Despite an off-track excursion, Max Verstappen won a drama-packed 2022 Spanish Grand Prix that will go down as one of the most entertaining seen in Barcelona in a long time, while his Title rival Charles Leclerc did not finish the race.
The 19-point-lead Leclerc had before Spain, has vanished as the reigning Formula 1 World Champion now leads the Drivers’ Standings after round six on 110 points; by six points. Red Bull overcame Ferrari in the Constructors’ Championship and now lead by 26 points.
What a race! Where to start? Perhaps best at the beginning.
Both Leclerc and Verstappen got away well and darted into an early lead, while Carlos Sainz duffed his start and dropped down the order, but it was worse for Lewis Hamilton and Kevin Magnussen, the Dane clattering into the Mercedes travelling his Haas while the #44 limped to the pits with a puncture.
As things calmed down, Carlos Sainz was again in the spotlight when he spun into the gravel on lap 9, the Ferrari twitching through Turn 4 and snapping out of control; then it got juicier, a lap later, and the Spaniard’s saving grace was that Verstappen had a similar incident at the exact same place in the corner, caused by gusty winds swirling around the Repsol bend at that point of the race.
Luckily the Red Bull spent less time through the gravel than the Ferrari, rejoining behind George Russell, which triggered one of the finest duels witnessed at the oft boring track. Verstappen was hampered severely with a faulty DRS which opened intermittently, more often than not staying shut to the Dutch ace’s frustration.
After his excursion, an angry Max makes for a mega Max; they pitted the World Champion to free him of Russell’s rear end, whereupon he delivered a catch-up masterclass. Russell was always going to be easy to lose, and once he got by, it became a battle against Perez.
But it wasn’t a battle of course as Perez – Red Bull’s Minister of Defence – stepped aside on lap 49 with a gimme move that handed Verstappen the lead where he stayed until the end.
Verstappen: I’m very happy to win and very happy for Checo
The Dutch ace spoke of his DRS troubles in Parc Ferme: “That made it very tough, but we managed to get ahead again and do our own race, and eventually win the race. It was a difficult beginning, but a good end.
“I tried to stay focused; of course, it’s not nice when stuff like that happens, but I’m very happy to win and very happy for Checo. It was a great result for the team,” added Verstappen.
Indeed it was proper teamwork that will no doubt irk Perez, but it was his first podium in Spain plus he got the point for the fastest lap and, honestly, what does he expect in Max’s team?
In the end, it is an emphatic Red Bull one-two at the Barcelona venue where a precocious young Max won his first Grand Prix in 2016. In 2022 history repeats itself for an equally important victory; his second in Spain.
Perez acknowledged the team victory before adding “we will speak later” on the slow down lap, and recapped his race after: “I have been feeling a lot of support this weekend so I am extremely happy to be on the podium for the first time in the Spanish Grand Prix.
“I think it was close but at the end it is a great team result and I am happy with that. We went on different tyre strategies and I let Max by in the beginning, but then I thought I could go by and not lose crucial seconds to make my strategy work. But anyway… it is a team result.”
Russell: I was doing was everything to keep the Red Bulls behind
On his way to third, Russell was mega (as mentioned) in his scrap with Verstappen that was out of the top drawer, and nothing short of heroic, in a slower car at that point, as the Mercedes new boy did everything he could do to frustrate the eventual race winner.
He said after the race: “Today was very tough. I did everything I could to hold Max off but he did an amazing job. I am very proud to be standing here, the guys have done an amazing job so thank you to everyone in Brackley and Brixworth.”
Asked about the overheating he faced, Russell said: “It hurt us a lot to be honest but when I had the Red Bulls in my mirrors all I was doing was everything to keep them behind but it was an enjoyable couple of laps and I’m pleased to be able to bring it home for P3 and the points for the team. Well done to Max, he did a great job.”
In the Mercedes, Hamilton’s third corner wheel-banging prompted him to call the team to retire his car after stopping and joining second last.
But he got the “move on call” from the pitwall, and he then delivered one of his best performances and a telling recovery as Hamilton simply gobbled Sainz’s Ferrari with the end in sight.
Until, with a couple of laps to go the #44 Mercedes got marginal on fuel and had to slow to make it to the finish, giving local hero Sainz fourth place and a good recovery in the wake of another glaring gaffe by the Ferrari driver. P5 for Hamilton who wanted to park the car after half a dozen laps…
In retrospect, Mercedes are by far the most improved package seen in Barcelona this weekend. The amount of race pace they found since Miami has been impressive, the W13 is now drivable, finally as the results show.
Alfa Romeo strategy denies Bottas a chance to split the Mercedes duo
Former Merc man Valtteri Bottas again shone in the Alfa Romeo, mixing it with his former team until the very end, but Alfa Romeo’s strategy did him no favours. Nevertheless, sixth place is a good haul of points for the Swiss team.
Alpine turned around what could have been a better Saturday, with Esteban Ocon turning 12th on the grid into seventh after a gritty performance, while Fernando Alonso’s ninth place made it a much-needed double points haul for the team; the veteran Spaniard – his usual feisty self, roared on by his home fans – carved his way upfield from the back of the grid after an engine change penalty relegated him from 17th.
An out of sorts Lando Norris split the Alpine duo on the results sheet, the McLaren driver suffering a sever case of hay-fever all weekend. Nevertheless, he fought through it with a gutsy display to eighth, beating teammate Daniel Ricciardo who crossed the line 12th.
The final point went to Yuki Tsunoda who appears a much calmer and less mistake-prone driver in his second season, beating vastly more experienced AlphaTauri teammate Pierre Gasly on the day; the Frenchman was 13th.
Beyond that, Aston Martin were terrible despite the fortune spent to upgrade their car to ‘Green Bull’ specs, and as expected Williams remain the worst team in F1. Even Alex Albon’s heroics and red hair could not save them this time.
More would have been expected of Haas, but Magnussen’s move on Hamilton (who hugged the inside) was the Dane’s error no matter his accusations of the Mercedes man ramming him – a racing incident that should not have happened so early in the race.
With the lap one move, K-Mag denied himself points plus a chance to mix it with the fast folk. In the sister Haas, Mick Schumacher was again unspectacular on his way to 14th.
Gene Haas, on hand to watch his resurgent team, would have been disappointed with what he saw, especially after seeing both his cars in the top ten on the grid, a rare occasion for the American team. A good Sunday did not follow a good Saturday at the Spanish Grand Prix for them
Next up, next weekend the Monaco Grand Prix. Bring it on!