Verstappen hunting in Spain, Mercedes beware

On Sunday, Max Verstappen returns to the scene of his historic first Formula 1 victory in Spain, hoping to pile more pressure on Formula 1 world championship leader Lewis Hamilton after beating the Mercedes duo at Silverstone last Sunday.

The 22-year-old Red Bull driver has stood on the podium at the last four races and is now the closest challenger to Hamilton’s seventh title aspirations, with 30 points separating them after five rounds.

It would be a lot less if Verstappen, who has beaten Hamilton’s Finnish teammate Valtteri Bottas in the last three races, had not suffered the first retirement of the season in Austria last month.

“It´s a different track so let´s see how competitive we are against Mercedes and how the temperatures have an impact on everyone,” the Dutchman said of the Circuit de Catalunya.

Verstappen will always have a soft spot for the Barcelona track after becoming Formula 1’s youngest ever winner there on his Red Bull debut in 2016 (pictured above after the race) at the age of 18.

This year’s race, postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic that has also led to it going behind closed doors, is normally held in the cooler month of May rather than August where track temperatures are likely to be above 40 degrees Celsius.

“The track at Barcelona is also quite hard on the tyres so I´m not sure how they will hold out in the heat,” said Verstappen.

The tyres were decisive last Sunday, with the Red Bull managing the softer compounds better than the Mercedes which suffered severe blistering, but there will be a return to harder rubber in Spain.

That could help Hamilton, who had won three races in a row before Verstappen’s success and has also won the last three outings in Spain.

“Maybe it won´t be as bad as today but still going to be a challenge,” he said last Sunday when asked about expectations.

Bottas started on pole in Spain last year and needs to pull something out of the bag to rein in a team mate who is driving as well as ever.

Losing out at Silverstone, after also starting on pole but having the strategy go against him, was a serious blow.

The top three will be taking every precaution against the new coronavirus, with a rising number of new infections being seen in Spain and particularly around Barcelona.

“I stay at the track always, so nothing changes for me,” said Hamilton. “I stay in my bubble, I´m only around a couple of people and so I will get to the airport and then go straight to my motorhome and stay at the track for the three/four days.”

Verstappen and Bottas said it was the same for them.

“You minimise contact, you stay in your bubble. I don´t expect any trouble. It´s not only in Barcelona or in Spain there is corona, you know, so you just have to be careful,” said the Dutchman.

Racing Point’s Mexican Sergio Perez, who missed the two rounds at Silverstone after testing positive for COVID-19, is expected to return for Sunday’s race.

Spanish Grand Prix Facts & Stats:

  • Some statistics for Sunday’s Spanish Formula One Grand Prix at Barcelona’s Circuit de Catalunya, the sixth race of the 2020 season:
  • Lap distance: 4.655 km. Total distance: 307.104 km (66 laps)
  • 2019 pole position: Valtteri Bottas (Finland) Mercedes one minute 15.406 seconds.
  • 2019 race winner: Lewis Hamilton (Britain) Mercedes
  • Race lap record: Daniel Ricciardo (Australia) Red Bull, 2018. One minute 18.441 seconds.
  • Start time: 1310 GMT (1510 local)

Spanish Grand Prix

  • The Circuit de Catalunya is celebrating its 30th year as host of what will be the 50th Spanish GP.
  • Sunday’s race will be without spectators due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • Hamilton has won four times in Spain (2014, 2017, 2018, 2019) and is chasing a fourth in a row. Other winners are Kimi Raikkonen (2005, 2008), Sebastian Vettel (2011) and Max Verstappen (2016).
  • All but four of the last 19 Spanish Grands Prix have been won from pole position.
  • The only drivers to win in Barcelona and not start on the front row were Michael Schumacher (third on the grid in 1996), Fernando Alonso (from fifth in 2013) and Verstappen (fourth in 2016).
  • McLaren´s Carlos Sainz is the only Spanish driver on the grid.
  • Ferrari are the most successful team at the Circuit de Catalunya with eight wins. Since the first Spanish Grand Prix in 1951, the Italian team have won the race 12 times.

Grand Prix Victories

  • Hamilton has 87 victories from 255 starts and is four short of Ferrari great Michael Schumacher’s record 91. Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel is the next closest active driver on 53.
  • Hamilton has won three of the five races so far in 2020.
  • Ferrari have won 238 races since 1950, McLaren 182, Williams 114, Mercedes 106 and Red Bull 63. Former champions McLaren and Williams have not won since 2012.

Pole Position

  • Hamilton has a record 91 career poles.
  • Verstappen’s win at Silverstone last Sunday was from fourth on the grid, making him the first driver to win from somewhere other than pole since Mexico last October – a run of seven wins from pole.

Podium

  • Hamilton now has 155 career podiums and on Sunday can break the record he shares with Ferrari great Michael Schumacher.

Points

  • Hamilton has a record 38 successive points finishes. He is three short of Nick Heidfeld’s record for finishes.
  • The Briton leads Red Bull’s Max Verstappen by 30 points.
  • All of the 10 teams except Williams have scored points this season.

Milestone

  • Alfa Romeo’s Raikkonen broke Schumacher’s record last weekend for the most laps raced in the Formula 1  championship, completing 16,845 compared to the German’s 16,825.