Lewis Hamilton, Max Verstappen and Valtteri Bottas on the podium in Spain

Spanish GP - Stat Wrap

By Sean Kelly
C4F1's Virtual Statman

Another day, another record.

Having moved to within three wins of Michael Schumacher’s milestone of 91 Grand Prix victories on Sunday, Lewis Hamilton surpassed the German’s all-time record of 155 F1 podium finishes with his latest triumph in the Spanish Grand Prix.

He will seldom have experienced an easier victory. Even without Valtteri Bottas’ late pursuit of the fastest lap, Hamiton still won from pole and led from start-to-finish. The world champion won at a canter, crossing the line over 24 seconds clear of his nearest opponent, by far the largest winning margin in 2020.

Not only that, but Hamilton lapped everyone other than Max Verstappen and teammate Valtteri Bottas. Three cars on the lead lap was the fewest in F1 since the same number of cars at the 2018 Austrian GP. Coincidentally, that was the only time in the last 73 Grands Prix in which Hamilton either failed to score or failed to finish.

The dominant driver of the era, Hamilton could conceivably reach 100 pole positions this season. He has now started from the front 92 times – and this was his 54th victory when doing so – but by now the record-breaking numbers are disappearing into a blur, only to be fully considered once Hamilton finally hangs up his helmet.

Away from Hamilton specifically, this was the 200th pole position for Mercedes-Benz power units, the third manufacturer to join the double-century club after Ferrari (229) and Renault (who have scored 213 in their own name, and an additional 3 badged as TAG Heuer in the back of the Red Bulls from 2016 to 2018).

The German manufacturer’s powerplants have also now led a lap in 29 consecutive races, the second-longest streak in world championship history behind Renault’s 44 in a row, set in the zenith of their dominance powering the Williams and Benetton teams between 1994 and 1997.

Optimism surrounded Max Verstappen’s race potential after his long run on medium tyres during Friday practice yielded average laptimes as much as 0.350s quicker than Lewis Hamilton. That pace rather seemed to evaporate when required in the race, leaving Verstappen to settle for second place and a fifth consecutive podium finish, only one short of his career-best total set across 2018/19.

A bad start ruined Valtteri Bottas’ Sunday afternoon plans, dropping behind Verstappen and an especially-audacious Lance Stroll on the run to the first corner. He recovered to finish third, netting his 50th career podium finish (one short of two-time world champion compatriot Mika Hakkinen).

Bottas did achieve the consolation prize of the fastest lap, gaining himself a bonus point and denying Hamilton what would have a been a seventh career grand slam victory (winning from pole with the fastest lap and leading start-to-finish). It would have put Hamilton within one of matching arguably the longest-standing of all major F1 records, as Jim Clark’s eight grand slams has stood as the benchmark since 1965.

The Finn didn’t so much nick the fastest lap as obliterate it. His 1:18.183 was a new race lap record on this track configuration, and 1.639s quicker than any other driver. Admittedly he pitted for new tyres with two laps to go, but it does stand as an example of how fast the cars are capable of going when disregarding tyre and energy conservation.

Lance Stroll won the best-of-the-rest fight on Sunday to finish fourth, on what was statistically the best-ever weekend experienced by the Racing Point team on this track in their 29 years of existence, across five different constructor names.

Having debuted as Jordan in 1991 – the same year that the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya held its first Grand Prix – this was the first time Racing Point were in the top five on the grid in Spain since Rubens Barrichello was fifth in 1994. With Stroll fourth and Sergio Perez fifth, the team matched its 2017 Spanish GP result, which until Sunday was the last time that both their cars finished in the top five.

Home hero Carlos Sainz also matched his best-ever Spanish GP finish in sixth place, on a circuit where the McLaren driver has always run well (he has never finished lower than ninth in his six Barcelona starts).

Not for the first time this season, Sainz was left wondering if moving to Ferrari next season is going to yield an improvement in performance, as he passed Sebastian Vettel for sixth place with seven laps remaining.

For Vettel, seventh was his worst Spanish GP result since retiring on the opening lap of the 2008 race. Later that same year he went on to win the Italian GP for Toro Rosso, but his current nine-race streak without a podium is his longest drought since that famous win.

Another man who might be musing over counter-intuitive career moves might be Alexander Albon, who starred with Toro Rosso last season but has not got remotely close to Max Verstappen’s pace in the Red Bull in 2020.

Albon is a former F2 polesitter in Catalunya – a distinction he shares with Charles Leclerc, a man whose top-level talent has been proven – but could only manage eighth in Sunday’s Grand Prix, coincidentally just 0.589s ahead of Pierre Gasly, the driver who was grappling with the exact same problem within the Red Bull team last season becoming his ignominious demotion back to Red Bull’s junior team.

Having since recaptured the form that made him the GP2 Series champion in 2016, Gasly helped himself to points for the third time this season on Sunday, and ended a strange paradox concerning his 2020 pace. Prior to Spain, Gasly had scored in every race in which he was knocked out in Q2, but failed to score at any Grand Prix when he reached Q3!

This week’s points positions were rounded out by Lando Norris, with the McLaren driver’s tenth place ensuring that both his team’s cars scored for the third time in 2020. That is one occasion more than Scuderia Ferrari, as Charles Leclerc suffered his first mechanically-induced retirement since joining the team at the start of last year. He picked a good time to do it, as neither Ferrari managed to qualify in the top eight in Catalunya for the first time ever.

Lewis Hamilton was not the only driver to break a long-standing all-time F1 record on Sunday. The enigmatic Kimi Raikkonen has had the worst season of his career so far, so getting an Alfa Romeo into Q2 for the first time in 2020 already qualified as a noteworthy achievement, but on lap 37 of Sunday’s Spanish Grand Prix he surpassed Fernando Alonso to become the all-time leader in distance covered as a race driver in world championship history.

Alonso’s previous record was 83,846km (around 52,000 miles in old money). Having beaten Michael Schumacher’s laps raced record of 16,825 last week, Raikkonen should also beat Rubens Barrichello’s record of 322 career starts at the Nurburgring this October, to become the undisputed champion of F1 longevity.

We have no doubt that Kimi will be utterly thrilled!