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Crunching the numbers from Spain

Stat Wrap for the Spanish Grand Prix

By Sean Kelly, C4F1 statistician

First lap: Hamilton, Bottas, Verstappen, Vettel, Leclerc, Gasly

Last lap: Hamilton, Bottas, Verstappen, Vettel, Leclerc, Gasly

Okay, that’s not a totally fair representation of the 2019 Spanish GP.  Yes there WERE some position changes throughout the race, but the fact of the matter remains that the positions at the end of the first lap of Sunday’s race in Barcelona were replicated at the chequered flag.

This is the sixth season of the so-called “hybrid era”, after Formula 1 dispensed with the 20th Century “old-fashioned” 2.4-litre V8 engines to embrace the brave new world of hybrid power unit technology.  While the science behind it has been impressive, most know it as a period of utter dominance by Mercedes, winning every driver and constructor world championship available.

With that said, nothing has quite prepared the watching world for the dominance they have unleashed in 2019.  Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas have finished 1-2 in the opening five races of the season – locking out the front row in four of them – and were it not for the addition of the pesky fastest lap bonus point then Mercedes would have scored 100.0% of the possible points this season.

It’s easy to therefore conclude that Formula 1 was more competitive in previous eras, but that’s not wholly true.  Sunday may have been Mercedes’ fifth consecutive 1-2 finish, but that merely equals the best run of the Schumacher-era Ferrari team, who finished 1-2 in the final five races of 2002.

Additionally, the Scuderia scored six consecutive 1-2 finishes as a constructor in 1952 – if we discount the Indianapolis 500, which was part of the championship at the time (and in which Ferrari actually raced that year).

Lewis Hamilton’s victory – his 76th in Formula 1 – was also the 16th time he’s led a Grand Prix from start to finish.  Yet that is also not an outright record, as Ayrton Senna (in 72 fewer starts) led 19 races from lights to flag.

Admittedly, it is the sheer concentration of Mercedes’ success into such a small timeframe that really sets it apart.  In qualifying they locked out the front row of the grid for the 61st time, one short of the all-time record, which was held by McLaren and Williams until Ferrari tied it at this season’s Bahrain Grand Prix.  Despite not competing in F1 between 1956 and 2009, the Silver Arrows have almost caught the Scuderia’s entire total.

On Sunday, Hamilton and Bottas gave Mercedes their 49th 1-2 finish, having already surpassed McLaren for the second-highest total in Baku.  Their five 1-2s in 2019 are now one more than Ferrari have managed in this entire decade.

Of the 105 Grands Prix in the hybrid era, 44 of them have ended in a Mercedes 1-2s, a scarcely believable 42% rate of perfection.  With Hamilton having taken an avalanche of wins in that time, this win was the 280th for a British driver, meaning the United Kingdom now has more wins in world championship history than the second and third-most successful nations (Germany have taken 178 and Brazil 101).

It was also fitting that in the last Grand Prix appearance for outgoing Mercedes-Benz chief Dieter Zetsche, a 178th race victory for the company’s engines surpassed Renault for second on the all-time list, leaving only Ferrari (236) with more.

This is a record that passed by many people on Sunday (including Mercedes themselves, who did not mention it in their post-race press release), as Renault’s official win total of only 168 does not count the nine wins taken by Red Bull with a Renault engine rebadged as a TAG Heuer from 2016-18.

Although Mercedes may be statistically likely to win the titles yet again in 2019, the destiny of the driver’s title is far from a foregone conclusion. Valtteri Bottas may have been beaten on Sunday, but he is only seven points off the lead, and took pole on Saturday by a mammoth 0.634s.

In the entire hybrid era, Hamilton has only taken a bigger beating at the hands of a teammate once in a Q3 session, when he was outdone by Nico Rosberg to the tune of 0.704s at the 2016 Singapore GP. Bottas has now taken three consecutive poles for the first time in his career.

Red Bull turned out to be Mercedes’ closest challengers on Sunday, with Max Verstappen claiming his second podium of the season – and Honda’s second podium since returning to F1 in 2015.  The Dutchman has not finished lower than fourth in any race this season and he retook third in the championship as a consequence.  The lack of a win is overshadowing what has been his best-ever start to a season to-date.

Coming into this year we were led to believe that Ferrari were the team to beat, based on their pace-setting form in winter testing on this very track.  This had also been the case heading into the 2018 championship, and if there were any further confirmation needed that winter testing is NOT a reliable indication of true form, Ferrari did most finish on the podium in the Spanish GP in either 2018 or 2019.

Sebastian Vettel was certainly trying, going for a do-and-die late braking move in an attempt to get the lead into turn one, but not only did he fail to depose the Mercedes duo but it also allowed Verstappen to get past – with Vettel picking up a costly flatspot for his troubles.

After Ferrari again let their drivers trip over each other while deciding whether or not to implement team orders, Vettel eventually re-established his advantage over Charles Leclerc to finish fourth.

Leclerc had to be content with fifth place, the position in which he has finished in four of the opening five races.  Although they haven’t finished in exactly the same positions at every race, the same five drivers have filled the top five positions at the first five Grands Prix, an unprecedented occurrence in championship history.

The odd man out among the big three teams has therefore been Pierre Gasly, who has had an indifferent time of things in his first season with Red Bull.  He did at least finish sixth on Sunday, matching his season-best result from Shanghai.

Kevin Magnussen won “best-of-the-rest” honours in the Spanish Grand Prix as the Haas team finally scored points for the first time since Australia.  He beat out Carlos Sainz, who further extended his 100% point-scoring record in his home Grand Prix.  The Spaniard has never finished lower than ninth in his five starts in Barcelona.

Although it is not directly rewarded with points, the McLaren could also celebrate being the fastest team in pitlane for the first time since the 2015 Monaco GP.  Carlos Sainz was turned around in just 2.07s, while teammate Lando Norris was serviced in 2.14s, the two fastest pitstops by any team so far in the 2019 season.

Daniil Kvyat would be well within his rights to have bad memories of the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya, as it was prior to this race in 2016 that he was dropped from his Red Bull drive, being relegated back to his original seat at Toro Rosso.  Yet if he has any bad feelings toward the place it does not reflect in his driving.

Kvyat has now scored points in Spain in his last four appearances here (he missed 2018).  Ninth place on Sunday was the 12th time the Russian has finished in the points for Toro Rosso, yet he has NEVER finished in the top eight for the team, continuing one of the more bizarre streaks on the grid.

Having been out of the race in a spectacular crash on the opening lap of the 2018 Spanish GP, Romain Grosjean not only survived the opening corners this season but also claimed the final point, his first of 2019.  It at least means his campaign hasn’t been quite as fruitless as the early stages of last season, when he didn’t trouble the scorers until the ninth round.

A special mention this week to the Williams team, for whom Spain represented the 50th anniversary of Frank Williams’ first entry as a team owner.  The then 27-year-old Williams entered a privateer Brabham for Piers Courage in the 1969 Spanish GP in Barcelona’s Montjuich Park, and saw his car retire after 18 laps due to engine troubles.

The struggles of one of F1’s oldest teams have been well-documented in 2019, but there are a few rays of daylight breaking through.  George Russell was only 0.408s adrift of the next-fastest car in Q1, the closest a Williams has been to any other team in qualifying this season (doubly encouraging on such a chassis-dependent track).

Williams may not have the pace to compete as yet, but they have certainly achieved reliability – both Russell and his teammate Robert Kubica have finished every race this season.  Making their reliable car fast may prove a somewhat tougher assignment.

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Watch: Highlights of the Spanish Grand Prix