- The Final Stint - Spanish Grand Prix
No malice at Ferrari
After Mercedes sent another ominous message to the chasing pack, ESPNF1's The Final Stint brings you the main talking points from the Spanish Grand Prix.
The silly season is underway
Adrian Newey to Ferrari? Check. Fernando Alonso to Mercedes? Check. Ron Dennis courting Sebastian Vettel? Check. At the risk of sounding cynical it seems a slow news weekend triggered the start of F1's annual silly season slightly earlier than usual. The rumour-mill was on overdrive in Spain but it seemed there was no shred of real proof to anything, other than pundits saying any of the above could, at some point, maybe, happen. Viewers should watch future races with a generous pinch of salt within arm's reach if Spain is anything to go by.
Luca di Montezemolo probably knows he needs a big signing to keep Fernando Alonso at Ferrari and, behind Ross Brawn, Newey seems the one most likely to impress the Spaniard enough. Newey could perhaps be considered the most prized asset in F1 behind a handful of drivers, and would surely be tempted by the idea of bringing the glory days back to Maranello. But that does not mean a move is on the cards. Newey has repeated on numerous occasions he is happily based in the UK, while Christian Horner believes he will see out his career with the Milton Keynes outfit. Ferrari being interested and Ferrari making an offer are very different things.
- Spanish Grand Prix
Alonso to Mercedes seems hugely unlikely given the fact Mercedes has Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton tied down to long deals. Toto Wolff's superb statement that Alonso was a "racing monster" was used by some as evidence he was courting the Spaniard but it seemed a tenuous link at best. As for Ron Dennis' supposed "love letter" to Vettel, as it was described by Sky Sports F1, it would need to be quite a turn of prose to convince the world champion to join a team which has not won a race since the 2012 finale, especially as it looks unlikely to break that streak any time soon. NS
Ferrari's strategy made sense
The battle between Kimi Raikkonen and Fernando Alonso was always going to attract attention this year, and after a slow start to the season for the Finn we saw a genuine battle between the two in Spain. Raikkonen, on a two-stop strategy, ultimately lost out to Alonso on a three-stop strategy, but to suggest there was some kind of conspiracy to shuffle the order is incorrect. Unusually between team-mates, Alonso, who was running behind Raikkonen, was allowed to pit one lap earlier at the first stops, giving him the advantage of fresh rubber while Raikkonen had to complete another lap on his original set. Raikkonen understandably wanted an explanation after the race, but the situation was actually quite simple. Alonso at that point of the race was struggling with his rear tyres and he was asking for a pit stop as his lap times were dropping off. Raikkonen, meanwhile, was slightly slower but his lap times were consistent and he actually improved on his final lap before the pits, which proved to be crucial for him to stay ahead of Alonso after the first stops.
Alonso again was struggling with his tyres in the second stint and therefore Ferrari opted to switch him to a three-stop strategy as they could see Vettel moving quickly through the field using a pre-planned three-stop. Ultimately their efforts proved to be in vain as the Red Bull was simply much quicker than the Ferrari, but the three-stop strategy gave Alonso fresher rubber to attack Raikkonen at the end. The balance between three- and two-stopping was marginal, but once he was on a three-stop Alonso made it work for him. So far this season Raikkonen has been easier on his tyres, allowing him to stick to the original plan of two-stopping, but on this occasion it didn't work out. At another track with different compound tyres, the battle may well have swung in favour of Raikkonen. LE
A storm brewing at Mercedes
Most of the paddock arrived at the Circuit de Catalunya hoping the gap to Mercedes had closed in the three weeks since China. The likes of Red Bull, Ferrari and Williams had been working flat out during the break, and the arrival at a circuit that rewards downforce over power gave the Renault- and Ferrari-engined teams hope. Yet on Sunday Mercedes produced its most dominant performance of the season yet, lapping all of the cars up to sixth place, including one Ferrari. We are now a quarter of the way through the season, but, barring a miracle at either Viry-Chatillon or Maranello, it is over from the constructors' point of view.
Yet in the drivers' standings things are just starting to get interesting, as the competitiveness between Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg is starting to crack through the first layer of veneer on their friendship. Just three points separate Hamilton and Rosberg after five races and after 66 laps of the Circuit de Catalunya the gap was just 0.6s between the two. Meanwhile, the extent of Mercedes' advantage over the rest of the field means that the pit wall is happy for its drivers to race. F1 2014 may be one-sided but it's just about to getting even more interesting. LE
McLaren running out of excuses
McLaren has now gone three races without a point, which is a worse run of form than it had at any point last year during its annus horribilis. For a team with the most competitive engine on the grid and plentiful resources, that is verging on unacceptable. The points boon of the Australian Grand Prix has now been cancelled out by the consistency of the other Mercedes-powered teams, leaving McLaren sixth in the constructors' behind Williams and Force India. In China the excuse was the cool conditions and style of track, and in Spain the team blamed a poor start for Button and Kevin Magnussen's power unit issue in qualifying.
There's no doubt that McLaren did not have a smooth weekend in Spain, but in a race in which Sebastian Vettel managed to go from 15th to fourth without any Friday practice, the excuses are wearing a bit thin. According to the team the wind tunnel is promising some decent upgrades in the next few races, but for the race team they can't come soon enough. LE
Lotus on the mend
Lotus has been taking baby steps this season since missing the opening pre-season test of 2014 and it seems it finally has reason for optimism. Romain Grosjean's eighth place could have been better after qualifying fifth but the weekend as a whole was one of clear gains from the Enstone outfit. The weekend demonstrated E22 is a car loaded with potential, even if Pastor Maldonado seems hell-bent on destroying it at every opportunity, and should continue to improve this year.
Lotus will still be hoping to see gains from Renault, as Grosjean complained about power unit issues in the latter stages of the race which left him powerless to hold off the Ferraris. Lotus is far from back to where it wants to be but with every race it is demonstrating the gains which can be made with these new cars between races, even with the lack of resources available to the team. NS