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2020 Spanish GP Race Recap : Hammer Time in the Mediterranean

The Circuit de Catalunya was the venue for the sixth round of the 2020 Formula One season and the last race of the second triple-header of 2020. The circuit, situated in the town of Montmelo near Barcelona, Catalunya is the most used track on the calendar with the teams participating in two pre-season tests held here besides the GP itself. The Spanish GP is held in May but got postponed to August due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

The Circuit de Catalunya is a track that has a "little bit of everything" and tests the true capability of a car. Deficiencies if any, are exposed on this fast, flowing, high downforce circuit and the respective lap times indicate the real pecking order of the F1 grid.


The recently concluded 70th Anniversary GP served up a thrilling race thanks to the tyre choice made by Pirelli for the second weekend in Silverstone. However, the Italian marquee decided to take a conservative approach for Catalunya and chose the hardest tyre compounds ( C1, C2 and C3 ) for the Spanish GP weekend. 

Sergio Perez, who had missed the two races at Silverstone, returned to racing with Racing Point after testing negative for Covid-19. 

The FIA also decided to ban "quali modes" after the Spanish GP weekend, intending to bring more parity in the field. The teams will have to run the same engine mode for qualifying and the race from next GP ( Spa-Francorchamps, Belgium ).


More Details about the ruling here :

https://www.formula1.com/en/latest/article.qualifying-engine-modes-what-are-the-proposed-changes-and-why-do-they-matter.OI3cSGqWS6mONcBHUFncL.html


Red Bull bagged a great victory with Max Verstappen at the 70th Anniversary GP. Mercedes suffered due to the higher track temperatures and tyre blistering.

The weather forecast for the Spanish GP weekend wasn't any different.


Did we have a repeat of the previous race or did Mercedes overcome the gremlins to take another victory in 2020? Did Ferrari have a better outing with a higher downforce package? Were Racing Point, Renault and McLaren able to get into the sharp end of the grid? Were Haas F1 and Alfa Romeo able to score points this weekend?

Time for a recap of the events from the weekend!



Practice :


Vettel ( Ferrari ) and Sainz ( McLaren ) got a new chassis for the weekend, the duo hoping to address the issues they faced from the opening rounds. 

Williams Reserve Driver, Roy Nissany got the nod for a practice session, in place of George Russell, the Israeli rookie following his father's footsteps who was the reserve driver for Minardi in 2005. Stroll and Perez came within close contact of Bottas and Raikkonen in the tight and twisty last section of the circuit. The Finns had to relent and give up on their laps. Bottas narrowly missed hitting a bird on one of his flying laps while debutant Nissany suffered a spin ( at turn 10 ) while getting to grips with his Williams. George Russell took to pit lane duties and acted as the lollipop man for his team. 
Bottas was the fastest in Free Practice 1, four-hundredths of a second clear of his team-mate Hamilton. Verstappen was third lastest, less than a second adrift. Leclerc and Vettel were 4th and 5th for Ferrari with Grosjean joining them in the top 6 in his Haas. Perez was P7 for Racing Point. Albon, Magnussen and Stroll completed the top 10. McLaren could only manage P11 and P13 while the Renault drivers set the 12th and 18th fastest times. Giovinazzi and Raikkonen ( P15 and P16 ) split the Alpha Tauris of Gasly and Kvyat. Latifi and Nissany were 19th and 20th for Williams.

Everyone set their representative lap times on the soft tyres except for Perez, Stroll, Ocon and Nissany who were on mediums.


Free Practice 2 was an eventful session with low fuel runs and racing simulations for almost all drivers. Mercedes was the class of the field with Hamilton, three-tenths of a second clear of Bottas. A wobble at the exit of turn 15 along with a trip across the gravel denied Bottas a clean session. Verstappen kept the Mercedes duo honest in third while Ricciardo catapulted his Renault to P4. Haas F1 was in the top 6 again with Grosjean repeating his performance of FP1 with the 5th fastest time. Leclerc ensured works Ferrari representation with P6 while Sainz improved to P7 for McLaren. The Spaniard still struggled with cooling issues on his car. The Stewards reprimanded Sainz for using the run-off area for gaining a position on a slower car, the manoeuvre saving him brake usage. Perez was P8 for Racing Point while Ocon got both Renault cars into the top 10 with P9. It wasn't a trouble-free session for the Alpha Tauri duo with both drivers spending a considerable amount of time in the garage. However, Gasly was able to set the tenth fastest time while Kvyat was only P15, his flying lap compromised by a Williams on the racing line. Stroll was P11 for Racing Point while Vettel was down to P12 in his Ferrari. Albon's travails on a Friday continued with only the 13th fastest time. Norris was P14 from Kvyat, Magnussen, Raikkonen and Giovinazzi. Russell returned in FP2 but was critical of the lack of grip quipping that it felt like "driving on ice". He was the slowest of the session, three-tenths of a second off his less experienced team-mate Latifi's best time. 

Only six-tenths of a second separated P6 from P16, suggesting a tight midfield battle could unfold on Qualifying day. Haas was encouraged by their strong showing on Friday while Alfa Romeo still had no answer for their lack of pace. Red Bull was the best of the rest on Friday with Mercedes holding a considerable advantage over one lap pace. The race simulations in FP2 saw some running the medium tyres and some the hards. The Red Bull cars did comparable lap times with the Mercedes cars on the medium tyres. Christian Horner, the Red Bull Team Principal, believed that this could reduce the deficit come Sunday.


Haas F1 broke the curfew restrictions on Friday night to change the Power Unit on Grosjean's car, the first of their two exemptions in the season. McLaren changed the Internal Combustion Engine, MGU-H and MGU-K to mitigate any issues of cooling on Sainz' car.  


Hamilton led another Mercedes 1-2 in Free Practice 3. Searing track temperatures put a strain on the soft tyres with Mercedes asking its drivers to drive under the shade of the grandstands to cool them down. The lap times got faster as drivers laid rubber on the track. Hamilton made full use of track evolution and was a tenth and a half clear of his team-mate. Verstappen was third, half a second slower with Sainz, Perez and Leclerc completing the top 6. Alpha Tauri looked strong going into Qualifying with P7 for Gasly. Stroll, Albon and Ricciardo completed the top 10. Ocon was P11 but suffered a late crash that brought out the Red Flag and ended the session. The Frenchman got overtaken by Magnussen who seemed to back out of his flying lap three hundred metres later. Magnussen then tried to move off the racing line to the middle of the track when Ocon caught up at turn 3. Ocon, however, didn't react soon enough and had to do a hard turn to avoid ramming Magnussen from behind. The sudden change of direction sent him into the wall, damaging the front portion of his Renault. The stewards investigated the incident but deemed it as "no action necessary" since data on Magnussen's car showed that he was harvesting energy and Ocon had enough time to react. Vettel was P12 in the other Ferrari, ahead of Grosjean and Raikkonen. Norris could only manage P15 with Kvyat, Magnussen, Giovinazzi and the two Williams bringing up the rear of the field. 



Qualifying :

It was a long afternoon for Renault mechanics who got Ocon's car ready, just in time for qualifying. Q1 got underway with the entire field opting for soft tyres. It was a close contest with one second separating P1 from P15. Hamilton, Perez, Stroll, Bottas, Verstappen and Sainz were the provisional top 6 with Grosjean, Raikkonen, Magnussen, Latifi and Giovinazzi in the drop zone. Giovinazzi asked the team to check for floor damage after running wide on the penultimate corner and bouncing over the kerbs. Kvyat had allegedly impeded Magnussen on his flying lap, the stewards deeming it necessary for investigation post-qualifying. A huge bottle-neck formed up in the final minutes of Q1 as the drivers jostled for clear air and track position. The lap times tumbled due to track evolution. Raikkonen catapulted his Alfa Romeo to P14 before ending on the cusp of elimination. The others behind couldn't go faster. Alfa Romeo was into Q2 for the first time this season! Magnussen, Grosjean, Russell, Latifi and Giovinazzi were the drivers eliminated in Q1 with Hamilton being the fastest from Perez, Verstappen, Bottas and Leclerc. The loss of pace for Haas F1 flummoxed one and all, the chances of a promising result seemed bleak.


Tyre choices dominated team discussions in Q2. The teams would run "quali modes" for the last time in the turbo era. All the drivers opted for the soft tyres for their first run in Q2. The order after the first runs was - Hamilton, Bottas, Verstappen, Sainz, Leclerc, Perez, Stroll, Norris, Albon, Ricciardo, Vettel, Ocon, Gasly, Kvyat and Raikkonen. Both the Mercedes drivers and Verstappen chose not to run in Q2 while the rest of the field bar Raikkonen exited the pits on a fresh set of soft tyres. Raikkonen didn't have any new soft tyres left and had to use the mediums for his final run in Q2. The top three remained unchanged with Stroll improving to P4 and Gasly producing a stellar lap to jump up to P5. Sainz, Perez, Leclerc, Albon and Norris completed the top 10. Albon and Norris scraped through to Q3, escaping elimination by five-thousandths and three-thousandths of a second! A lucky escape indeed! Most of the runners were unable to improve on their final runs into Q2, track temperatures going outside the operating range of the soft tyres being the probable cause. Vettel was the big casualty of Q2, failing to make it into Q3 again by the smallest of margins. These setbacks never seemed to end for the four-time world champion. Kvyat was P12 while Renault had a forgettable Saturday with Ricciardo in P13 and Ocon in P15. Raikkonen qualified P14 for Alfa Romeo, faster than a Renault, with medium tyres and narrowly missing a chance of getting into Q3 ( 0.22 seconds slower ). He believed the car had the pace to qualify in the top 10, but for the shortage of soft tyres!


The top-ten shootout got underway a few minutes later. Red Bull released Albon into the path of Hamilton, the latter having to take evasive action. The contenders for pole were out on soft tyres for their banker laps in Q3. Five chose the used soft tyres for their first run - Norris, Sainz, Gasly, Leclerc and Albon. 

Hamilton was on provisional pole, five-hundredths of a second clear of Bottas in P2. Verstappen was P3 from Perez, Stroll and Norris. Leclerc, Albon, Sainz and Gasly completed the provisional top 10. The final minutes of Q3 saw changes in the pecking order with everyone switching to a fresh set of soft tyres. Bottas set the fastest overall time in the second sector but ran out of grip in the final section. He couldn't improve on his first run. Hamilton couldn't improve on his previous lap time either. The Racing Point cars of Perez and Stroll were unable to break into the top 3. Verstappen pushed hard in his Red Bull yet failed to split the Mercedes. Albon improved to P6 in the other Red Bull followed by Sainz and Norris in P7 and P8. Leclerc had reported abnormal engine behaviour on his out-lap but went faster on his final run. He was P9 from Gasly, both a second and a half adrift of the fastest time. Kvyat got a formal warning for his impeding infringement in Q1.


Hamilton was on pole for the 92nd time in his career! Bottas completed a Mercedes front-row. Red Bull was pleased to see both their cars in the top 6 while Racing Point posed a potent challenge to the Milton-Keynes based outfit. The McLarens were there again, ready to pounce on any slip-ups by the drivers ahead. Ferrari continued to be off the pace, despite their higher downforce setup. Alpha Tauri had a great qualifying session and hoped to score some points on Sunday. It was a better showing for Alfa Romeo on Saturday while Renault had their work cut out for Sunday. Haas F1 and Williams Racing were a disappointment, yet again. 



Race :

Red Bull changed the ICE, Turbo, MGU-H and MGU-K on Verstappen's car ahead of the race. They were components used earlier, so no penalty incurred. Racing Point also took new control-electronics and energy store for Perez. 

There was a 20% risk of rain during the race. Vettel, Ricciardo, Raikkonen, Ocon, Grosjean, Latifi and Giovinazzi started the race on medium tyres, the rest choosing the softs. The Mercedes drivers used their DAS system to good effect on the formation lap, bringing their tyres to optimum temperatures.




Hamilton had a clean start off the line with Bottas' slower launch getting him swamped into turn 1. Verstappen and Stroll got mega starts and used the tow to jump him on the 600m drag to turn 1. Verstappen was up into P2 with Stroll demoting Bottas to P4. Perez tried to make it worse for the Mercedes driver but couldn't make it work. Norris got bogged down and fell back to P10. Further down the field, Giovinazzi made up a place on Latifi while Ricciardo also gained a couple of places. Gasly was up to P8 while Kvyat made a pass on Ricciardo for P12 on lap 2.


Hamilton was 1.5 seconds clear of Verstappen at the front. Mercedes asked Bottas to quickly dispatch Stroll so that his race wouldn't be compromised. He tried a couple of times with DRS assistance but the Canadian held firm. It was job done on lap 5 with Verstappen the next target, three seconds further up the road. Russell got past Grosjean for P17 on the same lap as Verstappen tried to maintain his advantage with the fastest lap of the race. Bottas, in clean air, went faster on lap 6. Red Bull informed Verstappen that the gap to Hamilton was reducing, the Briton trying to control the pace of the race while extending his stint on the soft tyres. Albon, in the other Red Bull, was closing in on Perez whose tyres had started to overheat. 


The top ten at the end of lap 10 were Hamilton, Verstappen, Bottas, Stroll, Perez, Albon, Sainz, Gasly, Leclerc and Norris. McLaren was confident about "Plan A" ( race strategy ) for Sainz, as communicated to him on the team radio. 


Hamilton put in a series of fastest laps from laps 10 to 13 as Verstappen continued to complain about his tyres and a tail-wind which had picked up out of turn 7, hampering his drive. The field had begun to spread out with only Kvyat and Raikkonen the drivers within DRS range of the cars in front of them. Kvyat tried to make a move on Vettel for P11 under DRS but wasn't close enough. The battle for P14 was hotting up between Magnussen, Raikkonen and Ocon. 


Albon was the first of the front runners to pit on lap 18 for hard tyres. He rejoined in P16, right in the thick of the Magnussen, Raikkonen and Ocon battle. Russell pitted on lap 20 for medium tyres, rejoining in P20. Albon tried to make an overtake on Ocon but had to back out of it. Ocon, on the other hand, got past Raikkonen for P15 with Albon doing the same a couple of corners later. The Alfa Romeo driver had no more grip and pitted for a fresh set of medium tyres on lap 21.


Frustration over lack of grip due to tyre-wear left Verstappen fuming. Red Bull fulfilled his wish to pit, on lap 22, executing a 1.9 seconds pit stop to bring him out just ahead of Stroll and Perez in P3 with medium tyres. A flurry of pitstops followed over the next couple of laps. Gasly, Norris, Kvyat and Giovinazzi pitted on lap 23 with Norris choosing the soft tyres and the rest, the mediums. Mercedes decided to do a "double-stack" and pitted both its drivers for a fresh set of mediums. It was a slower stop for Hamilton with an issue on his left rear tyre. Thankfully, he didn't lose track position to Verstappen. Bottas, however, was demoted back to P3 after their first round of pit stops. Sainz pitted on lap 25 for soft tyres and rejoined in P12, being passed by Albon out of turn 1. 


Kvyat made a move on Latifi for P16 while Albon got stuck in traffic in P11, the strategy call not paying off. He came under intense pressure from Sainz who was on fresher tyres. Verstappen wasn't too pleased with Red Bull continuously informing him about the strategies adopted by the Mercedes duo. He reprimanded his engineer for being too preoccupied with what others were doing and asked him to focus on their performance instead. Meanwhile, Kvyat went past Grosjean for P15 and Raikkonen overtook Latifi for P18. Stroll pitted on lap 28 for mediums and rejoined in P8. Magnussen lost places in the space of one lap to Ocon, Albon and Sainz. He immediately pitted, along with Latifi, for fresh medium tyres while Latifi switched to the hard set. There was more action on track with Sainz relegating Albon to P11 on lap 29, thanks to his fresher tyres. 


Perez, Leclerc and Vettel were the next drivers to pit on lap 30. Perez and Leclerc switched over to the mediums while Vettel chose the soft tyres. Leclerc and Vettel rejoined in 13th and 14th, respectively. Perez rejoined in P7, just behind Sainz who was completing an overtake manoeuvre on Ocon into turn 1. Ricciardo, Ocon and Grosjean were the drivers who still hadn't pitted. Perez regained track position on Sainz with an overtake on lap 31 while Leclerc got past Kvyat for P12Russell got past Grosjean for P15 and Leclerc had honed in Norris on lap 32. 


Perez tried a daring move on Stroll on lap 33, much to the displeasure of the team principal Ottmar Szafnauer. Stroll held on to P5. Further down the field, Raikkonen made a move on Grosjean for P16. Grosjean pitted on lap 34, rejoining in P19 with soft tyres on his car. Albon moved up into P8 with an overtake on Ocon. Leclerc went wheel-to-wheel with Norris for P11, but the latter put up a strong defence despite a couple of lock-ups. Ricciardo finally pitted on lap 36 for a set of soft tyres, rejoining in 13th while Russell pitted for a set of medium tyres, down to P18. Ferrari informed Vettel that there was rain forecasted around lap 50. However, they had weightier issues to address on lap 37. Leclerc spun, getting stuck at turn 14 and unable to get going again. Replays showed that the Monegasque's engine had given up, sending him into a spin. The problem seemed terminal even though he recovered from the shutdown. Leclerc wanted to pit as his seat-belts had gotten loose as well.


Hamilton was now 9 seconds clear of Verstappen. Bottas, Stroll, Perez, Sainz, Albon, Gasly, Norris and Kvyat completed the top 10 at the end of lap 40. Leclerc pitted on lap 41 to address the issues on his car. Albon also pitted, for a fresh set of medium tyres and rejoined in P11. The Ferrari mechanics couldn't repair the car and wheeled Leclerc into the garage and retirement. A disappointing end to a promising Sunday. The battle at the front intensified with Bottas reducing the deficit to Verstappen, the latter pitting for the second time ( lap 42 ) for another set of medium tyres. Sainz pitted a lap later and managed to rebuff a challenge by Albon for P10 on exiting the pits. Bottas set the fastest lap of the race on lap 43. 


The second round of pit-stops had begun. Stroll and Gasly pitted on lap 44 for softs and mediums, rejoining in P8 and P11, respectively. Norris pitted on lap 46 for medium tyres, rejoining behind Gasly. Hamilton now held the fastest lap time. Raikkonen pitted from P14 for soft tyres and rejoined in 19th. Kvyat and Giovinazzi followed suit a lap later, opting for mediums and softs. Bottas pitted on lap 48 for soft tyres while Vettel asked the team's opinion on pitting again. He was in P5 but converting to a one-stop strategy seemed to be a tough ask. Bottas had to bridge a six seconds gap to Verstappen and had the fastest tyres under him. Meanwhile, Hamilton discussed tyre choices with his team and demanded the medium set for his final stint. Mercedes heeded to his demand in his pit stop on lap 51.


Perez was found guilty for ignoring blue flags and came under investigation. He got a five-second time penalty for his infringement ( lap 53 ). Ferrari, unsure of their plans, asked Vettel about the possibility of extending his soft tyres stint till the end. The German was exasperated, asking why they didn't consider this earlier, presumably before he started taking extra life out of his tyres.
Daniil Kvyat was next on the list to receive a five-second time penalty, ignoring blue flags the crime again ( lap 56 ). 


Bottas was unable to close the gap to Verstappen ahead, the Dutchman extending his cushion to more than seven seconds! There was no sign of rain in the closing stages of the race. Racing Point asked Stroll to push, realising that an overtake would have to be made on track for P5. Stroll completed the move on Vettel on lap 57 with DRS assistance. He had clear air ahead of him and a chance to bag P4 from his team-mate Perez should he finish within five seconds off him. Ocon got past Magnussen for P13. Raikkonen completed an overtake on Grosjean for P16 on the pit straight ( lap 59 ) but wasn't happy with the Frenchman. Grosjean moved under braking, once again and Raikkonen had to slam on the brakes to avoid ramming him from behind. The Flying Finn made another move on the same lap, snatching P15 from Russell. 


Stroll was catching Perez who like Vettel had opted for a one-stop strategy. Stroll was comfortably within the five-second bracket, so a P4 finish was assured. Sainz demoted Vettel to P7 ( lap 60 ) with Albon lining him up next. Grosjean tangled with Giovinazzi while unsuccessfully defending P17 and ran wide at turn 1, causing debris from his car to end up on the track. Hamilton drove over that debris and got concerned about damage. Thankfully, all was ok. The Stewards decided to investigate the Grosjean and Giovinazzi incident after the race. Raikkonen relegated Magnussen to P15 on lap 61 while Giovinazzi completed an overtake on Russell a lap later. The Mercedes duo sparred for the fastest lap of the race on lap 63. Bottas cut the deficit to Verstappen to two seconds, but it was too little too late. He had lost performance on his soft tyres. Grosjean pitted on lap 65 after suffering a tank-slapper at turn 9.


Bottas pitted on the penultimate lap for medium tyres, resigned to P3 but determined to grab the fastest lap point. A train of cars had formed up behind Vettel; Albon, Gasly, Norris and Ricciardo all vying for a higher finish. The German managed his defence of P7 well, positioning his car and using his battery power sensibly to fend off attack after attack from Albon. 


Lewis Hamilton took the chequered flag and victory at the 2020 Spanish GP! Max Verstappen came home in 2nd, 24 seconds adrift. Bottas set the fastest lap of the race on the last lap, completing the podium in P3. Stroll and Perez were P4 and P5 for Racing Point followed by Sainz, Vettel, Albon, Gasly and NorrisRicciardo was P11 for Renault from Kvyat, Ocon and Raikkonen. Magnussen, Giovinazzi, Russell, Latifi and Grosjean completed the classified runners. 




Hamilton had dominated on a Sunday again. He had lapped everyone up to P4 and was in a league of his own. It was his 88th career victory, three short of the record of 91 wins of Michael Schumacher. He surpassed the German with this result being his 156th podium finish! Another record for the six-time World Champion.



Kimi Raikkonen, too set a record this weekend. The Finn achieved the record of longest distance raced in an F1 car ( 83846 km ) which equates to 2 full laps of the earth. He accomplished this feat on lap 37 of the race! Kudos!


Vettel crossed 3000 points in his F1 career with his 7th place.


Mercedes bounced back from the disappointment of last weekend with another flawless win. They would be a tad disappointed with Bottas' race, but except for Verstappen, no one else poses a threat to their title chances. Red Bull needs to have both cars contending with the Mercedes, and the onus is on Albon to improve from the next race. Racing Point continues its upward climb despite the reprimands and protests of their competitors. There was another protest lodged by Renault which got withdrawn as the Technical Delegate had already highlighted the ( same ) brake duct design to the stewards. Racing Point got another reprimand this weekend.


Ferrari would rue a missed opportunity for a double-points finish with the electrical failure on Leclerc's car. It was a mini-revival for Vettel, his P7 finish testament to his never-give-up attitude. Alpha Tauri would be pleased with Gasly's result, the Frenchman's reputation rising with each race weekend. McLaren and Renault seem to be going through a blip in form and need to improve their overall performance to stay in touch with the high flying Racing Point. Alfa Romeo would be encouraged with a better showing on Saturday and Sunday, but finishing in the points remains a target. Haas F1 and Williams Racing have a lot of work to do over the next fortnight if they are to stem this decline in 2020.




The season resumes in a fortnight at Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps ( Belgium ), the next destination on the F1 calendar. It will be the first race of the next triple-header of the season. An iconic track with unique challenges that only a classic F1 circuit can present, the Belgian Grand Prix must not be missed!


Time for the drivers to refresh, regroup and return for round seven, in a fortnight!