F1 Spanish Grand Prix: Come Together

f1-2016-spain-verstappenThe big controversy of the last week in Formula One was completely overshadowed in less than two hours on Sunday. Red Bull’s driver swap dominated conversation from when it was made official last Friday through to the start of the race on Sunday. After a fourth turn collision between the two Mercedes, suddenly that controversy was put on the back burner and a new Mercedes one rose to the forefront.

The other thing that ended the Red Bull controversy? That would be Max Verstappen taking the opportunity that Red Bull handed him and scoring his first victory in Formula One in his first race for Red Bull Racing.

The race started with Lewis Hamilton on pole. Perhaps the bigger story was the Red Bulls locking out the second row with Daniel Ricciardo outqualifying Verstappen in what was deemed a performance of a lifetime by the Sky Sports commentary team.

f1-2016-spain-mercedes-crashMuch like the other races this season, Lap One didn’t go so well for Lewis. He rapidly closed down his teammate out of Turn Three and looked for a move inside on the straight to Turn Four. Nico reacted by closing the gap which forced Lewis onto the grass, out of control and into Rosberg in the Turn Four braking zone. The collision took out the two Mercedes and opened up the race for the field.

At the restart, the order was Ricciardo, Verstappen and Carlos Sainz in the Toro Rosso making it a Red Bull 1/2/3 followed by Vettel and Raikkonen. The two Ferraris made their way up to 2nd and 4th through the first round of pit stops.

It was pit stops that were the story of the race. The Red Bulls started the race on a three-stop strategy and Ferrari had Raikkonen mirror that strategy to cover them off. Vettel was put on a two-stop strategy which was believed to be the preferred strategy. During the race, Red Bull switched Verstappen to a two-stop strategy and Ferrari matched with Raikkonen. After an eight-lap third stint on softs, Ferrari swapped Vettel to a three-stop strategy. Red Bull left Ricciardo out for his third stint which let Vettel get a massive undercut and get passed him.

Verstappen and Raikkonen stayed nearly glued to each other for the rest of the race. Vettel couldn’t track down the two front-runners despite those two needing to go over 31 laps on medium tyres rated for 25 laps. Ricciardo was able to track down Vettel and made a few ambitious moves but couldn’t get by the Ferrari before his left-rear tyre let go on the penultimate lap.

f1-2016-spain-podiumVerstappen was able to do just enough to hold off Raikkonen to win the race. Verstappen became the youngest race winner in Formula One history, the youngest podium scorer in F1, the first Dutch F1 race winner and the first race winner born in the 90s. Meanwhile, F1’s elderstatesman, Raikkonen, came through in 2nd. Vettel rounded out the podium.

Despite the blown tyre, Ricciardo’s gap to 5th was so large that he was able to hold onto 4th. Valtteri Bottas needed 1.4-seconds to have gotten the Red Bull but luck wasn’t on his side as he finished “only” 5th. Carlos Sainz came home 6th in his home GP. Sergio Perez had a quiet race en route to 7th. Felipe Massa made an early stop to get fresh rubber and clear air. That was enough to bring him from a Q1 exit to 8th. Jenson Button scored 9th for McLaren. Daniil Kvyat rounded out the points in 10th to make it a four-for-four day in the points for the Red Bull cars. Nobody mention that he was the last of the four cars.

With the success that Red Bull enjoyed this weekend, let’s take a look at their engine deals for next season. It’s believed that the other nine teams on the grid won’t be changing engine suppliers for 2017 so Ferrari and Mercedes engine supply deals are at their discretion since they’re at their obligation to supply three teams.

As of writing, all signs point to Red Bull signing with Renault for 2017. At this point, it’s just a matter of branding the engine since Renault might want their name on the side of the RB car now that they’re back to winning races. Red Bull’s partnership with Aston Martin may interfere with that, though.

f1-2016-spain-honda-engineThe situation at Toro Rosso is more interesting. Over the last week, the hot rumour was that STR was going to become the first Honda customer team. However, Ron Dennis isn’t a fan of this idea stating that McLaren has an exclusive contract with Honda and they intend to enforce that exclusivity clause to prevent a deal with Toro Rosso. For their part, Honda doesn’t seem to have an issue with signing a customer deal.

The question now becomes whether McLaren can prevent a customer deal with STR given the obligation to supply clause in the new engine rules. Honda could be compelled to supply Toro Rosso if McLaren prevents a supply deal from being signed. According to the FIA, the engine manufacturer with the fewest teams supplied would be selected to supply a team without an engine deal. Since Renault has two teams (Renault and Red Bull) and Honda has one (McLaren), whether it’s voluntary or forced by the FIA, Honda seems destined to supply Toro Rosso. The only way this doesn’t happen is if Renault and STR sign a deal before the FIA force Honda to supply Toro Rosso.

One of the stranger rumours of late is that Lewis Hamilton may take a sabbatical for the 2017 season. This rumour actually came up before Sunday’s incident and was originally related to Lewis’s reliability troubles (he’s on his fourth turbo and MGU-H of five allowed) and bad luck through the first four races of the season along with his increasingly high-profile off-track activities.

f1-2016-spain-rosberg-hamilton-mercedesIn the post-qualifying press conference, Hamilton laughed off the suggestion that he would walk away from F1 for a year. It’s probably especially amusing to him considering it’s the second year of a reported three-year, £100 million contract. After this weekend’s incident between the two Mercedes drivers, many experts are questioning whether the current lineup is still tenable.

Interestingly, Rosberg’s contract is up at the end of the season. This gives Mercedes the opportunity to decide what happens next at the team. They could let Rosberg’s contract expire and make this Hamilton’s team (possibly with Pascal Wehrlein as the second driver). If they re-sign Rosberg, people will read quite a bit into it. While it would give Mercedes quite a strong line-up, it will keep conspiracy theories going that Mercedes favours Rosberg over Hamilton.

There haven’t been many updates or rumours out of Mercedes about changes to next year’s driver lineup. After the Spanish GP, I would imagine that we’ll have quite a bit of speculation to dig into at the Monaco Grand Prix.

FIAT and Ferrari boss Sergio Marchionne was in attendance at the Spanish Grand Prix. He probably wasn’t too impressed to see the two Mercedes retire on Lap One and watch his two cars miss out on the win.

Heading into this weekend, Marchionne was making comments with barely veiled disappointment at the Scuderia’s lack of victories this season. This has sparked rumours that Mauricio Arrivabene’s tenure as Team Principal may come to an end at the end of the season. Technical director James Allison is the name most closely linked to the position as Arrivabene’s replacement.

After the weekend, Marchionne publicly backed Arrivabene but we all know that’s worth the paper it’s written on. If Ferrari goes winless this season, one would imagine that Arrivabene would not be long for Maranello. It’s a high-pressure situation at the Scuderia and they want results. To be completely realistic, the best case scenario for Ferrari is to be competitive when engine tokens disappear for 2017. Let’s face it, Mercedes won the last two championships thanks to their engines. For the whole team to be competitive, those Ferrari engines have to match Mercedes in terms of power and efficiency. That’s probably outside of Arrivabene’s job scope.

The next round of the 2016 Formula One World Championship is the crown jewel race of the season. There might not be an international motorsport day but Memorial Day Sunday might as well be it. Before the 100th running of the Indianapolis 500 and NASCAR’s longest race, the Coca Cola 600, the day starts with the running of the Monaco Grand Prix.

Last year’s race saw Hamilton lead the whole way before a poor strategy call under safety car handed the win to Rosberg. It’s almost impossible to overtake on the streets of Monte Carlo so it all comes down to qualifying, luck and a little bit of pit strategy. The winner is likely to be the fastest qualifier. I’d imagine that means advantage Hamilton. Keep an eye out for the Red Bulls, though. The RBR chassis often has the best aerodynamics and downforce. We’ll have to see if the new Renault engine will put them over the top in Monaco.


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