the medium tyres on heavy fuel and, although they pitted when the Virtual Safety Car was ending, Hamilton still gained the benefit from that. They only did 14 laps on the medium tyre, which was a lot slower than the soft this weekend, and then got rid of it.

In the end that was a very clever move because when you have a lighter car at the end of the GP and you have more and more rubber on the track, the soft tyre will last longer. By using the medium tyre earlier they out-foxed Ferrari there and put Hamilton on the faster tyre at the end of the race.

Despite the fact that he came out – only just  - behind Vettel when he rejoined the race on Lap 37 he had so much more pace and that’s the benefit, you become the hunter rather than the hunted.

Vettel on the slower medium tyres was vulnerable. We heard him say on the radio: “No chance, no chance. Like a train.”  There was nothing he could do, Hamilton just blasted past. 

Bottas and Raikkonen retired so once again Hamilton and Vettel staked their claim as the A-Listers of their teams. Status quo was resumed after a bit of a wobble from Hamilton in Sochi.

Maybe if Raikkonen had out-qualified Vettel he wouldn’t have got into that tangle with Bottas and Max Verstappen at the start of the race. Bottas had an engine issue but he was already a long way behind the lead two in third before it blew.

Best of the Rest

Daniel Ricciardo gratefully received a podium place after Bottas’ retirement and that was a nice way to celebrate going into Monaco, his adopted home race. 

But the Red Bull still finished 75 seconds behind the race winner and that’s won’t have escaped Adrian Newey and Red Bull’s attention. 

Barcelona is a tough track, there’s nowhere to hide, you ask so much of the car - high speed, low speed, traction, braking - but 75 seconds is a long way behind.

In the midfield battle, Force India scored some really solid points with Sergio Perez fourth ahead of Esteban Ocon. 

Nico Hulkenberg collected sixth – his best finish of the season – for Renault and Pascal Wehrlein grabbed eighth for a solid haul of four points for Sauber. 

The lap of the weekend was undoubtedly Fernando Alonso’s qualifying thriller which earned him seventh on the grid – his first top-10 start of the season.  It’s a shame he got messed up with Felipe Massa at Turn 1, as that was the most amazing lap. 

Next stop Monaco

So we’re off to Monaco next. It’s a different circuit with very different demands. 

I think the usual suspects Ferrari and Mercedes will be right up there, and there’s no reason why they shouldn’t be.  

Hamilton and Vettel are brilliant around there and we’ll see how that race unfolds when the Monaco Grand Prix is LIVE on Channel 4 for all sessions.