Spain could be major turning point
For years the Spanish Grand Prix signalled the beginning of Formula 1’s European season; the first round after the first four flyaway races of a new season. But this race is also the first GP of the season where teams bring the first of their major updates to their racing cars.
Over the course of 2018’s opening four rounds, it was Ferrari that emerged as the strongest team. Mercedes, dominant powerhouse for the last four seasons, were left trailing and scrambling as Ferrari made its intentions for season dominance pretty clear. Were it not for poor strategic calls and driver errors, Ferrari drivers Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen would have topped the driver standings. Instead, defending champion and Mercedes driver, Lewis Hamilton, sits atop the table.
And though Hamilton admitted that he and his team are far off Ferrari’s strong pace, this Sunday’s Spanish GP could shine an interesting light on how the rest of the season plays out.
The pecking order
Coming into this weekend’s race, it’s been almost 15 years since Ferrari entered the European season at the top of the constructor’s championship. Their car, this year, is the fastest and the mumbling around the paddock is that the Red Team is poised to take top honours at the end of the season. But just like Ferrari, most teams have brought major updates to their cars for this and upcoming races, and it is all about maximising those updates and hoping that you will outdo and outperform your nearest competitor.
At the end of the Friday practice for Sunday’s race, it was Mercedes and Red Bull that looked the stronger teams. Their cars were faster than Ferrari and it seems that their updates, at least for now, are proving more effective than Ferrari. Counting Ferrari out for the win on Sunday, however, cannot be done and is it possible that the Scuderia are sandbagging; hiding their true pace.
In Baku, two weeks ago, Ferrari also ‘underperformed’ during Friday’s practice sessions, but on the Saturday and Sunday easily outperformed the competition. Could they be doing the same this weekend? Or could it be that maybe for this race the tables have turned…
Despite leading the driver’s championship for most of 2017, things unravelled pretty quickly for Vettel and soon it was Hamilton taking his fourth championship. If Ferrari fails to address its strategic mishaps and Vettel succumbs to self-inflicted pressures of below-par performances, Hamilton could very well be on his way to a fifth championship and Mercedes to a fifth constructor’s title in as many years.
Hamilton may be leading this year’s title race, but his teammate, Valtteri Bottas, has been the better performer out of the two. A lack of a killer instinct that champions are known for and a tyre burst in Baku could have seen Bottas leading the title race, but the preliminary feel is that Bottas could be in the hunt for the win on Sunday. And he’d want to get that win in order to make up the 30-point deficit to Hamilton.
Sunday’s Spanish will enlighten in more ways than one, but it can be said with certainty that it will certainly add to the spectacle of the 2018 F1 season.