Pecking Order: Mercedes way ahead, Red Bull catch Ferrari

The Spanish Grand Prix was always going to be a revelation in terms of the current pecking order in Formula1, and this weekend we got a solid look at exactly where everyone is after five races of this year’s world championship.

Mercedes were rampant and dominant in qualifying as well as the race, locking out the front row with Valtteri Bottas on pole, and 24-hours later his teammate stood atop of the podium having scored his 76th Grand Prix victory and take the lead in the championship standings. The Finn was second.

The ‘Pecking Order Formula’ used to ascertain the figures reached below is simply to take a team’s best time in qualifying and compare it the pole-winning time, with the knowledge that on Saturday afternoons is when teams dial up their packages and reveal what they really have ‘under the hood’ as they say.

2019 Formula 1 Pecking Order after the Spanish Grand Prix:

1. Mercedes

  • Top of the pecking order as they were in Baku.

In Barcelona on Saturday no one could touch Valtteri Bottas’s stellar pole-winning effort of 1:15.406, including teammate Lewis Hamilton who was six tenths shy thanks to a faulty battery. The world champions are showing no mercy as they are in the process of a knockout long before the bell at the season finale in Abu Dhabi this December.

Not much you can say about a team that is delivering at the highest level on and off track, with their star driver now flexing his muscles and suggesting shift Hamilton will ramp up his challenge as he targets a sixth F1 world title no doubt inspired by what he delivered in Spain.

The race offered a unique opportunity to compare the field on fresh rubber, late on, after a safety car allowed drivers to pit for tyres. Mercedes bolted on the red band Pirelli soft tyres to both cars for the final stint.

Hamilton promptly targeted the fastest lap and claimed it on lap 54. Bottas had his go a lap later but fell short of his teammate by a quarter second. The reigning World Champion might have been well beaten in quali but when he needed to be on it, in the race, again he had no peer.

In a nutshell, unlike their rivals, Mercedes revealed little about their updates ahead of Barcelona and in the wake of the weekend it would be fair to say that the World Champions have helped themselves to at least half a second relative to their closest rivals.

2. Ferrari

  • 0.866 of a second down on the top time which translates to half a second gone AWOL in the days between Baku and Barcelona

The Reds were all over the place again this Sunday, the strategy was questionable to be polite, and they simply did not have the firepower in their fast-tracked updated aero and engine packages which they rolled out.

They were confident they would make inroads into the gap to Mercedes at a venue which after winter preseason testing ten weeks ago suggested they had the muscle to take on their rivals.

How wrong that proved to be as, not only have they slid further behind the Silver Arrows, they are now firmly in the sights of Red Bull (Max Verstappen in particular) who were only a tenth shy of the best Ferrari in the all-or-nothing Q3 session in qualifying.

As mentioned, the safety car period during the race allowed teams to change tyres with Verstappen, Vettel and Leclerc strapping on the yellow band Pirelli medium tyres to their cars. On lap 57 the Dutchman popped a lap that was better than either Ferrari driver could match, suggesting that Honda power (plus Red Bull and Max) is definitely on par with the red cars, if not a tad better.

3. Red Bull

  • 0.951 of a second down on the top time, like Ferrari they were shy half a second.

As mentioned above, Verstappen is flying the flag for the energy drinks organisation in what is something of a four-car team, but even the feisty Dutchman cannot extract enough out of the package at his disposal. And it pretty certain that if he can’t few others, if any, can.

The gap will probably shrink from track to track, but the gulf to Mercedes in Spain was probably not what Red Bull had scripted but they can take heart in the fact that they can go toe-to-toe with Ferrari and beat them.

It will be interesting to see if the RB15 is strong around Monaco where Daniel Ricciardo won with the team last year. Traditionally the Bulls are strong around the Principality, but in a break in tradition Adrian Newey has produced a so-so car to start the season with.

4. Haas

  • 1.505 seconds shy of the top time, the American team found seven tenths between races!

It would be fair to say that after Baku Haas were in big trouble. However, in Spain they unleashed what was in effect a VF19-B car as they pulled out all the stops to reverse a slide in performance, and they did so with full marks.

All weekend one would be forgiven a double take to how close Haas were to the big three. In quali they were easily Best of the Rest and slashed seven tenths off the deficit they had to Mercedes a couple of weeks earlier.

Relative to Ferrari the progress is more telling. In Baku, the American team were 1.9 seconds down on the Reds, but two weeks later they had closed the gap to seven tenths, they found over 1.5 seconds with the goodies they bolted on to their cars… without the updated Ferrari PU.

It was a remarkable turnaround of fortunes for the Guenther Steiner led team. They have now delivered a handy weapon for their drivers and now the pair need to stop making contact so that the hard work in the garage and stateside HQ gets the reward it deserves.

5. Toro Rosso

  • 1.837 seconds off the top time, six tenths worse off than Baku.

Much like the sister team Red Bull, Toro Rosso pace also dropped relative to Mercedes but not as much as rivals around them hence fifth place on the pecking order is their reward.

For the second race in a row, no Renault powered driver qualified ahead of one in a Honda-powered car, indicating that on the engine front the Japanese are now third in the PU-rankings and the French last.

6. Renault

  • 1.893 slower than Mercedes, but a tenth better than last time out in Azerbaijan.

For a works team, the budget they have and the drivers in their cars, Spain was an embarrassment for Renault as they dropped to last on the engine pecking order.

Their much vaunted new package delivered nothing significant or notable, for that matter, as no Renault powered car made it into Q3 and were never in the hunt for anything more than the small points. Prior to the safety car period, they were lapped by the leader as they have been in all races they have finished this year.

Not only is the works team in trouble their inefficiency is also impacting McLaren who are desperate for a revival but their engine supplier is doing them no favours.

7. McLaren

  • 1.932 off the pole winning time, half a second down on their best Baku effort.

In 2018, with Fernando Alonso at the wheel, McLaren were 1.6 seconds off the prime lap time suggesting that the team is pretty much where they were last year this time – the Spaniard always worth a few tenths on home soil.

Renault are doing McLaren no favours, while it has to pain McLaren fans watching Honda make relentless progress with their package while the French talk the talk but fail to deliver on track.

8. Alfa Romeo

  • 2.726 down on the top time, nine-tenths worse off than in Baku.

One can only ask what’s going on at Hinwill? Spain was a forgettable weekend as the team struggled to find the sweet spot and dropped nearly a second since their outing in Baku, with veteran Kimi Raikkonen and rookie Antonio Giovinazzi struggling to make sense of what they have at their disposal.

Team chief Frederic Vasseur summed up the race best: “It is difficult to find some positives, as the first stint of the race was just a nightmare, but at least the last stint was the best part of the weekend. I would say that today’s result belittles our real level.”

9. Racing Point

  • 2.88 seconds off the pace, 1.7 seconds going astray since Baku

What a difference two weeks makes in Formula1. In Baku, Racing Point were Best of the Rest only 1.1 seconds shy of the top time but, in Barcelona, they were only faster than Williams.

The rule of thumb is that if your car goes well at Circuit de Catalunya then it should be handy just about everywhere suggesting that the Pinks are in trouble with their package. Sergio Perez and Lance Stroll are obviously struggling.

It is ironic how with the new money flowing into the Silverstone based team they cannot replicate the form they enjoyed as a crash strapped operation. For Lawrence Stroll, this is surely not what he imagined for the team he bought for his son, at least it’s not as bad as Williams.

10. Williams

  • 3.666 seconds shy of the top time, a couple of tenths better than in Baku.

A tenth here or there is not going to suffice for Williams who are an age behind the pace and toiling in another class altogether as the one-time giants go about their business of ‘racing’ as also-rans.

George Russell and Robert Kubica are virtually invisible during races until they are lapped, that is. The pair, along with their team, significant in terms of this year’s championship.

Notably, last year this time in Barcelona, they were 3.5 seconds down on the pole winning pace.