F1 – Spanish GP – Race
Hola, MiniFans! A dark sky greeted us today, expectations risen for at least a bit of rain during the race, a few drops even coming down to play before the start, but the forecast wasn’t being kind to fans. However, that doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy one more day of racing where we could see either Hamilton converting his 100th pole into a win or Verstappen winning his 100th race with Red Bull.
The start was clean as it could be, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t filled with excitement. Verstappen sneaked up on Hamilton and overtook him in the first corner, not giving the Mercedes any more space than necessary. Just right behind them, Leclerc also got past Bottas. Ricciardo and his McLaren were the other ones to get a great start, climbing up two positions. A few laps later, Tsunoda’s engine gave up on him, prompting a safety car and the first stops for mediums for some of the bottom cars, including a weird pit stop for Giovinazzi, in which his mechanics realised one of the tyres they were going to put on him was punctured.
Verstappen restarted the race catching Hamilton by surprise and managing to squeeze a few tenths in between them, while Alonso and Stroll fought for the last place in the points. Meanwhile, Gasly got handed a five-second penalty for being outside of position at the start. As usual, Hamilton’s radio was filled with commentary on his tyres despite his setting the fastest lap of the race, not really leaving Verstappen’s rear and very slowly closing the gap until he was in DRS range, probably gauging the possibility of an undercut. This strategy was seemingly cut short by Red Bull, who pitted Verstappen but didn’t deliver one of the lighting quick performances we are used to seeing due to one tyre mechanic still not in place when Verstappen stopped his car. Mercedes kept Hamilton on track, trying to gain more time on them. Mazepin, who has become some kind of moving obstacle, was complained about by Toto Wolff on radio after he didn’t allow Hamilton to pass him without problems, making him lose a bit of time.
After their little encounter on track and Mercedes finally calling Hamilton into the pits, Hamilton came back in second, albeit with a slightly fresher set of tyres than those of his closest rivals and still hungry for victory. The Mercedes kept pulling laps up to one and a half seconds faster that Verstappen’s, but at this point it wasn’t clear whether it was due to the Red Bull taking care of his tyres or the Mercedes working better. Whatever the case, both cars remained within a one second window once Hamilton reached Verstappen.
With a bit more than twenty laps to go, Mercedes changed plans seemingly on the fly, pitting Hamilton and sending Red Bull into a frenzy about whether to pit or not. They decided against it, as by the time he was back on the last corner, the numbers didn’t add up and risked going to the end with the same set they had on. A twenty two second gap meant that Hamilton could get to him on the last laps if their times kept up, but it also meant that Verstappen would have to defend himself with tyres that were eighteen laps older than Hamilton’s.
As the number of laps left trickled down, so did the gap between the drivers – always ignoring Bottas, who was in second yet in no man’s land – who would fight for the win. Hamilton was soon being let through by his teammate, who pitted again for softs. Verstappen and Leclerc, currently in first and third, would suffer during the last laps of the race, as their tyres were as old as Bottas’ yet they remained out. Once Hamilton was within a second of Verstappen, it was all over for Red Bull and their old tyres. One quick DRS overtake later, Red Bull gave Verstappen a set of softs to at least get the fastest lap point.
The fight went down to the last handful of laps, both main characters being the expected ones, even if the battle didn’t take part in the predicted fashion. After an incredible start that left Verstappen leading the race almost until the end, due to Mercedes going for an aggressive strategy after realising it’d be a two-stop race, Hamilton spent almost his whole race tracking him down to win his fifth consecutive Spanish Grand Prix and sixth overall.