The 2023 Spanish Grand Prix in Barcelona may not have been the most exciting race so far this year, but it gave us enough to ponder from Max Verstappen’s dominance to Fernando Alonso’s disappointment, and Mercedes’ resurgence.
After the thrilling Monaco Grand Prix – great Qualifying and intriguing race – one week earlier, the Formula 1 show landed in Barcelona, Spain for the seventh round of the season.
And while it was well known which team/driver would win around the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya, Red Bull and Verstappen, the question would be: How big an advantage would they have?
But there were some other stories to look out for in Barcelona, as it was the second race for the upgraded Mercedes W14 and the best test for their new design direction.
Another story that was stealing the spotlight in Spain, a potential feel-good one, was Alonso’s quest for a 33rd career win, and whether he could achieve that in front of his home crowds. It was never going to be an easy task, and as things transpired it was an impossible one.
So let’s see what we took away from the 2023 Spanish Grand Prix.
Verstappen’s third F1 career Grand Slam
The Dutchman took his third ever F1 career Grand Slam (pole, win, fastest lap, lead every lap) in Barcelona last Sunday, the other two being in Austria (2021) and Emilia-Romagna (2022), and that was not a surprise given the form he has been in so far this season, not to mention the formidable, Adrian Newey-penned RB19 he has at his disposal.
The only unknown during the race was the gap by which Verstappen would win the race, 24 seconds as it turned out, and with a two-stop strategy after an unchallenged 66-lap cruise to the flag.
Red Bull were concerned by their driver exceeding the track limits three times, which earned him a black and white flag, but that was probably because of him getting too relaxed out front, which meant he let it slip a few times.
But then Verstappen decided to go for the fastest lap, which caused the anxiety levels on the Red Bull pit wall to go through the roof, as they tried to deter him from taking any risks, but he wouldn’t have any of it, and a laser-focused hot lap meant that he achieved the Grand Slam.
In the end, his performance in Spain was an example of man and machine operating in complete synergy, a genius behind the wheel of a car designed by a genius F1 designer.
Some might complain when such dominance exists in F1, but that has always been the case, and instead of complaining, we should feel privileged to be watching greatness in the making.
We experienced it this century with a select few before; Michael Schumacher, Lewis Hamilton, and Sebastian Vettel, and now we are witnessing the same with Verstappen.
Alonso’s disappointing home race
Spanish fans might have been vying for Alonso to take win #33 in Barcelona, the scene of his last win in 2013 with Ferrari. But that was really not going to happen, and while a podium would’ve been a consolation for the fans, their hero even failed to achieve that.
Now the only thing Alonso could be blamed for, was his mistake at the start of Qualifying when he lost control over his AMR23 in the final corner (a welcomed change to the track by the way) and ended up with a trip to the gravel, damaging the floor.
That put him on the back foot in Qualifying where he ended only ninth fastest, and while he started eighth after Pierre Gasly dropped down six places for his multiple impeding incidents; a start higher up the grid would’ve boosted Alonso’s chances of a better result – he finished seventh.
With the pace Mercedes showed in Barcelona, it was always going to be a long shot for Alonso to fight for a podium, which makes his Qualifying error less of a factor, but it was one of those rare moments the Spaniard slipped.
On the other hand, Aston Martin have dropped to third in the F1 Constructors’ Championship behind Mercedes, thanks in part to Lance Stroll not contributing enough points so far in 2023 – Spain was the first time he beat Alonso – but it also seems that Team Green are lagging behind in car upgrades.
The AMR23 has had some minor updates since the start of the season, but nothing as substantial as the W14’s, and from what the Mercedes have done, Aston Martin should pick up the pace of their development before they lose more ground to the eight-time F1 Constructors’ Champions.
Light at the end of the tunnel for Mercedes?
Mercedes couldn’t evaluate their B-Spec W14 properly when they launched it in Monaco, looking to Barcelona to confirm if they are out of the zero-sidepod dark tunnel to nowhere or at last finally see some light.
Initial signs from Friday practice were not encouraging for the Brackley outfit, as they were off the pace, neither Lewis Hamilton, nor George Russell happy with the car, and it took some serious work behind the scenes back at the factory overnight to get the car in the right window – courtesy of Mick Schumacher and the engineers.
While Russell tripped up in Qualifying, Hamilton put his car fifth on the grid. That became fourth on race day following Gasly’s demotion, which shows you that despite the younger Briton’s talents, his veteran teammate is still taking him to school, especially when experience is needed with a new car and all that comes with that
On race day, both drivers drove strong races to bring the Black Arrows home second and third, but they were still 24-seconds away from the two-stopping Verstappen, the #1 Red Bull in cruise mode all race long.
But hey, Mercedes put themselves firmly second in the pecking order behind the Bulls, of course pending the retaliation of Aston Martin.
They may still have a long way to go to return to their usual position, but Mercedes have taken their first serious step towards recovery, or as GrandPrix247’s Paul Velasco fittingly called it in his Spanish Grand Prix report: “Mercedes Awaken”.
I was going to give a full takeaway for Ferrari’s miserable race in Spain, but decided to give them a break as it was their first race with the upgraded SF-23, and they may need some more time to dial it in, keeping in mind that Charles Leclerc’s struggles were worrying. But let’s just wait a few more races before we give our judgement on their new Red Bull-inspired design route.
Yuki Tsunoda’s penalty when fighting with Zhou Guanyu was bullsh!t.
Not penalizing Esteban Ocon for his shenanigans defending from Alonso was also bullsh!t, and kudos for latter for putting his former teammate in his place.
A painful race for McLaren’s Lando Norris following a heroic Qualifying.
It was great to have the last corner reinstated on the track in Barcelona instead of the ridiculous chicanes. The current F1 cars sweeping through it looked just brilliant.