Hamilton defies the heat to serve up Barcelona masterclass

16/08/2020
NEWS STORY

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.

As Russell urges "please talk to me", Verstappen complains that he is unhappy with his tyres. Meanwhile, Hamilton continues to improve his pace, the world champion now 3.1s clear.

"Let's keep building that gap and we can extend," Hamilton is told.

After 15 laps, the closes battle appears to be that for 14th, involving Magnussen, Raikkonen and Ocon.

Lap 16 sees Leclerc, Norris and Vettel all posts PBs, the trio running 9th, 10th and 11th.

As Verstappen falls 5.1s behind Hamilton, the Dutchman admitting that he's "struggling with the rears", the Red Bull crew gathers in the pitlane. It is Albon who stops however, and on hards he rejoins in 16th.

Latifi complains of poor grip, as Ocon makes a move on Raikkonen. However, the wily old fox is more than ready for the young pretender.

"Turn 7 is horrible," complains Verstappen. He is told that this is down to a tailwind. "I don't care about tailwind," he says, "it's these tyres."

Ocon, who has been warned about his rears, makes another move on Raikkonen, and this time he pulls it off.

"Do I need to repeat again about these tyres?" asks Verstappen. "You don't need to repeat again Max," comes the reply. "I'm losing so much time, who cares about traffic?"

Elsewhere, Raikkonen pits and switches to mediums.

Verstappen stops at the end of lap 21, rejoining on mediums just ahead of the Pink Panthers. Gasly, Norris, Kvyat and Giovinazzi also pit.

On fresh rubber, Verstappen goes quickest in S2.

Sainz pits at the end of lap 22, the McLaren driver rejoining in 12th as Leclerc complains "why don't you ever talk to me?".

Hamilton stops at the end of lap 23, with Bottas stopping seconds later. The Briton is still leading, while the Finn is now behind Verstappen in third.

"We're nowhere near undercut range," Verstappen is told. The youngster follows with a tirade, at which point he is sternly told to keep his head down.

Albon makes a bold move on Sainz, going around the outside of the McLaren in Turn 1, to take 11th, Red Bull having done the youngster no favours in pitting him so early and putting him back out in traffic.

Lap 25 sees a new fastest lap from Bottas (22.021).

"These black overalls are ******* hot," complains Bottas.

Stroll pits at the end of lap 27, switching to mediums he rejoins just ahead of Ocon as the Frenchman passes Magnussen into Turn 1. Indeed, in rapid succession, Albon and Sainz also pass the Dane.

As Sainz passes Albon for 10th, Magnussen pits. As does Latifi.

Perez and Leclerc pit at the end of lap 29, as does Vettel. Perez rejoins in the midst of the Sainz/Ocon battle, while Leclerc drops to 13th and Vettel 14th. As the dust settles - literally - Sainz is 6th, ahead of Perez and Ocon.

Ricciardo, currently fourth, is one of several drivers yet to stop, the others being Ocon and Grosjean.

Stroll catches his teammate napping to take 5th, as Leclerc battles Norris for 11th.

In 8th, Ocon leads a train of 5 cars, one of which, Albon, grows tires up holding station and makes a great move on the Renault into Turn 1.

"It's getting a bit dark," says Verstappen, as some worrying clouds appear in the distance.

As Norris attacks Ocon, so the Briton is under attack from Leclerc.

Ocon pits at the end of lap 34, the Renault driver rejoining in 18th on softs.

"We are expecting rain after lap 50," Vettel is told, as Ricciardo is the last driver to make his first stop of the afternoon.

Out come the yellows as Leclerc spins. "Engine stopped, broken, I don't know what happened," he reports as he drops to last. On-board confirms that his engine did indeed die. Nonetheless he is able to fire it up again.

"There is something strange, I will box this lap," he says, his race seemingly over.

"The wind has picked up over the back of the track," says Hamilton. He is told that in fact it has not, but that rain, possibly thunderstorms are heading this way.

Woo hoo!

Finally back in the pits, adjustments are made to Leclerc's seatbelt as Albon also pits. The Thai driver rejoins in 11th on mediums, while the Monegasque is pushed back into his garage.

Verstappen pits at the end of lap 41, the Dutchman having expressed his fears at Bottas' improving pace. He rejoins in 3rd on mediums, 19.4s down on Bottas.

Sainz pits a lap later, rejoining in 10th as Bottas posts a new fastest lap (21.857).

Back on track, Sainz is immediately under attack from Albon. The Thai driver attempts to go around the outside in Turn 3, but the Spaniard slams the door. "Dangerous," says Albon of the move.

Stroll and Gasly pit at the end of lap 43, rejoining in 8th (Stroll) and 11th.

Hamilton goes quickest in S1 on lap 44, suggesting we're about to see a pit stop. The Briton is 13.9s ahead of Bottas and 18.2s ahead of Verstappen.

As Norris pits, Hamilton posts a 21.539. Norris rejoins in 11th. Raikkonen also pits, the Finn having set a new record in terms of miles of F1 racing completed.

"Tyres OK," says Hamilton, "left-rear a little..."

"Let me know now what you want me to do in terms of pace," says Vettel, the German currently 5th but still to stop it would seem. His softs are 17 laps old.

Hamilton closes on Perez, the Briton having lapped everyone up to fourth. At which point he passes the Racing Point.

Bottas pits at the end of lap 48, rejoining in third 5.8s down on Verstappen on a new set of softs.

Though told to "box, box", Hamilton stays out, the Briton feeling that he doesn't want to switch to the softs.

Next time around, at the end of lap 50, the Briton pits, rejoining still leading on mediums.

After 50 laps, it's: Hamilton, Verstappen, Bottas, Perez, Vettel, Stroll, Sainz, Albon, Gasly and Norris.

Perez is under investigation for ignoring blue flags.

Asked what he thinks about going to the end on his softs, Vettel swears and laughs. "I asked you this before," he responds.

On his fresh rubber, Hamilton sets a blistering pace, posting a 20.274.

"I can do that," says Vettel, "I've got nothing to lose," he adds, the German currently 5th, 2.6s ahead of Stroll.

Perez gets a 5s penalty for ignoring the blue flags, which, as it stands, drops him to fifth behind Vettel.

Check out our Sunday gallery from Barcelona, here.

At lap 55, Hamilton laps Vettel, as the stewards reveal they are investigating Kvyat for a blue flag misdemeanour. The Russian is subsequently handed a 5s penalty.

"There's going to be some more action," Albon is told, "keep it focussed."

On 26 lap old softs, Vettel is unable to offer any resistance when Stroll makes his move heading into Turn 1.

Despite his fresh softs, Bottas is losing ground to Verstappen, the Finn now 6.6s adrift of the Red Bull.

"Rears are starting to take a hit," warns Ricciardo.

"On Charles' car the power unit switched off suddenly after passing on a kerb due to an electrical problem the cause of which we need to investigate," reports Ferrari.

"No more rain expected," Vettel is told. No more???? There wasn't any!!!

"What the f*** was that idiot doing," says Raikkonen of anther highly risky move by Grosjean.

Selling the German a great dummy, Sainz nails Vettel as they head into Turn 1.

After 60 laps (of 66), Hamilton leads Verstappen by 16.5s with Bottas a further 6.3s behind.

Hamilton reports that he ran over a "big piece of carbon", said big piece having fallen from Grosjean's car.

The Black Arrows trade fastest sectors, both clearly looking at that point for fastest lap.

Hamilton posts 19.822, while Bottas responds with a 19.750 as he closes to within 5.1s of the Red Bull.

Elsewhere, Stroll is closing on his Racing Point teammate, with that 5s penalty in hand.

Bottas pits at the end of lap 64 for a brand new set of mediums.

Norris locks up in Turn 5 as he harries Gasly, with Ricciardo looking to profit from any mistakes.

Elsewhere a spin for Grosjean as he runs over the infamous sausage kerb at Turn 9.

Hamilton takes the flag, ahead of Verstappen, Bottas, Perez, Stroll, Sainz, Vettel, Albon, Gasly and Norris.

Bottas posts a new fastest lap on the last lap, stopping the clock at 18.183.

Congratulated on his win, Hamilton appears more interested in Bottas' pace on that fast lap.

That 5s time penalty drops Perez to fifth behind his Racing Point teammate, while Sainz has to settle for 6th.

No disrespect to Lewis, but if that was one of the "epic races" the official F1 website talks about, we'll have whatever they're drinking, for that was the epitome of processional.

Another superb performance by Lewis and Mercedes, and another example of the utter BS Toto is prone to in terms of the underdog card.

Stroll's race was done at the start, while Perez will rue that questionable blue flag error.

Good performances from Sainz, while Vettel did a superb job in getting his softs to last 36 laps.

In terms of "the rain", we wouldn't put anything past Chase and the gang, even to the point of turning the light down and Photoshopping some dark clouds in, and as for Ferrari's claim of "no more rain".

Well, now we head to Spa, where we really can rely on the Weather Gods to mix things up... let's hope they're listening.

Hamilton wins, ahead of Verstappen, Bottas, Stroll, Perez, Sainz, Vettel, Albon, Gasly and Norris.

Ricciardo is eleventh, ahead of Kvyat, Ocon, Raikkonen, Magnussen, Giovinazzi, Russell, Latifi and Grosjean, Leclerc being the only retirement.

Check out our Sunday gallery from Barcelona, here.

Article from Pitpass (http://www.pitpass.com):

Published: 16/08/2020
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