The 50th Spanish Formula 1 Grand Prix was particularly difficult for Scuderia Ferrari, because apart from a performance level that did not live up to expectations, it also had a reliability problem, which forced Charles Leclerc to retire. The only positive came from Sebastian Vettel who turned things around after a poor qualifying and managed to go from eleventh on the grid to seventh at the flag, running a two stop strategy that saw him do a 36 lap stint on the Soft tyres.
As the cars lined up on the grid, track temperature was 55 degrees. When the lights went out, Charles lost a place to Pierre Gasly, but managed to pass Lando Norris thus maintaining ninth place from where he had started. Sebastian did the same, eleventh as they crossed the line for the first time. Both Scuderia drivers did a longer stint than the others, so that by lap 28, they were fifth and sixth. At the pit stops, with both drivers coming in on the next lap, Charles took on Mediums and dropped to 12th, while Seb went from Medium to Soft and was 14th. The aim, at least for the Monegasque was to go to the flag without a further stop.
For a long time, the two SF1000s were in a queue of cars from fourth to thirteenth places, until on lap 37, at turn 13, Charles spun following an electrical problem. He managed to restart the car, but by then he had undone his seatbelts and had to pit to have them retightened. At this point, his race was more or less over, so the team decided to retire him.
After lap 40, the second pit stops started for those drivers who had made the earliest stops and that allowed Sebastian to move up to fifth. With a risk of rain, the team extended his stint to lap 50 as his tyres were still in good condition and the decision was taken to try and go to the flag. At this stage of the race, Sebastian excelled himself, running at a strong pace while looking after the tyres. However, he could do nothing against Lance Stroll and Carlos Sainz, both on fresh rubber, but he did manage to fend off Alex Albon in the Red Bull to cross the line in seventh place, with Soft tyres that had done 36 laps. Sebastian became only the second driver ever to score more than 3000 points and today's result was a good morale booster after the two difficult races at Silverstone.
This race concluded the season's second triple-header. The frenetic programme now takes a brief one week break, with the engines firing up again at the end of the month at Spa-Francorchamps, for the Belgian Grand Prix on 30 August.
Sebastian Vettel: "Today we tried something different and it paid off. I was struggling in the first stint, even on medium tyres, while in the second one I felt a lot better, despite having the soft tyre for many laps.
"There was some rain forecast at some stage so we extended our stint on softs. In the end we were in a position in which we had nothing to lose, so we took the risk and decided to try and make it to the end. Luckily it worked and this result reflects the maximum we could do today with the car.
"There is still lots of work to do, but at the moment this is our true pace, that's why sometimes we have to take some risks in order to have more or different options to finish ahead of our competitors."
Charles Leclerc: "It's a shame that we couldn't finish the race today. I think we had a good chance to finish around P6 or even higher. We were very competitive on the softs and were also quick on the mediums, which we couldn't fully show because of traffic. The plan was for me to do a one-stop and it was going quite well.
"Unfortunately, we had an issue around midrace. Suddenly my screen and engine switched off and the rear wheels locked. We are not yet sure what happened and are investigating the cause. The car eventually started up again, but it was already too late to continue because I had undone my seatbelts and had to return to the pits. Although this year is a little bit tougher than last, we are all motivated to bring home the best results possible for the team and we will keep working hard to achieve this."
Mattia Binotto Team Principal: "A very disappointing weekend, not just because of the result, but also because of the way we managed it. In qualifying yesterday, we didn't make the most of the potential at our disposal and we know how important grid position is on this track where overtaking is so difficult.
"Despite that, in the race we had a genuine chance of fighting for fourth place with Charles, but a reliability problem put him out of the running. A malfunction in an electronic control unit resulted in his car shutting down, causing him to spin, effectively ending his race.
"Sebastian moved up the order well, showing great tenacity and driving very cleanly: doing a 36 lap stint on used Soft tyres is quite something. The same observation goes for him as well as for Charles: starting further up the grid he could have aspired to do better than seventh.
"We have dropped out of third spot in the Constructors' classification, even if by just a few points. We must always get all the potential out of our car if we want to achieve this goal and we must continue to work hard to close the gap to those who today were out of reach for us, namely the only three cars that completed all the laps of this Grand Prix."