This would seem unlikely considering China and Bahrain, so I won’t try and say it’s possible. Mercedes performance today was unexpected, yet not surprising considering their past qualifying performances. Will Nico be able to stay at the front, or will he fall back like he did in Bahrain. Conditions are not quite as extreme as they were in Bahrain, track temperature is down considerably and there isn’t s dust storm at every corner. But the track is just as abrasive, as it has always been, and rear tire life is going to be crucial tomorrow. The fact that this is by far the weakest point on the Mercedes suggests that the race will be far from straightforward.
What of Hamilton, then? He did a considerably better job than Nico in Bahrain; he went from 10th to 5th rather than 1st to 9th. If he has a trick to nursing the tires, then he will do well to let Nico know of it. Yes, Hamilton was on a different strategy in Bahrain, but it cannot be ignored that Lewis knows something Nico doesn’t.
With these two in front, the next three cars lined up are the ones we, arguably, all thought would occupy the front three grid spots. Sebastian Vettel, Kimi Raikkonen and Fernando Alonso line up 3rd-5th respectively, and will be hoping for a repeat of Mercedes’ Bahrain form. For Vettel and Raikkonen, it seems they have the slight edge on race pace, but arguably the difference between the Red Bull and Lotus and Ferrari is small, to the point of negligible. What this means, however, is they will have to find a way past the Mercedes early on in the race if they hope to gain an advantage. If all three are held up, then its just a matter of who gets past first. If one gets past in the early stages, then I’m afraid, for the other two whoever they may be, will see their hopes of a race win dwindle at an alarming rate.
Felipe Massa, Romain Grosjean and Mark Webber lost out in qualifying compared to their teammates. Massa was only .001 of a second off his teammate so you can realistically take him out of that group, but in terms of track position, they all lose. This is especially important to take into consideration in Barcelona; at a track in which the winner has come from the front row in 6 out of the last 7 races. It’s a tough ask for the win with these three drivers, but do not count them out of the podium fight, for one of them just might be able to get past the Mercedes and join the leading three drivers.
Further down the field, Force India, Toro Rosso and Mclaren seem to be relatively even, with the Saubers slightly, and disappointingly, behind them. Williams was, and should, be wholly disappointed with the direction their car took. It’s not that they got worse, indeed the car looks better on track than it has all season, but it’s that the rest of the field seems to have taken equal, if not larger, steps forward in comparison.
The fight at the back of the field has closed up in comparison to the one just three weeks ago. Marussia has responded to Caterham’s Bahrain updates and delivered a car that can once again compete with the green cars.
We are set to have a fantastic battle tomorrow. Most of us expect the Mercedes cars to fall back and set the stage for the “true” title contendors duke it out. Conversely, however, I could be wrong and the Mercedes duo could romp into the distance and take a dominant 1-2. We don’t really know, and that is what makes this so exhilarating.