Terrien: Verstappen F1 title favourite now more than ever

BARCELONA, SPAIN - MAY 22: Max Verstappen of Red Bull Racing and The Netherlands celebrates finishing in first during the F1 Grand Prix of Spain at Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya on May 22, 2022 in Barcelona, Spain. (Photo by Peter Fox/Getty Images)

Formula 1 is back in Europe after the first five flyaways, and must admit I was expecting a boring race as so often happens at the Spanish Grand Prix at Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya… but happy to report I was wrong!

The well-known track usually allows for very small gaps between teams and proved to be difficult for overtaking in the past. But with the new aero rules, things changed and I was wrong, the race was entertaining and fun to watch.

First lap incident, drivers’ mistakes, heat combined with tire degradation, new regulation allowing cars to follow each other closer, DRS working well for all except for Verstappen; three pit stops strategies with different timings, drivers starting or restarting from the back of the grid, these were great ingredients for an action-packed race in Barcelona.

Those were obvious but looking at the race from a different perspective, I think it was really interesting for other reasons.

We heard Lewis Hamilton wanting to retire the car on Lap 2. This sounded to me as if he was giving up and I thought it was scary for his future in F1. But he listened to Bono and he delivered a Hamilton masterpiece despite the obvious lack of motivation.

His pace was impressive, and he only lost four seconds to the leader of the Grand Prix between lap 2 and the chequered flag, which is, by far, the best pace a Mercedes has shown since the start of the season. Mercedes is a great team, they are not dead yet, or at least let’s hope so.

Older drivers found more pace at the familiar Barcelona track

BARCELONA, SPAIN - MAY 22: Sergio Perez of Mexico driving the (11) Oracle Red Bull Racing RB18 leads George Russell of Great Britain driving the (63) Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team W13 during the F1 Grand Prix of Spain at Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya on May 22, 2022 in Barcelona, Spain. (Photo by Lars Baron/Getty Images)

On his side, George Russell impressed everyone and did a fantastic job, but his pace was not as good as Hamilton’s, and for the first time in 2022, Hamilton was dominating him in terms of lap times.

Talking about older drivers outperforming their younger teammates, Fernando Alonso was also in a very good form on Sunday with a much stronger race pace than Ocon during the Grand Prix. He finished behind once again, but both cars scored points and Fernando’s race performance is a very good sign for the French team.

But then why? Why were older drivers much faster than their younger teammates for the first time of the season in Barcelona? Is this because they know the track better?

This could actually be a reason. The young generation is quick to adapt to new tracks, they learn faster and get faster to the limit of the car in a new environment.

Didn’t we hear Hamilton predicting Max would top the timing sheets of FP1 in Jeddah last year before the session started? He pointed out how Max was very quick to adapt to new tracks and new conditions.

I believe this is not only about Max but this is a trademark of the young F1 generation and this could be a reason for seeing them beating their teammate since the beginning of the 2022 campaign and its new rules, at new or newish venues.

Sainz didn’t do well in front of his home crowd but what to say about Ricciardo?

Ricciardo under pressure

The Spanish Grand Prix also came as a very big disappointment for some drivers and teams. Despite my belief that it is still too soon to bury Carlos Sainz, one must consider not only he is constantly outperformed by Leclerc, but he spun again and must be in a terrible state of mind after Barcelona.

Unlike last year, when the Spaniard had the upper hand in a midfield car and beat Charles in the 2021 standings, but now with a winning car it appears harder and harder for him to get back to or even match Leclerc levels.

This, combined with the power unit issues faced by Leclerc while leading comfortably, is bad news for Ferrari, for the F1 drivers and for the constructors’ titles. After a forgettable Barcelona, heading to Monte-Carlo, they need to react fast since momentum is very much in Red Bull’s favour.

If local hero Sainz didn’t do well, what to say about Ricciardo? It is painful to see him performing so badly on track. His body language in his post-race video on his Instagram account makes it even worst.

He basically can’t explain why he is so far off Norris’ pace (and Lando had tonsilitis on Sunday!) while trying to keep a composed smiley face, but we can see how much it hurts and how bad he feels. It is hard to believe he can recover from the situation unscathed.

Red Bull team orders controversy… What controversy?

BARCELONA, SPAIN - MAY 22: Race winner Max Verstappen of the Netherlands and Oracle Red Bull Racing, Second placed Sergio Perez of Mexico and Oracle Red Bull Racing and Third placed George Russell of Great Britain and Mercedes celebrate on the podium during the F1 Grand Prix of Spain at Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya on May 22, 2022 in Barcelona, Spain. (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)

Hats off to Red Bull. Despite the obvious DRS problem on Max’s car down the Barcelona main straight, they seem to have sorted their reliability issues and delivered perfect teamwork.

Red Bull has had a lead or number one driver strategy for years and it is now all for Max. Sergio Perez is only a support for both championships, but their real goal is the F1 drivers’ title and Perez has to support Max.

Checo’s “we talk later” message on the radio at the end of the race might help him in his contract renegotiation but I doubt it will do anything else.

I believe he will stay at Red Bull because he is the perfect fit, he is mature, he can score points and be fast enough in a team where he is clearly a number two, and where previous younger Reb Bull drivers couldn’t be strong enough to deal with such a hostile environment, namely teammate to Max.

Red Bull is just being Red Bull but what about Max?

BARCELONA, SPAIN - MAY 22: Race winner Max Verstappen of the Netherlands and Oracle Red Bull Racing celebrates in parc ferme during the F1 Grand Prix of Spain at Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya on May 22, 2022 in Barcelona, Spain. (Photo by Lars Baron/Getty Images)

Of course, he is just at the beginning of what could be a very long period fighting for the title every season, but at one point, they will need to plan for the after Max.

Right now, this is the least of their concerns since Max delivers. With a very capricious DRS and with obvious anger on the radio, he delivered in fashion. His save in Turn 4, his move on Bottas and his race pace on his last two stints were amazing.

Of course, he had much fresher tires when going on the outside of Bottas, but overtaking in turn 12 in Barcelona is a real challenge, doing it on the outside is not for any driver and it shows how strong and confident Max is. He is the F1 championship favourite now more than ever.

This one-two for Red Bull is well deserved and they will be difficult to beat in both Championships.

It is now time for Monaco where we won’t be short of action off track but if you want to make sure you don’t miss the hype of the weekend on track, make sure you don’t miss the Qualifying.

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