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Hamilton defies the heat to serve up Barcelona masterclass


Here's an idea for Jean and Chase...

As well as banning 'party mode' from the forthcoming Belgian Grand Prix, can we please ban Mercedes even more annoying 'underdog mode'.

Of the 126 Grands Prix held since the hybrid formula was introduced in 2014, Mercedes has won 93 of them, that's 73.8%. Meanwhile, Ferrari 'won' 17 - note inverted commas - Renault 12 and Honda 4.

Yes, based on last week's win at Silverstone and Max Verstappen's strong pace during the race sims on Friday, the German team is telling us that the Dutchman has already won today's race.

At every given opportunity, Toto and Lewis, in particular, tell us how vulnerable they are, a mantra we have heard time and time again over the last six all-conquering seasons. And it's getting beyond tiring.

Yes, Max and Red Bull are looking strong, but it is rare for Mercedes to be caught out, indeed the occasions that spring to mind are Germany 2019 and last week's anniversary race, which suggests the German team should pay attention to any event that marks a birthday or some other form of celebration.

As it happens, while conditions are warmer than Silverstone last week, the compounds in use today are those used in the British Grand Prix as opposed to the Anniversary race, and though there have been issues we haven't witnessed anything like the blistering the W11's suffered seven days ago.

Nonetheless, tyre wear is a concern, but with all the leading ten drivers starting on the softs the question is where do they go from there; do they go for a one stop strategy or two.

Yes, Max is looking strong, but never, ever write-off Lewis and Mercedes.

That said, the race could be decided at the first corner, if you recalls Verstappen's heartbreak when clashed with Raikkonen at the start, right in front of the grandstand filled with his adoring Orange Army.

The official F1 website claims that Barcelona "can also provide some epic racing", which is somewhat ironic when you consider that over the years the track has been dubbed 'Borecelona' due to the amount of processional races it has witnessed.

Indeed, much like the events at Silverstone, our one great hope for a decent race today is tyre wear, though some silliness at the first couple of corners could also spice things up.

As if Max taking on the might of the Black Arrows wasn't enough, we have Perez, Stroll, Albon, the McLarens and Leclerc right behind, not to mention Vettel - who has free choice on tyres, then Kvyat, Ricciardo, Raikkonen, Ocon and Magnussen.

Having lost none of his speed in quarantine, it remains to been if Perez is still the master in terms of tyre management, for the Mexican could really spring a surprise here.

Though Racing Point is forever in the headlines, though it is usually strong in qualifying it's races performances haven't matched. Today could be the day that that changes.

Indeed, while it is natural to focus on the Mercedes v Max battle, the midfield fight is where the true action is sure to be.

You'll note that we haven't mentioned Valtteri Bottas, that's because, while we do expect him to pick up the odd win and pole position here and there, for the foreseeable future he is - in our humble opinion - Barrichello 2.0, no matter how much porridge or coffee he ingests.

There are a wide variety of potential strategies. All the stints are interchangeable: so those outside the top ten could start on a tyre that's not the soft and vary the order in which they use the tyres, depending on how the race pans out.

A one-stopper is going to be marginal on wear, whichever combination of tyres is used, so the best way is definitely a two-stopper. The fastest way on paper is two 19-lap stints on the softs plus a 28-lap run on the mediums, probably using the mediums for the second stint (so soft-medium-soft).

The second-fastest approach would be a three-stopper: three stints on softs of 15 laps each plus 21 laps on the mediums - again probably running the medium for the second of those stints (soft-medium-soft-soft). There is always a risk in making several pit stops, so some teams may want to avoid this.

The third-fastest way at the moment is another two-stopper, and this will come into its own if temperatures are higher or degradation on the soft is a bit more than expected. That is starting on the softs for 16 laps and then doing two 25-lap stints on the mediums (soft-medium-medium).

All these strategies are theoretical, as they naturally depend on the individual circumstances of the race and each car - as well as the tyre sets that each driver has available to them.

One interesting fact is that overnight, under parc ferme conditions, Red Bull changed the engine in Verstappen's car, reverting to one of his old units.

The pitlane opens and one by one the drivers head out.

Air temperature is 30 degrees C, while the track temperature is 49 degrees.

Other than the leading ten, Kvyat, Magnussen and Russell start on the softs. Vettel is on mediums, as are Ricciardo, Raikkonen, Ocon, Grosjean, Latifi and Giovinazzi.

The field heads off on the warm-up lap. All get away.

The grid forms.

They're away!

Hamilton and Verstappen get away well, Bottas not so. Indeed, heading into Turn 1 the Finn is the meat in a Racing Point sandwich.

Hamilton leads out of Turn 1, with Verstappen second and Stroll getting through on the inside of Bottas. Albon has got past Perez and is looking to make a move on the Mercedes in Turn 2. However, as the Finn slows, Albon, running right behind, is compromised as he has Perez alongside, the Thai driver losing out to the Mexican who is almost able to nail the Mercedes but not quite.

At the end of lap 1, it's: Hamilton, Verstappen, Stroll, Bottas, Perez, Albon, Sainz, Gasly, Leclerc and Norris. Bottas and Norris both losing out at the start.

Kvyat passes Ricciardo for 12th, while Gasly is running 8th, a good start for AlphaTauri.

"It's important we get past Stroll," Bottas is told, as Norris has three cars on his tail.

Clearly miffed at losing out to Kvyat, Ricciardo goes quickest in the first sector.

At the start of lap 5, Bottas sweeps by Stroll as they head into Turn 1.

As Gasly battles Leclerc for 8th, the other AlphaTauri is battle the other Ferrari for 11th.

A new fastest lap for Bottas (23.796) as he enjoys the clear air ahead of him. He is 2.150s down on Verstappen.

Verstappen is told to close on Hamilton. "I know," he replies, "but he is driving too slow." Just 6 laps in and we have tyre management.

Perez is warned about his tyres, his engineer appearing to do the managing.

Albon is all over the back of Perez, as Mercedes applies a pincer movement on his Red Bull teammate.

Bottas has told that the tailwind has picked up into Turn 9.

Maintaining a 1.6s leads, Hamilton posts a new fastest lap (23.618) on lap 10.

Next time around the Briton improves to 23.067 as he builds a 2.8s cushion.

Check out our Sunday gallery from Barcelona, here.


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1. Posted by kenji, 17/08/2020 5:17

"@ Pitpass...good report. Backing up, with no ambiguity, the fact that this race venue must be axed from any future races! It's bad enough watching week in and week out Mercedes take the cake but listening to tired old cliches re Mercedes/Hamilton et al is reaching a nadir in commentary. Surely enough is enough. The question is why do they persist? There are other circuits that offer far more attractive racing layouts.. IMO two races at Spa would have been epic. Spa has very rarely ever produced such a boring spectacle as Barcelona. If Liberty are to persist with Barcelona the they must reprofile the track, as that may just introduce some element of race competition that's currently absent. It can't be too hard.."

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