Although the Spanish GP was more about tyre management and pit stop strategies, it still provided an intriguing spectacle for die-hard F1 fans.
May 10, 11, 12, 2013
Pirelli yet again brought the medium and hard tyre compounds for the Spanish Grand Prix. It was early Christmas for the teams even as the tyre maker offered an extra set of tyres for free practice as well. As in Bahrain, the compounds were expected to favour the likes of Red Bull Racing, Lotus and Ferrari although pundits were quick to dismiss the chances of Mercedes who have struggled with tyre degradation and unusually heavy wear in the season so far.
Q1 saw the exit of last year’s winner, Pastor Maldonado of Williams-Renault and his team-mate Valtterri Bottas, Guido Van Der Garde and Charles Pic, Caterham, and Jules Bianchi and Max Chilton, Marussia.
The Mercedes team topped the time-sheets with Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg clocking 1:21:728s and 1:21.913s respectively. Interestingly, Kimi Raikkonen of Lotus put in a time of 1:22:210s on the hard compound tyres and that too after being held up by the Sauber of Esteban Gutierrez.
Q2 continued in the same vein with Hamilton waiting it out until the last minute of the session to top the time-sheets with a run of 1:20:001s followed by Sebastian Vettel, Red Bull, Fernando Alonso, Ferrari and Raikkonen, Lotus. Mark Webber, Red Bull Racing, Nico Rosberg, Mercedes, Sergio Perez, McLaren, Felipe Massa, Ferrari, Romain Grosjean, Lotus and Paul Di Resta, Force India, made the cut while Jensen Button, McLaren was the one upset among the top drivers not to make the Top 10 for Q3.
With less than two minutes to go in Q3, a string of cars hit the circuit including Alonso, Raikkonen, Vettel, Rosberg and Hamilton. Rosberg set the fastest time of 1:20:728s, followed by team-mate Hamilton who was a mere 2/10ths of a second behind.
Final Line-up: 1. Nico Rosberg (Mercedes), Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes), 3. Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull), 4. Kimi Raikkonen (Lotus), 5. Fernando Alonso (Ferrari), 6. Felipe Massa (Ferrari), 7. Romain Grosjean (Lotus), 8. Mark Webber (Red Bull), 9. Sergio Perez (McLaren), 10. Paul Di Resta (Force India).
Race Laps 1 – 20
Rosberg got off to a decent start to maintain his pole position at the start of the race but team-mate Hamilton locked a wheel into Turn 1 and had to concede track position to Vettel who stormed his way from the outside to slot in just behind the leader.
Meanwhile, Alonso in the Ferrari blazed his way from the left side of the track to first lock wheels with Hamilton and then sweep past him and Raikkonen into third place. It was brilliant, fully committed racing from the Spaniard on a circuit where overtaking is difficult, if not impossible.
Raikkonen was down into 5th place, continuing his terrible streak with race starts. Down the grid, Perez and Massa battled it out for track position with the former pushing the Brazilian wide only to lose the place by the start of Lap 2. At this stage both the Ferraris were showing terrific race pace and seemed to be flying past the competition even without DRS enabled!
That duly happened in the middle of Lap 3 and immediately, Vettel began to close in on Rosberg while Raikkonen set about pressurizing Hamilton. But status quo was maintained well into the 6th Lap with the magnificent string of cars all within half a second of each other. At this point, 19 cars were separated by a mere 15 seconds!
It wasn’t until the middle of Lap 7 that Raikkonen finally made his move on Hamilton; zipping to the inside of the Mercedes and making an opportunistic pass stick. Meanwhile, Mark Webber who had been languishing in P13 was called in to the pits in Lap 8 and loaded with a fresh set of hard compound tyres. The Red Bull strategy was to change things around and push hard from here on given that Webber still had a couple of hard sets of rubber available for the remainder of the race.
Lap 8 saw Hamilton struggle with brake and tyre issues and that made it easy for Massa to pass him and claim track position at P5. As was the case in Bahrain, the Mercedes was losing ground alarmingly. However, Ferrari chose to give up the position by pitting Massa at the end of the lap and getting him on to the hard compound tyres. Massa rejoined the field at P14.
More pit action was in store at the top of Lap 9 with Adrian Sutil, Force India and Romain Grosjean, Lotus limping back into the garage with mechanical failures. The race had ended for the French driver but the Force India crew were able to douse the smoke emanating from Sutil’s rear brakes and send him back out, albeit after what seemed like eons in the pits.
Alonso made his first stop at the start of Lap 10 and changed his tyre to the hard compound as did Mercedes’ Hamilton. They were followed in quick succession by all three leaders – Rosberg, Vettel and Raikkonen. Of these, only the Finn went back in on medium compound tyres.
Ferrari’s strategy of pitting Alonso earlier than the leaders bore rich dividends when he managed to get ahead of Sebastian Vettel at the pit lane apex in order to move himself in to P3 just behind Rosberg. The home boy was now storming down the tail of the German.
In the middle of the field, Jensen Button, McLaren had sneaked his way into P6 after a very early pit-stop at the start of the race. But Raikkonen on fresher tyres had started to gain on him and very soon passed him comfortably at Turn 10 to claim the position. At this point in the race, Esteban Gutierrez of Sauber led the race for the very first time in his fledgling F1 career followed by Rosberg who had somehow managed to ward off the marauding Alonso.
Meanwhile, Mark Webber who went down the field to P17 was back in P7 driving beautifully on his set of fresh hard tyres. It was clear that the Red Bull strategy of pitting him earlier than planned, was working perfectly and a podium finish seemed on the cards.
Alonso’s frustration at being stuck behind a persevering Rosberg finally came to an end at the start of Lap 13 as he swept past the German at Turn 1 driving the home fans to frenzy. With Gutierrez yet to pit, the legion of Alonso fans sensed that it was going to be his day!
That move was also the cue for Vettel and Massa to start attacking Rosberg and at Turn 6 blew past him to take P3. Massa too was now on the rear wing waiting to make his move from P5 which he duly accomplished in the next couple of turns.
Rosberg’s misery was not over because now Raikkonen started to gain on him. By Lap 15, the Finn made his pass on Rosberg to snatch P4. As in Bahrain, the Mercedes was now being gobbled up by the cars behind!
Within a span of a few seconds, the leader board had changed drastically with Alonso leading followed by Vettel, Massa, Raikkonen and Rosberg. But the race was now becoming increasingly about tyre management rather than flat out racing. All the drivers were now intent on saving their rubber rather than battling for track position.
However, Vettel and Webber in the Red Bulls were now flagging with Massa rapidly gaining on the German and Perez in the McLaren and Paul Di Resta, Force India starting to threaten Webber. Before that could happen, Daniel Ricciardo who until now had been driving a superb race, slotted past Di Resta to put himself in P8. Di Resta however, pitted in the same lap.
End of Lap 20: 1. Fernando Alonso (Ferrari) 2. Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull) 3. Felipe Massa (Ferrari) 4. Kimi Raikkonen (Lotus) 5. Nico Rosberg (Mercedes) 6. Mark Webber (Red Bull) 7. Sergio Perez (McLaren) 8. Daniel Ricciardo (STR-Ferrari) 9. Lewis Hamilton (McLaren) 10. Nico Hulkenberg (Sauber).
Race Laps 21 – 40
Felipe Massa came into the pits at the top of Lap 21 for his second stop allowing Kimi Raikkonen to move into 3rd place. He was fitted with another set of brand new hard tyres and rejoined the field at P11. Race leader Alonso followed in the very next lap released. With a rash of pit stops at the middle of the field, Massa too managed to work his way up to P5.
The Ferraris were yet again back in contention for the podium spots considering that the current leaders, Vettel, Raikkonen and Rosberg (P4) had only made one pit-stop each and were due for tyre change. However, with Massa having opened up the slot for Raikkonen, the Finn was now flying in clean air and had come within 7/10ths of a second behind the current race leader, Vettel.
The German world champion made his second stop in Lap 24 and finally released Raikkonen to lead the race for the first time in the Spanish Grand Prix. Alonso meanwhile, was lapping some three seconds faster and had now come within 5.8 seconds of the leading Lotus.
Towards the back of the field, Webber started to make steady progress after easily passing an increasingly dejected Hamilton. To make matters even worse for him, Di Resta in the Force India breezed past with effortless ease. In yet another Mercedes-Red Bull shoot-out, Vettel blasted away from Rosberg in Lap 26. The Mercedes campaign after a great qualifying was now in tatters!
Raikkonen finally relinquished his hard-fought leadership position in the same lap to free up Alonso at the top of the field. Interestingly though, the Iceman was put back on medium compound tyres and rejoined the race at P4.
By Lap 30 Kimi was hot on the heels of P3 Vettel. The intriguing, edge-of-the-seat dogfight continued well into Lap 33 when the Finn finally made a stupendous pass on Turn 14 to wrest the position. Raikkonen was well and truly flying on his medium tyres but still 18 seconds behind the Ferrari of Alonso.
Alonso duly made his third stop at the start of Lap 37 yet again yielding the first place to Raikkonen but with the advantage of being on a fresher set of hard tyres overtook him on the main straight at the start of Lap 39. Raikkonen was now into 13 laps on the same set of medium compounds yet again proving that he was the master at tyre management.
End of Lap 40: 1. Fernando Alonso (Ferrari) 2. Kimi Raikkonen (Lotus) 3. Felipe Massa (Ferrari) 4. Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull) 5. Mark Webber (Red Bull) 6. Nico Rosberg (Mercedes) 7. Daniel Ricciardo (STR-Ferrari) 8. Esteban Gutierrez (Sauber) 9. Jensen Button (McLaren) 10. Paul Di Resta (Force India).
Race Laps 41 – 60
Lap 41 witnessed a battle royal between Gutierrez, Sauber and Button in the McLaren. The rookie driver managed to hold off Button but had to finally concede the place towards the end of the lap when the 2009 World Champion slipped past him to put himself in 7th place.
The remainder of the field remained pretty much the same by Lap 44 with Alonso leading the race followed by Raikkonen (+7.656s), Massa (+9.252s), Vettel (+14.033s) and Webber (+8.937s). But Alonso was pulling away quickly from Raikkonen and widening the gap in every sector and Massa too was putting in some truly fast lap times to close in on Kimi.
Given the pressure applied by the Brazilian driver, Raikkonen was called in on Lap 46 for his third and possibly his last pit stop of the race. He was fitted with a brand new set of hard compound tyres and rejoined the field at P4 – the first time in the race that he was on the harder prime rubber.
By the start of Lap 47, Alonso was ahead of Raikkonen in P3 by 29.498 seconds and Massa by nearly 19 seconds, thereby making it a foregone conclusion that he could make his 4th pit-stop and still continue to lead the field quite comfortably. Massa and Vettel – both their cars on medium compound tyres – were due for their last stops with 19 laps still to go.
Alonso made his final pit-stop in Lap 49 and came back out on hard compound tyres and stayed ahead of Raikkonen and team-mate Massa at the pit exit.
The Ferrari team finally got Massa in for his last stop at the head of Lap 52 as did the Red Bull team with Vettel. Both went back on hard tyres and rejoined the race at P3 and P4 respectively.
Enjoying the traction and grip that the fresh rubber was affording Alonso, the two-time World Champion had opened up a 10 second lead at the top of the field ahead of the second placed Raikkonen. He increased that to over 12.6 seconds by the start of the 56th lap.
At the centre of the field, there were a couple of mini battles taking place between the Mercedes and Force India teams. Rosberg was defending 6th place from Di Resta while Lewis Hamilton and Adrian Sutil were scrapping it out for 12th.
The other interesting contest was between the old suspects and team-mates Button and Perez for P9. As was witnessed in Bahrain, Perez was not going to let the more illustrious partner to dictate terms being as he was on hard compound tyres which were 4 laps fresher than Buttn’s. However, team orders were sent out to the Mexican driver requesting him to hold station
End of Lap 60: 1. Fernando Alonso (Ferrari) 2. Kimi Raikkonen (Lotus) 3. Felipe Massa (Ferrari) 4. Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull) 5. Mark Webber (Red Bull) 6. Nico Rosberg (Mercedes) 7. Paul Di Resta (Force India) 8. Jensen Button (McLaren) 9. Sergio Perez (McLaren) 10. Daniel Ricciardo (STR-Ferrari).
Race Laps 61 – 66
The top 10 maintained their positions in Lap 61 as the time gaps between cars remained constant with Alonso taking full advantage of the clean air in front of him as did Massa who was driving wonderfully at this stage. The Ferrari strategy was to allow Massa to go as fast as he could in order to catch Raikkonen in 2nd place thereby making it a one-two for the Italian automotive giant.
The strategy was fraught with risk considering that Massa could blow his tyres in the bargain leaving him little leeway in the race in terms of pit-stops. The fight was all but given up with his left rear tyres showing heavy graining that resulted in him lapping almost three seconds slower.
Meanwhile, the joust between Rosberg and Di Resta continued through to Lap 64 when the Scot narrowly missed a passing chance on the main straight. At this point, Di Resta was a mere .339 seconds behind the Mercedes driver.
There were no last-minute spills or thrills in the final lap as all the cars held their positions leaving Alonso a clear winner followed by Raikkonen and Massa.
Although not a great race by any standards, considering that it was more about tyre management and pit stop strategies rather than pure racing, the championship had been spiced up just enough to keep all the front-runners – read Vettel, Raikkonen and Alonso – within sniffing distance of the 2013 World Championship.
Final Standings: 1. Fernando Alonso (Ferrari) 2. Kimi Raikkonen (Lotus) 3. Felipe Massa (Ferrari) 4. Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull) 5. Mark Webber (Red Bull) 6. Nico Rosberg (Mercedes) 7. Paul Di Resta (Force India) 8. Jensen Button (McLaren) 9. Sergio Perez (McLaren) 10. Daniel Ricciardo (STR-Ferrari).
Next edition: The Spanish GP Stats Sheet