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Hamilton reigns in Spain

NEWS STORY
12/05/2019

While Max Verstappen has the common sense to admit that Mercedes is out of reach and that therefore he and Red Bull will target Ferrari, Sebastian Vettel appears to have taken leave of his senses.

Having posted a best time 0.8s adrift of pole-man Valtteri Bottas yesterday, Vettel claims that Ferrari's hopes rest on something "daring" the Italian team has planned.

Well, unless it is ordering Charles Leclerc to lay down in the middle of the track or putting laxatives in Bottas' porridge, we cannot think what it can be. After all, strategy is hardly the Maranello outfit's strong point at present.

Not wanting to go down the clickbait route - as if - one cannot help but feel that, despite the rhetoric, there is a little edginess creeping into the relationship between the two Mercedes drivers.

Hamilton's comments earlier this week about Bottas benefitting from his old engineer were unnecessary, and it was clear that the Briton wasn't happy following yesterday's qualifying session. Then again, despite another front row lock-out Toto Wolff was hardly the life and soul of the celebrations.

Yesterday we saw that Bottas 2.0 might be more of a permanent fixture than we imagined, and what better place to put the relationship with his teammate to the test than here, scene of that infamous clash in 2016 between Hamilton and then teammate Nico Rosberg.

While Mercedes always says its drivers are free to race, there is no way that Mr Wolff will have been able to put that particular incident to the back of his mind today.

Then again, in many ways, what happens over the next ninety minutes could set the precedent for the rest of the season, for it is clear that is going to be a two-horse race for the title, and neither of them prancing.

And though the title fight might be done and dusted, certainly as far as Mercedes is concerned, the battle between Ferrari and Red Bull could be fun.

Whatever "daring" move Ferrari might have up its sleeve today, Vettel and Leclerc will have to make the most of the SF90's straight-line speed, not only in terms of perhaps putting one over Mercedes but in order to put some space between themselves and the Bulls, and in particular Mr Verstappen.

Of course, the situation is further complicated by the fact that the Haas pair are right behind, neither Romain Grosjean nor Kevin Magnussen known for their willingness to stand aside when it comes to a scrap.

Behind these, we should - that's should - see a good midfield fight, with McLaren and Toro Rosso leading the way, and the rest looking for whatever scraps might be left over. Watch out for Daniel Ricciardo also, the Australian doing a great job to qualify tenth, while keen to put the nightmare of Baku behind him. (See what we did there?)

We say "should" because over the years we've seen some dreadfully processional races here, hence the label 'Borecelona' from over two decades ago.

That said, we've also seen a fair number of first lap incidents here - 2016 aside - and while that long run to T1 will make for some fun and games we know that as the field heads into that particular bottleneck it can - and often does - end in tears.

In terms of strategy, the quickest is a two-stopper, starting on the softs for 22 laps, then another soft stint for 23 laps, then mediums to the end.

However, as is often the case, the teams will probably aim for a one-stopper, especially as it's quite hard to overtake here. In which case, the theoretically fastest one-stopper would be to start on the softs for 27 laps - managing them carefully (groan) - and then switch to the hards until the finish.

A less marginal strategy - which is quite close anyway on overall race time - is to start on the mediums for 30 laps, then switch to the hards for the final 36 laps. However, nobody in the front five rows of grid will be able to try this.

The pitlane opens and one by one the drivers head out... all bar Hulkenberg who is to start from the pitlane after Renault used a different spec front wing following his brush with the barriers in Q1.

Hamilton complains that Vettel is "driving dangerously" as they make their way through the pitlane, and while the German is traveling very slowly there are a lot of people in the pitlane and even track vehicles.

A number of drivers report that it is windier than yesterday. It is also considerably warmer.

While the leading ten all start on the softs, so too does everyone bar Raikkonen, Stroll, Kubica, Russell and Hulkenberg who all start on the mediums.

The field heads off on the parade lap, all getting away cleanly.

While Bottas takes his place on the grid, it is some before his rivals join him.

They're away. Strong starts from both Hamilton and Vettel while Bottas is a little slow out of the blocks. Heading into T1, Bottas is the meat in the sandwich as Hamilton has the inside and Vettel seeks to go around the outside.

Vettel locks-up, tyre smoke filling the air, as he runs a little wide in T1, the German rejoins still alongside Bottas who has a nasty wobble. Back on track, Vettel loses a little pace and is lucky not to collect his Ferrari teammate as both are passed by an opportunist Verstappen. Indeed, Gasly also makes a move on Leclerc but runs wide thereby giving the Ferrari driver some much-needed breathing space.

At the end of lap 1, it's: Hamilton, Bottas, Verstappen, Vettel, Leclerc, Gasly, Grosjean, Magnussen, Kvyat and Albon. Raikkonen has dropped to last after going off at T4. Norris also had a bad start and has dropped to 16th.

Understandably, Vettel complains of a flat-spot.

After 2 laps, Hamilton leads his teammate by 1.7s with Verstappen all over the second Mercedes.

After just three laps it is already looking very processional, especially as the field heads down the pit straight.

An early fastest lap for Bottas (27.676) as Verstappen remains 1.5s behind the Finn but 2s clear of Vettel.

"I have no pace, I don't know why" complains Sainz who is eleventh, 1s down on Albon.

As Hamilton, Bottas and Leclerc trade fastest sectors, Hamilton posts a new fastest lap (22.310).

At the end of lap six, Giovinazzi pits for fresh rubber, surprisingly taking on the hards.

Leclerc, with the aid of DRS, closes on his teammate. The youngster is clearly losing time behind Vettel.

As Vettel drops 3s behind Verstappen, the Silver Arrows continue to trade fastest sector times.

At the end of lap 9, Leclerc has another look going into T1. Ferrari really should tell Vettel to give way.

A new fastest lap for Hamilton (21.972) on lap 9.

"Scenario three," Hulkenberg is told, "we'll save the performance for later."

At the end of lap 11, Vettel moves aside for Leclerc following a cryptic message from the pit-wall. In a matter of moments, Leclerc is 1.7s up the road, albeit 11.6s down on the race leader.

Over the entire spread of the field, Sainz and Ricciardo are the only two drivers within less than a second of one another.

"Looking for me for pitting as soon as you can," says Vettel, the German adding that his tyres are a "pain in the arse". Probably almost literally with those flat-spots.

Another fastest lap from Hamilton (21.766) as Bottas remains 3.669s in his wake.

Hulkenberg passes Norris for 15th as his teammate continues to stalk Sainz in the other McLaren.

"Have you found a gap?" asks Vettel, "if not find one."

"Pit me when you can," he asks a lap later, his urgency obvious.

Just 18 laps in and Hamilton is already lapping the Williams pair.

Sainz is told that on the last lap he was fastest of the midfield runners. "You're doing well."

Check out our Sunday gallery from Barcelona, here.

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1. Posted by TokyoAussie, 13/05/2019 3:37

"The race is not as obviously processional when you don't have visual, just the audio commentary. Is that a feature?"

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