The Circuit de Catalunya is not exactly what one would call a ‘driver’s track’. Previous races have tended to land on the boring side of things, but that wasn’t the case with the 2014 edition, where Mercedes’ dominance did nothing to take away from a gripping finish.
Just like in Bahrain, Lewis Hamilton found himself the slower of the two Mercedes drivers for most of the weekend, and once again managed to pull out a victory, this time by 0.6 seconds over Nico Rosberg. Full points to the German though, his ability to fake happiness in the face of defeat is better than any actress nominated for the same award as Meryl Streep can muster.
Anyway, what else stood out in Catalonia?
Vettel Caps Tough Weekend with Blistering Sunday Drive
It’s fair to say that Sebastian Vettel has often been the subject of heavy criticism — both this season and in the past, yet Sunday’s performance had to leave even the most ardent detractors admitting that while he may be a turd, he’s a turd who can drive.
In a race which saw the German start 15th, he managed to best all comers with a series of fantastic passing moves on the notoriously difficult-to-pass Barcelona track. Favouring the hairpin at turn 10, Vettel was able to overtake Esteban Gutierrez, Kevin Magnussen, Felipe Massa, Kimi Räikkönen and Valtteri Bottas on his way to fourth. Perhaps even more remarkably on a day where Mercedes continued to be in a league of their own, he took fastest lap honours as well.
There’s no denying Vettel has been second-best to Daniel Ricciardo in the first five races of the season, but if this race was any indication, he’s starting to come to terms with the 2014 car, and that could spell trouble for everyone around him.
Lotus Makes Big Gains, Maldonado… Not So Much
2014 has not been a good year for Lotus, after a miserable time at pre-season testing, the first four races produced as many retirements as they did race finishes, with nary a point in sight. That all changed in Barcelona, where the Enstone-based garage were no longer the laughing stock of the paddock — well, for one side at least.
Forget Lewis Hamilton’s four consecutive wins, Pastor Maldonado’s string of race weekend incidents is the real streak to be watching. It’s possible that his incidents in Q1 and the on the first lap of the race are a product of the Venezuelan acknowledging his own shortcomings, and just deciding to get things out of the way early, but whatever the case, it’s got to be frustrating for the engineers. I like to imagine watching Maldonado pilot a car you worked so hard to create is a bit like entrusting a University of Phoenix graduate with operation of the Large Hadron Collider — technically they’re qualified to be there, but you just know it’s gonna end in tears. With no end to his mishaps in sight, it’s increasingly likely all the oil money in Venezuela won’t be enough to secure him a 2015 drive.
On the positive side of things, it’s a testament to the work Lotus has put in since China that Romain Grosjean was able to take fifth spot on the grid after a fantastic qualifying session, and held on for P8 and 4 points in the race. Barcelona being the track that best measures the all-round capabilities of a F1 car with its mix of fast and slow corners, all signs point to the team being able to mix it with the Ferraris, Force Indias and McLarens in the near future — an absolutely preposterous proposition two months ago.
More Drama at Ferrari as The Iceman gets Icier
If Nico Rosberg is a master at hiding his displeasure, Kimi Räikkönen is the polar opposite.
After another race which saw him finish behind teammate Fernando Alonso in P7 and a whole lap down from the lead has left the cantankerous Finn visibly frustrated with his place in the team. After the race Räikkönen was recorded remarking he was “second choice” in the Scuderia, and refused to give a straight answer in a classic post-race interview that saw him fend off Natalie Pinkham’s line of questioning with “I don’t know” and “uhnfnkgdfds…” before storming away.
Räikkönen‘s grievances are not without substance however, as he had been leading Alonso before the Spaniard was called into pit first, which is something of a no-no between equal partners, as these two supposedly are. Futhermore it brings to the fore an interesting question about the direction in the team as they struggle to right the ship after a difficult start to the season — the practice of having a clear no. 1 driver has often been employed at Ferrari, and has certainly been the case previously in the Alonso era. If Kimi struggles to keep up, will the Italian outfit be willing to give him a push, or would they prefer to throw extra chips behind Alonso? Certainly Kimi is concerned such a dilemma might occur, if it hasn’t already.
Next time: Monaco, May 23-25. If any track can stymie Mercedes’ hegemony, it’ll be the twisty streets that make up the Jewel in F1’s Crown.