2015 Spanish F1 Grand Prix makes its Deutsche mark
Mercedes-AMG Petronas driver Nico Rosberg brought a big update to his psychology, straight-up beating teammate Lewis Hamilton to take his first pole position of the season. Mercedes owns the front row and Ferrari maintains its status as primary challenger, Sebastian Vettel lining up in third. Williams proved it's been hitting the books to do better in class, though, Valtteri Bottas slotting into fourth. And Toro Rosso's visit to a track that rewards strong aero rewarded them with the best team grid position since the Italian Grand Prix in 2008: Carlos Sainz secured fifth, ahead of Max Verstappen in sixth.
Kimi Räikkönen's bout of Saturday woes – it seems the Finn is always handicapped by lots of tiny issues – continued in Barcelona with one of his sets of prime tires getting cooked by malfunctioning tire warmers. He recovered well enough to take seventh on the grid, but he's got some strong competition ahead of him. He led three other drivers in the Continuous Issues department, Daniil Kvyat unable to wrestle his Infiniti Red Bull Racing higher than eighth, Williams driver Felipe Massa getting it wrong in Turn 3 to fall five places behind his teammate Bottas, and Daniel Ricciardo in the second Red Bull enduring another engine change and sloppy car behavior to get tenth.
And while it turned out to be a steady race a little rough around the edges, the positions on the battlefield just might have changed. A little.
Of the 66 laps in the race we might have seen Rosberg for three of them – maybe. The German got a smashing start, had a clear lead into Turn 1, and after that we checked in occasionally during his two pit stops and again at the checkered flag. He owned the entire weekend the way we're used to seeing his teammate do, and the cameras left him alone to run his race. No one got within seven seconds of him during the first third, and as the pit stop strategies played out that cushion grew. He finished seventeen seconds ahead of Hamilton, and 45 seconds ahead of third-placed Vettel.
Hamilton, on the back foot all three days, stumbled out of the gate. His rear wheels spun when taking off on the formation lap, then did so again at the start, and he got swamped in the dash to Turn 1 but limited the damage to getting passed by Vettel. Unable to get around the Ferrari because his car wouldn't behave when he closed the gap, then suffering a botched wheel change during his first pit stop on Lap 14, he nevertheless switched to a three-stop strategy to get around the Ferrari toward the end of the middle stint. He then rang off a bunch of fast laps on the hard compound tire. Hamilton fought to nearly the end, until he realized there was no way he was going to catch Rosberg, then settled for second place. Not the result he wanted, but considering his start and the difficulty in overtaking in Jerez, second place wasn't a bad recovery.
There's a good chance commentators will continue to dissect Ferrari's tactics for Vettel in this race. When Hamilton switched to a three-stopper, Ferrari stuck with two stops and didn't bring Vettel in to cover Hamilton's move. When the Brit reeled off blistering laps, there was nothing the German could do to recover the time, third place his best fate after completing his second stop on Lap 41. Vettel said the Mercedes was too much for the Ferrari anyway, but in that case it seemed even stranger not to play the daring hand.
Valtteri Bottas tried to keep his Williams in the game up front and switched to a two-stop strategy, but after a mostly quiet race he then spent the last six laps fighting off Kimi Räikkönen. Both Finns have proved they won't crack when they have the right tools: Bottas using his power unit's extra boost to keep Räikkönen from getting close enough to pass on the front and back straights. It was a replay of Bahrain, in fact, when he worked the same playbook to keep Vettel behind him. Bottas and Räikkönen crossed the line less than a second apart in fourth and fifth places. Felipe Massa in the second Williams came home sixth, barely seen for the entire grand prix and the last man not to be lapped.
The final four top-ten finishers, Daniel Ricciardo, Romain Grosjean in the Lotus, Carlos Sainz, and Daniil Kvyat, seemed to be constantly mixing it up until their order settled down on Lap 30. Ricciardo duked it out a couple of times with the Toro Rosso drivers, who went backward once the race began. Grosjean came together with his teammate Pastor Maldonado on Lap 9, leading to Maldonado running his race until retiring on Lap 43 with a rear wing missing a right endplate. Sainz and Kvyat, in another bout of sister-team rivalry, fought for a few laps at the end of the race and their cars touched, Sainz coming out on top and avoiding a penalty from the stewards, but it's likely that Red Bull won't want to see that kind of bumping and grinding again.
Hamilton still leads the Driver's Championship with 111 points, but Rosberg's win gets him to 91 points, just a win and a Hamilton retirement from the top of the chart. Vettel lurks in third with 80 points. Mercedes' third one-two of the season gets them to 202 points in the Constructor's Championship, ahead of Ferrari with 132 and Williams with 81. The next race is in Monaco in two weeks, a race Rosberg has won the last two years and that Hamilton hasn't won since 2008. If Rosberg can take it again this year – but fairly – we might have a European season to start cheering about. We'll see you then.
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