Mercedes Masterclass


Max Verstappen overtook Lewis Hamilton at the start, but was unable to convert that to a victory at the Spanish Grand Prix. (Courtesy of Twitter)

Last week, the 2021 Formula 1 season continued with the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya for the annual Spanish Grand Prix. The Spanish Grand Prix is usually one of the more “boring” tracks in recent history, with a huge emphasis on grid position since it is hard to overtake around the 2.9-mile circuit. 

On Saturday, Mercedes took another pole position courtesy of Lewis Hamilton. However, this pole carried more significance because it is a new record. This was Hamilton’s 100th pole of his career, making him the first driver in history to ever hit that milestone. Red Bull’s Max Verstappen lined up in second followed by Hamilton’s teammate Valteri Bottas.

When the lights went out, Verstappen blitzed into the lead and immediately put Hamilton under attack on the opening straight. Verstappen used his lightning start to pass the reigning champion in the first turn. Verstappen then remained in the lead while Hamilton was hot on his heels. 

On lap nine, the safety car was brought out for the Alpha Tauri of Yuki Tsunoda, as his car stopped on track. At the restart, Verstappen led Hamilton ahead of the Ferrari of Charles Leclerc, followed by Bottas who fell down to fourth at the start. When the safety car entered the pits, Verstappen and Hamilton quickly sped away from the rest of the pack.

On lap 24, Verstappen was under immense pressure from Hamilton and made the call to enter the pits for new tires. Hamilton then inherited the lead and stayed out for a couple of more laps until lap 28 where Verstappen retook the lead during Hamilton’s pit stop. With fresher tires, Hamilton kept on applying pressure but was unable to get past Verstappen due to the difficulty of overtaking on the circuit.

Hamilton remained on Verstappen’s gearbox until lap 42 where he entered the pits once again on a bold strategy call by Mercedes. This once again gave Hamilton fresh tires but it posed a massive decision for Red Bull to either pit again and risk first due to a bad pit stop, or to stay out and hope that the massive gap was enough to finish on the current tires. Red Bull opted for track position and Verstappen stayed out. After Hamilton’s second pit stop, he was 22 seconds behind, but with new tires, he was projected to catch and possibly overtake Verstappen on the final lap.

Now Hamilton was on the hunt, taking precious seconds out of Verstappen’s lead as the laps kept dwindling down. On lap 60, Hamilton finally caught up to Verstappen and easily passed him with his fresher tires to retake the lead. After 66 laps, Hamilton claimed the victory, followed by Verstappen and then Bottas to round out the podium. This was a Mercedes and Hamilton masterclass in strategy, effectively controlling the race even when they were not in the lead. 

Full race results and both drivers and constructor championships are here. The next race is this week at Monaco for one of the most historic tracks on the calendar. Overtaking is nearly impossible there due to its street circuit layout, meaning that qualifying will take even more importance. Red Bull and Verstappen need to win this race to keep the pressure on the reigning champions. Luckily for them, Red Bull has had success in Monaco so they will be aiming to repeat the past as the championship battle rages on.