The Spanish Grand Prix's 2.892-mile Circuit de Catalunya is considered a preview for the rest of the season, since it's a combination of long front straight and twisting middle sectors mimic sections from every other Formula One track to follow. After the long break following the flyaway races to open the season, teams and fans have also been looking forward to this race to see if anyone had a realistic hope of catching Mercedes AMG Petronas; Infiniti Red Bull Racing honcho Christian Horner boiled his team's outlook for the season down to the line, "We've got to [beat them in Spain] if we're going to make a championship of it."
If we take that as our starting point then the weekend began as a bust. Lewis Hamilton only just beat Mercedes teammate Nico Rosberg for pole, the Brit's final effort getting him 0.178 seconds clear of the German. Daniel Ricciardo, proving Red Bull is at least the best of the rest, took third but did so more than a second behind Hamilton. Valtteri Bottas of Williams lined up fourth, almost 1.5 second behind and Romain Grosjean delivered overdue good news for Lotus by taking fifth on the grid, more than 1.7 seconds behind pole. Kimi Räikkönen in sixth outqualified his Ferrari teammate Fernando Alonso in seventh, but he couldn't be happy about it because the Ferraris were nearly two seconds behind, and Jenson Button in eighth in the McLaren was more than two second behind. Felipe Massa put the second Williams in ninth, and Sebastian Vettel overcame a terrible start to the weekend to make it into Q3, then didn't set a time when his gearbox failed, then got dropped five places to 15th on the grid when the gearbox had to be changed.
When the lights went out, then came the boom...
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As in the one Mercedes lowered on the rest of the field. Hamilton got away clean again, keeping first position into Turn 1 and laying time into the field. His teammate stayed within a few seconds but couldn't pass, then went to the Bahrain playbook and tried a different tire strategy. After playing follow-the-leader until their final pit stops, Rosberg took on medium tires while Hamilton was on hards, and closed the gap right up. Sticking to the Bahrain book, though, even with closing the gap to less than a second and getting to use DRS Rosberg couldn't get past and – yet again – had to settle for second.
Ricciardo secured third place 49 seconds behind the leading duo, and it looks like this time he'll get to keep his trophy. The young Aussie got passed by Bottas off the line, and after making a couple of unsuccessful, long-shot attempts to pass the Finn he settled in to wait for the first round of pit stops to work their passing magic. He duly came out ahead of the Williams and said himself that it was a pretty boring race after that as no one was able to challenge him for the position. Vettel followed him in fourth, the German coursing through the field throughout the race and pulling off quite a few impressive passes on track like those on Räikkönen and Bottas in the final stint. The next race in Monaco probably won't be representative, but we'll find out after that in Canada if Vettel has finally come to grips with the RB10, after a trouble-plagued opening to the season that has had people wondering if he was given Mark Webber's car, or at least Mark Webber's luck.
Bottas brought his Williams home in fifth, the team's massive upgrade package paying off and showing that Williams' form isn't a fluke.
Alonso's was the first Ferrari to cross the line, ahead of the lapped Räikkönen. A new plotline opened up at the Scuderia when Räikkönen, who stopped twice and led the three-stopping Alonso nearly the entire race, got passed by his teammate on fresher tires three laps from the end. Räikkönen didn't like the pit strategy and asked his team on the radio, "Who made these calls?", then said after the race that he would "want to clear up a few things and that's all." It could be something but hopefully it's nothing, because the last thing Ferrari needs is more distractions – last year's Spanish Grand Prix was the last time the scarlet team won a race.
Grosjean, hampered by a calibration issue on his Renault power unit, brought his Lotus home in eighth. It's less than he would have wanted having started in fifth, but since those are the first points the team has scored all season everyone will be relieved to finally break the seal. His teammate Pastor Maldonado, on the other hand, brought his money to Lotus and his black cloud; the Venezuelan suffered crashed out of qualifying in a mystifying incident he said wasn't his fault, then in the race clobbered the Caterham of Marcus Ericsson on the first lap and, for that, earned a five-second stop-go penalty and another penalty point on his license, taking him to four. Lotus is another team that would like to avoid more drama, the black-and-gold crew subtly called out by Renault for not having paid its engine bills.
Force India claimed the final two top ten position, Sergio Perez finishing ahead of Nico Hülkenberg for ninth and tenth. The Mexican moved up three places from his starting position, the German started and ended in the same place after being promoted to tenth on the grid following Vettel's demotion. It meant another three points for Force India, but that relatively meager haul means they drop behind Ferrari to fourth in the Constructor's Championship.
Lewis Hamilton, however, climbs to first in the Driver's Championship with his win. His fourth win in five races and his first at Catalunya puts him on 100 points, just a tiny step ahead of Rosberg on 97 points. From there it's a long drop down to Alonso with 49 points, Vettel with 45 and Ricciardo with 39. Over on the Constructor's side, the fourth consecutive one-two for The Silver Arrows gives them 197 points compared to Red Bull's 84 and Ferrari's 66. If Catalunya really is a test for the rest of the season, then Mercedes has ruined the curve for everyone and the other teams might want to switch their grading options to Pass/Fail.
But that would be silly. The totally uncharacteristic Monaco is next – a race Rosberg won last year and beat Hamilton at the year before – and while 49 seconds is an insane amount of time to overcome, we've seen how far Red Bull has come and we're only a quarter of the way through the season. The odds don't look good, we'll admit, but to paraphrase Lloyd Christmas, 'we're sayin' there's a chance.'