Formula One brought the heat to Spain this weekend as track temperatures topped 100°F and drama ensued on Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya.
Max Verstappen took the victory despite a hard-fought defensive battle with George Russell, who held the edge over the Red Bull drivers for a significant portion of the first half of the race but finished third. Sergio Pérez came in second, and there’s one notable team missing—Ferrari.
Carlos Sainz, who spun into the gravel early in the race but recovered, was the only one to finish the race, coming in fourth. Meanwhile, the now-former leader in the driver standings, Charles Leclerc, held the lead up until lap 27 when he lost power, forcing him to retire.
Ferrari has yet to release what caused the issue.
Verstappen, though, has won every race that he has finished this season, going 4 for 4, and Red Bull takes its second 1-2 finish of the season. But Pérez said after the race: “I’m happy for the team, but we need to speak later.”
Here’s three takeaways from the Spanish Grand Prix.
Verstappen recovers from an early error
The drama came in full force in Spain with the wind playing a supporting character in the narrative.
Verstappen watched as Sainz spun into the gravel of Turn 4 only on the seventh lap. And just two laps later, the Dutchman committed a similar error thanks to the wind—a half-spin changing the race.
The Dutchman ended up behind Russell, and DRS (drag reduction system) was not the most reliable option for Verstappen as it struggled to stay open (or even open at all) at some points. He said at one point over the team radio, “Because I’m pressing it 50 times before it opens.”
Russell managed to keep Verstappen behind him for 19 laps, but a change in strategy from Red Bull posed a threat to Mercedes.
Verstappen pitted for soft tires, giving him the ability to climb in clean air. He stopped once more for mediums later on, edging him past Russell with only teammate Pérez ahead in the lead.
Red Bull arguably made some questionable decisions with their drivers, electing to prioritize Verstappen over Pérez. At the end of the day, Verstappen is racing to defend his world championship title. Pérez said at one point in the race, “Get Max out of the way so I can overtake quickly.” Later, when Pérez was leading the race, he was told “We’re on a different to Max. If he’s quicker, you let him through.”
Pérez responded, “That’s very unfair, but okay.”
Mercedes’ improvements give Hamilton a boost
Heading into the weekend, there was hope within the Mercedes garage.
The team made possibly pivotal improvements to the car after Miami, and it showed as Lewis Hamilton and Russell made their ways through practice and came in sixth and fourth, respectively, in qualifying. Hamilton was just 0.762s off from Leclerc’s pole position time, which he noted after qualifying that he was “in the same position I was in the last race,” per motorsport.com.
But disaster struck for Hamilton as he collided with Kevin Magnussen in the first lap, dropping him down to P19. But with Mercedes confident that the British star could finish in points despite the collision, Hamilton started steadily climbing the grid.
He made it as high as P4 before he saw the warning of cooling issues in the final laps, letting Sainz by and finishing in P5—all without a single safety car.
Meanwhile, Russell is the only driver to continuously finish in the top five this season, and arguably earned the unofficial title of defensive champion after Barcelona.
The 24-year-old joined the team from Williams, and managed to hold off Verstappen and Pérez for a majority of the race. Although the Red Bull drivers made their way past the young rising star, he held on to score his second podium this season.
“So proud to be standing here,” Russell said. “This is for everyone back at Brackley and Brixworth. I’m pleased to bring it home in P3.”
It may be too early to tell for sure, but there arguably could be a three-team dash to the finish this season if Mercedes is truly back and battling with Ferrari and Red Bull.
World Championship driver standings shaken up
Leclerc had a narrow 19-point lead over Verstappen heading into Barcelona, but the forced early retirement—the Ferrari star’s first of the season—dropped him and the team.
The Dutchman now leads the grid with 110 points with Leclerc right behind him by just six points. Pérez is in a distant third with 85, and Russell narrows the gap of fourth with 74 points.
Red Bull leads the Constructor standings with 195 points compared to Ferrari’s 169. Mercedes, though, is in a distant third with 120. The next closest team to the trio is McLaren with 50 points.
“My DRS not working made it tough,” Verstappen said after the race. “A difficult beginning but a good end. I’m very happy to win and also very happy for Checo. A great result for the team.”
Verstappen is tied for 11th on the all-time F1 wins list with 24 victories, just three away from No. 8.
Next up: Monaco Grand Prix.
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