Spanish Grand Prix: Hometown Glory

The Spanish Grand Prix belongs to one man who, after years of attempts, finally managed to win his true home race for Ferrari. Fernando’s triumph over Kimi Raikkonen and teammate Felipe Massa was rather straightforward. Ferrari made the common strategy of the race work far better than anyone else in the field to take a commanding victory and jump Lotus in the Constructors’ table.

How did everyone end up finishing where they did, though?

Ferrari was quietly confident going into the race. They qualified decently but were aided by a blinding start by Fernando which shot the Spaniard from 5th on the grid up to 3rd by the end of lap one. Fernando and Felipe’s jobs were relatively straightforward. Their relatively superior (only Lotus was better than them) tire wear allowed them to push almost each and every lap. Once they were clear of the Mercedes of Nico Rosberg, it was just a matter of taking the race lap by lap and maximizing all the speed in the car. Fernando pitted on lap 11, for hard tires, 25, for hard tires, 40, for mediums and on 56 for a final set of hards. This was the same strategy as his teammate, both Red Bulls and the Mclaren of Sergio Perez. But how, then, did Fernando end up winning with a 9 second margin to second place and a further 17 seconds to his teammate? Perhaps there was some Godly presence with Fernando today willing him and his tires on to the win. Perhaps he has learned to nurse his tires while going quickly better than his rivals. Perhaps its in the car, though that would not explain Felipe’s relative struggles.

On the other side of the coin was the Lotus of Kimi Raikkonen. It’s almost becoming his trademark to get onto the podium through the use (or lack of use) of the pits. The Finn emmacualtely executed a 3-stop strategy to move from 4th at the lights to 2nd at the flag. It was a very measured and controlled drive that made use of the Lotus’ supple ride and tire-hugging qualities. If he can do this more often, but from higher up on the grid, he will be a feature on the top step far more often. Compared to the other points-scoring 3-stopper, Jenson Button, Kimi’s tire choices were a bit unorthodox. He pitted for mediums on his first and second stops and hards for the final blast to the finish. His tire usage grew more and more impressive throughout the race, however. Stint lengths of 12, 19, and 21 laps respectively on his three sets of mediums set up a quick sprint on hards in the last 10 laps of the race. While he was unable to close up to Fernando in the closing stages, he was able to jump Felipe Massa through this strategy and more effectively close the gap to Sebastian Vettel in the championship standings.

On to Jenson Button who, considering his starting position, had a great race. A shocking start, which sent him from 14th to 17th in the first lap, didn’t help his crusade for points, but he did stand out on the strategy front, as he was the only other points scorer to utilize a 3-stop strategy. His was more conventional, with the opening stint on mediums followed by 3 more on hards. This helped him climb six places (to 8th) by the drop of the flag.

The Red Bulls will be perplexed by their lack of pace at the end of the race. They were in contention for much of the race, but once Fernando was firmly in front, it was just a matter of holing up Kimi Raikkonen and getting past the Mercedes duo. They made use of the exact same strategy of the Ferraris, but Sebastian and Mark ended up 38 and 47 seconds, respectively, behind the victor. They seemed to be suffering similar wear to that they experienced in Australia. They will look to remedy this before Monaco in two weeks’ time.

Honorable mentions today go to Esteban Gutierrez who, quite impressively, outdrove his car today to go from 19th to 11th place in the race. he was only 3 tenths away from his first ever championship point and should be happy with his work. He also did a monstrous stint of 29 laps on a set of medium tires before charging home in his final stint on hards. He also came away from the race with the fastest lap.

The losers today are undoubtedly the duo of Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton. A front row lockout in qualifying set the stage for glory on Sunday, but pre-race concerns over tire life proved true in the race. Lewis and Nico both dropped through the field stint after stint. The problem was particularly exaggerated in Lewis’s case. He went from second on the grid to 12th at the flag while using the same strategy as the winner, Fernando.  The problems are still centered around rear tire wear, with the camber on the back wheels not allowing for the tires to flatten through the corners, thus exacerbating the expected tire wear. The team is still unsure about how to fix this but should take solace in the fact that the next race is Monaco. Perhaps the low demands on tires of the track in the principality will give the Brackley squad some hope.

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