Leclerc and Ferrari Stumble in Spain


It was another 1-2 finish for Red Bull at the Spanish Grand Prix. (Courtesy of Twitter)

This past weekend, Formula 1 returned to the Barcelona Catalunya circuit for the Spanish Grand Prix. Heading into the weekend, all of the cars brought significant upgrades to improve performance as everyone still wraps their heads around the new technical regulations. Most of the prior upgrade packages for the teams were minor, so this was the first major update for several of the teams including Ferrari, Red Bull and Mercedes. This was also the home grand prix for Ferrari driver Carlos Sainz and Alpine driver Fernando Alonso.

The big surprise of the weekend was the Mercedes duo of Lewis Hamilton and George Russell, who posted quick times, another positive step forward as they try to get themselves back into the title fight against both Red Bull and Ferrari. However, it was still Ferrari driver and current championship leader Charles Leclerc who topped all three practice sessions. When it came time for qualifying, Leclerc continued his run of form during the weekend to get pole position, just ahead of Red Bull driver Max Verstappen. Even though Leclerc spun on one of his hot laps, he was still able to secure his fourth pole of the season. Despite qualifying second, the defending champion had to deal with a mechanical issue, specifically with his Drag Reduction System (DRS) which cost him time. Sainz qualified in third just ahead of Russell in fourth. Verstappen’s teammate Sergio Perez qualified in fifth and Hamilton was in sixth.

When the lights went out, Verstappen had a great start but Leclerc was able to defend the lead as they headed into turn one. Sainz, the other Ferrari driver, began with a poor start and was overtaken by both Russell and Perez to put Sainz down into fifth before the first turn. Then at turn four, Hamilton collided with Kevin Magnussen’s Haas which sent them down the grid as they both had to pit at the end of the lap. After a few laps, Leclerc was around one second ahead of Verstappen. Both were building a gap to Russell and had their rear view mirrors filled with Perez as the Red Bull was trying to pass, but to no avail. On lap seven, Sainz went off the track on turn four, spinning into the gravel. He was able to continue but fell down the order to 11th. And on lap nine, Verstappen went off the track in the exact same way as Sainz, falling down to fourth as Russell and Perez passed him, giving Leclerc a big gap that he would be able to control. On lap 11, Red Bull switched the order of their cars to give Verstappen a chance to pass Russell. 

Unfortunately, Verstappen’s technical gremlins continued as he was unable to open his DRS, making it harder to overtake Russell. Both Russell and Verstappen pitted on lap 13 as they resumed their battle with Verstappen, still unable to pass due to the DRS issue. Perez pitted on lap 17 as he started to lose touch with the pair ahead. Meanwhile on lap 22, Leclerc pitted for new tires and emerged with a five second advantage to second placed Russell. Verstappen had another attempt on lap 24, but Russell was able to retain the position. 

As Russell and Verstappen kept fighting, this let Leclerc build his gap up to 12 seconds and it seemed as if he was going to dominate the race and stroll to victory. However on lap 27, he started to slow down and was immediately on the radio saying that there was an issue with the engine. This forced Leclerc to retire from the race, meaning that the Russell/Verstappen battle was now a battle for the race lead. On lap 29, Verstappen pitted again in an undercut attempt but Russell didn’t respond. On lap 31, Perez was able to overtake Russell for the race lead. Meanwhile, during all of this, Verstappen was quickly catching up to Russell and Perez with his fresher and newer tires. Then on lap 36, Verstappen had just caught up to Russell when the Briton dived into the pits for new tires, promoting Verstappen into second. Perez pitted on lap 37 giving Verstappen the lead ahead of Perez who moved to second and Russell in third. 

At this point, Verstappen now had around a pit stop length to Russell and Red Bull made sure to use on lap 44, when Verstappen pitted for a third time and just got out ahead of Russell, ensuring that it remained a Red Bull 1-2 with Perez in the lead. On lap 49, Perez was ordered to let Verstappen pass to retake the lead of the race. Meanwhile in the rest of the pack, Hamilton was making terrific progress and was up into seventh while Sainz was in fifth after their early mistakes. Russell pitted shortly after Verstappen and fell down to fourth just behind Valtteri Bottas’ Alfa Romeo but was quickly able to retake Bottas for third. Perez pitted after that and remained in second. Meanwhile both Sainz and Hamilton were flying and catching up to Bottas. On lap 58, both were able to overtake Bottas as he fell down to sixth. As for Hamilton, he wasn’t done. On lap 60, he was able to pass Sainz for fourth. However, with only a few laps remaining, both Mercedes cars were told to slow down because both cars had the risk to retire which forced Hamilton to give the position back to Sainz.

After 66 laps, Verstappen crossed the finish line to win the Spanish Grand Prix with Perez in second to make it another Red Bull 1-2. Russell rounded out the podium in third with Sainz in fourth and Hamilton an incredible fifth after a poor start with Hamilton retiring the car to save the engine. With Red Bull getting the maximum points along with Leclerc’s retirement, Ferrari have lost the lead in both the Drivers’ and Constructors’ championships with Verstappen taking the lead in the drivers and Red Bull taking the lead in the constructors. You can take a look at the full standings here.

The next race is this weekend at the historic Monaco Grand Prix. With this being one of the tightest and toughest tracks to overtake at, expect qualifying to take even more importance. One thing to note is that even though Leclerc is from Monaco, he has had a poor record at his home circuit, failing to finish every time he has started. However, with Ferrari losing their leads in both standings, expect them to bounce back in Monaco. With Mercedes appearing to finally get their car sorted out, expect them to be closer to both Ferrari and Red Bull as all of the teams continue to get to grips with the new era of cars.