It’s sad to say, but it’s true. The Spanish Grand Prix is now one of the most important events on the calendar since the emergence of Fernando Alonso. But the circuit that hosts it simply does not produce a good F1 race. I can’t remember the last time there was an exciting Spanish Grand Prix, and 2009 won’t exactly stick in the memory for long either. But while the on-track action left something to be desired, there were still a few interesting aspects of the grand prix, and there are a few talking points to be considered.
First of all there is the controversy surrounding the strategy of the two Brawn cars. According to Ross Brawn, Rubens Barrichello’s three-stop strategy was the optimal one. But the driver just couldn’t put in the laps. It’s strange because one of the things that leapt out at me while watching the live timing during the race was the fact that at one point he was lapping around a second faster than anyone else on the circuit.
Jenson Button was always going to be favourite for the win since he grabbed pole position in spectacular fashion on Saturday. But that all changed when Barrichello had an amazing start, and passed his team mate on the outside going into turn 1. Barrichello’s race unravelled during his third stint though, and it became clear that the strategy just wasn’t working for him. I wonder why it was expected to. No-one else opted for a three-stop strategy apart from Kazuki Nakajima way back in 13th place.
There is an excellent analysis of the Brawns’ strategy over at F1 Fanatic.
Putting that aside, you have to applaud Jenson Button for putting in the good lap times when it counted. Brawn were dominant in this race, and this circuit was always expected to suit their car. I sense that Brawn’s advantage will not be so large in Monaco, where I feel Red Bull will have the edge. It is certainly a circuit that Red Bull have tended to do well at in the past.
As for this race, the Red Bull team must have mixed emotions. Mark Webber pulled off the surprise of the race by managing to climb to third largely through pitstop strategy. In the end he was very close to Barrichello at the finish line, so he did a great job.
Sebastian Vettel was more disappointing. For the second race in a row, Vettel’s race has been ruined by being stuck behind a slower car. In Bahrain it was Hamilton, but just for the first stint. His luck worsened further in Spain when he was stuck behind Massa. It transpired that both drivers had identical strategies, so Vettel had no chance to “overtake him in the pitlane”.
Does the fact that this has happened two races in a row raise a question mark over Vettel’s abilities? I certainly find it disappointing that Vettel has been unable to overtake these drivers for two races in a row. It is true that both of these cars were kers-equipped, making it particularly difficult to overtake. But Button managed it in Bahrain. Perhaps Vettel needs to work on this aspect of his racing, and certainly he could do with starting a bit better because in both cases he qualified ahead only to get “kersed” (as Anthony Davidson put it during this weekend’s Chequered Flag podcast) at the start.
It must have been all the more bitter for Sebastian Vettel when it ended up that he was being held up for nothing. Felipe Massa’s fuel rig was seemingly faulty, and he didn’t get enough fuel in his car. The Brazilian had nothing to do but lift off and wait to be overtaken first be Vettel and then by Alonso.
At least Massa was running well in 3rd or 4th for the majority of the race. Räikkönen, hindered by his poor decision to stay in the garage at the end of Q1, never made much progress through the midfield and eventually had to retire with a hydraulics problem. Yet more reliability woes for the Scuderia. I find it difficult to imagine how Ferrari’s season can get worse in any more ways.
Congratulations to Fernando Alonso for driving a good home race and finishing 5th. His fans will be hoping that this is a sign of more to come from the Renault package, and I have no doubt that the team will be able to develop that car well, just as they did last season.
Toyota, who came close to winning in Bahrain, seemed well off the pace in Spain. Jarno Trulli wasn’t helped by his awful start, which left him in the midfield cluster which resulted in him going onto the grass and starting a collision that ended the race of four cars. Timo Glock also got bogged down at the start and never looked close to being that high up the order again.
BMW have improved a little, but not enough. Their car now looks radically different to the one that finished last in Bahrain. Two points for Nick Heidfeld is undoubtedly an improvement. But increasingly BMW’s decision to divert their focus from 2008 seems like the wrong one. Robert Kubica remains pointless.
It’s a similar story for Williams. Although we have become accustomed to seeing them stuck in the lower midfield over the past few years, they appeared to promise a lot during pre-season testing. Nico Rosberg must be disappointed to only be scoring a point in what was actually a pretty good race for him.
McLaren were expected to do badly here, and so it proved to be. Lewis Hamilton finished in 9th. That is not good. For the first few races, Hamilton impressed me with his ability to squeeze good results out of what is undoubtedly a poor car, including a fabulous fourth in Bahrain. He was unable to do that in Spain, and seemed pretty tetchy in the post-race interviews. Heikki Kovalainen retired with gearbox issues. Another one to add to McLaren’s reliability problems, but at least their list is not as long as Ferrari’s.
So another race passes, and Brawn look more dominant than they have done since Australia. But as I say, I have a feeling that Monaco will be a rather different matter, and I look forward to seeing how the teams perform there.