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F1: Five things we learnt from the 2024 Spanish Grand Prix

What did the tactical battles in Barcelona reveal about the competitive order?

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The Spanish Grand Prix showcased stories and questions of intrigue throughout the field and a few surprises. 

F1: Five things we learnt from the 2024 Spanish Grand Prix (Image Credit: McLaren Racing Media Centre)
F1: Five things we learnt from the 2024 Spanish Grand Prix (Image Credit: McLaren Racing Media Centre)
A bad start costs Norris dearly

Lando Norris told Sky Sports pre-race coverage that he was “one of the better guys” at F1 race starts. He had just unwittingly cursed himself. Moving slowly off the line at lights out, his attempts to block Max Verstappen allowed George Russell to snatch the lead. With his afternoon compromised, a win now looked difficult.

One stat that kept coming up during the race was the time Lando Norris needed to make up to Max Verstappen. Having passed the Mercedes of Russell, Verstappen dived for the pits, and Norris attempted to minimise the damage.

His drive back through the top five after his own stop was slow at points, but to be 2.2 seconds behind Verstappen showed the pace he and McLaren had all weekend. But Norris knew victory had slipped through his fingers within the first five seconds of the race.

Verstappen is the benchmark for all drivers to measure themselves against. He is a once-in-a-generation talent. Making few mistakes, the Dutchman delivers week in and week out, no matter the challenge.

He and Red Bull won in Spain despite not having the fastest car in Spain, Verstappen admitting to having to be “aggressive” to secure the win. If McLaren really is Red Bull’s closest challenger for the rest of 2024, it and Norris need to perfect all aspects of a race to beat him. Only then will the results come.

Alpine’s sudden pace could be the real deal
Esteban Ocon battles with Nico Hulkenberg at the Spanish Grand Prix (Image Credit: @AlpineF1Team on X)
Esteban Ocon battles with Nico Hulkenberg at the Spanish Grand Prix (Image Credit: @AlpineF1Team on X)

After miserable headlines blindsided the team recently, Alpine needed an overdue break from its terrible 2024. Barcelona gave the team its second consecutive double-points finish.

While Flavio Briatore’s return will undoubtedly raise morale within the team as he seeks to turn around its fortunes, Alpine earned its strong result under the Catalonian sun.

Pierre Gasly had voiced his concerns heading into the weekend that Alpine’s lack of upgrades could hurt the team’s pace in the next few races, but in Barcelona, this seemed unfounded.

Both drivers held their own in the lower midfield battle, comfortably finishing as best of the rest behind Red Bull, McLaren, Ferrari, and Mercedes. Although Gasly lost P8 on the final lap to Sergio Perez, Alpine’s performances in Montreal and Barcelona give genuine hope that Alpine has turned a corner with its troublesome car.

P9 for Gasly and P10 for Esteban Ocon at the chequered flag moves the team into P7 in the standings. Now one point ahead of Haas, the battle for the lower places in the standings will get spicier and closer in the second half of the season.

RB’s upgrades fail to move the team forward
Daniel Ricciardo racing in Barcelona (Image Credit: Red Bull Content Pool/ Chris Graythen/Getty Images)
Daniel Ricciardo racing in Barcelona (Image Credit: Red Bull Content Pool/ Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

RB arrived in Barcelona cautiously optimistic. It believed a substantial upgrade package would keep it ahead of the tight lower midfield battle it has confidently led so far in 2024.

Featuring an overhauled rear wing, new underbody, and substantially revised sidepods, the upgraded VCARB 01 should have pulled the team clear of Alpine, Aston Martin and Williams. Instead, it seemed to do the opposite.

Yuki Tsunoda and Daniel Ricciardo struggled to make any impression during the race. Ricciardo provided the team with some excitement, pulling off a couple of moves on Kevin Magnussen and Valtteri Bottas to move into P15, but that was as good as it got. The usually fast and fiery Tsunoda had no pace in the race, finishing P19.

Its 20-point advantage over Alpine will slowly diminish over the next few races unless it quickly identifies the issues with its upgrades. The team has worked hard to pull clear of the lower order in the championship, but Barcelona provided proof that the battle is far from over.

The true test for Mercedes is yet to come
George Russell leads Max Verstappen in the early stages of the Spanish Grand Prix (Image Credit: @MercedesAMGF1 on X)
George Russell leads Max Verstappen in the early stages of the Spanish Grand Prix (Image Credit: @MercedesAMGF1 on X)

While Norris and Verstappen were engaged in a tactical battle of speed and strategic chess, Mercedes enjoyed its best result of the year. Russell’s outstanding start gave him the lead, but the searing pace of Verstappen’s Red Bull forced him to concede the top spot after just three laps.

A DRS train forming behind the Mercedes indicated that the W15’s speed is not yet at the stage where it can fight at the front. But the Silver Arrows are finally knocking on the door of a top result.

Russell’s hard tyre woes and slow pit stop, without question, cost him third place by the chequered flag. By contrast, Hamilton shone, in his most competitive showing for many races, to take his 198th visit to the podium.  Highlights of his race include an audacious move on Carlos Sainz while also passing Russell in an overtake that acted as a statement of intent.

Hamilton wants to finish the year on a high before moving to Ferrari. Russell, however, wants to assert his position as de facto team leader. If the team continues to be competitive, will the harmony at Mercedes begin to dissolve?

Is Ferrari quickly falling behind the top three?
Carlos Sainz and Charles Lecerlc running in formation during the Spanish Grand Prix (Image Credit: @ScuderiaFerrari on X)
Carlos Sainz and Charles Lecerlc running in formation during the Spanish Grand Prix (Image Credit: @ScuderiaFerrari on X)

The highs of Monaco must seem like an age ago for the Scuderia. Ferrari urgently needed to fight back after the nadir of Canada, and thankfully, both cars finished in Spain.

But where Sainz and Leclerc finished will concern the team. With Red Bull and McLaren firmly out of reach, it could only battle with Mercedes in Barcelona.

P5 and P6 at the chequered flag is a disappointing, with Hamilton and Russell easily outpacing both Ferraris. Hamilton steamed past Sainz, while Leclerc’s pace in his second stint proved concerning.

Leclerc pushed hard to close on Russell in the closing stages, but the Mercedes driver held on to P4. As F1 heads to Austria, Ferrari will be hoping for better pace in the second race of F1’s summer triple header. Its lead over McLaren in the standings has shrunk to 33 points, with all to play for.

 

Feature Image Credit: Red Bull Content Pool/Peter Fox/Getty Images

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