After the celebrations for the 70th Anniversary Grand Prix, held at the Silverstone circuit, it is now time for the Circus to move to Spain, where the sixth round of the 2020 season will be held. The race originally scheduled for 10 May, in fact, has been rescheduled to 16 August 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the resulting calendar changes. The Grand Prix, which for the first time in its history will be held in August, will be held behind closed doors, just like its predecessors.
The air in Montmelò is becoming tense, the season is now in full swing and the protests against Racing Point are not letting up. Speaking of the British team, Sergio Perez finally tested negative and will be able to return to the track, taking back the seat temporarily given to Nico Hulkenberg. The teams are preparing for the sixth round of the calendar by attending the usual Thursday press conference. Ferrari arrives from Silverstone with a good fourth place for Charles Leclerc, who says he is worried about the next challenge ahead, but also satisfied with his technical progress:
"Here in Spain it will be much more difficult, I am quite sure of it. We'll see what we can do by taking advantage of every opportunity".
Returning then to the two races at Silverstone, the young Monegasque driver admits:
"We were faster than expected, that's for sure. I improved a lot in tire management, I'm happy because I worked a lot on it. I think I did a good job, but also the car behaved well. I don't know why we were faster at Silverstone in the second weekend, even though the conditions were different. It's still unknown. I felt much better in the car, the balance was better".
Opposite mood instead for Sebastian Vettel, still bitter from his twelfth place, due to a wrong strategy choice by the team:
"Now the sea is not calm, in fact it is rough. But I would not say that I feel frustrated, nor that there is tension with the team. At Silverstone we could have had a different strategy, we talked about it with the team and now we are trying to extract the full potential of the car. If you only judge the emotions at the end of the race, or even during the race, you don't get a true picture. I'm not here to lose, and I know that the package we have doesn't allow us to win: but by working, and improving, we can aim for the podium".
The focus then shifts to Mercedes and the novelty of Party Mode. In fact, the ban on the use of different engine mappings between qualifying and the race, which could be applied as early as the next round at Spa at the end of August, was the main topic of the conference. The FIA, in fact, has sent an official letter to the teams informing them of the new technical regulations, which aim at restricting the use of Qualifying Mode. Party Mode is a technical setting in use since 2014, introduced with the beginning of the hybrid era, which allows for an extra boost of power unit power. The justification given for this change is the need to simplify the commissioners' checks on the single-seaters, as the software used is already very complex to analyze.
The abolition of Party Mode, however, also has the consequence of forcing the drivers to lack external help, and for this reason it seems to be particularly directed against Mercedes. The Anglo-German team, in fact, has a much better performing engine compared to last year, which allows, thanks also to Party Mode, to score the biggest gap in terms of qualifying times compared to the rest of the grid. Lewis Hamilton says he is surprised by this decision, but above all annoyed by an attack that, at least from the outside, seems to have been designed to satisfy the various complaints of the opposing teams regarding Mercedes:
"For us, it's not a surprise that they want to ban qualifying mode. They're always trying to slow us down. But for us it wouldn't mean losing too much, so it's not a problem. The team has done a great job developing the engine. If they ban the qualifying mode, they will slow us down, but not in the way they want. So if they do that, it's fine with us".
Agrees Britain's Toto Wolff, who is not scared by the decision, however:
"With such sophisticated power units it's difficult even for the FIA to monitor it. Party Mode is a good thing for us because, like many other teams, we can use it in qualifying. But if we can no longer use it in qualifying, then we will have a lot more power in the race. I agree with what Hamilton said, and we are not worried about losing power".
Red Bull, on the other hand, and especially Max Verstappen, the only real challenger to Mercedes, is happy with the news:
"In a way, it could be good, since we're not really allowed to touch the car after qualifying, except when it comes to that kind of thing: engine settings. It can have influence, so it might be good to limit that as well. No Mercedes, much more party?"
At Ferrari, the news doesn't seem to be particularly upsetting. For Sebastian Vettel, the abolition of Party Mode will impact little on the already disappointing engine produced in Maranello:
"I don't think it's a measure that will have an impact on us, not this season. It depends on how much an engine is able to pull out. If someone has worked to have a certain number of kilometers in which they can have more power, then it's not good news, but considering where we are today I don't think it affects us that much".
Charles Leclerc also agrees, especially since Ferrari does not use different engine mappings between qualifying and the race:
"It's not something that will affect us more than much, it can do it maybe in a positive way. I don't know how much benefit it would bring to us, for sure we don't have anything different from qualifying to race so for us nothing would change. In favor? Yes of course, I would be in favor. If you do it, you do it for a concrete reason".
Mattia Binotto closes, reminding us that power unit regulations are indeed complex, and clarifications are always welcome:
"The power unit regulations are complex and making technical guidelines to clarify them is important. As far as we are concerned, there is no great difference between qualifying and race performance, and perhaps we are among the teams that will be least affected by this measure".
On the eve of the Grand Prix, as anticipated, the controversy directed at Racing Point continues. Ferrari and Renault have in fact confirmed their willingness to continue their appeal against the FIA ruling on the Racing Point case, while Williams and McLaren have decided to abandon the battle. Racing Point, for now, has been sanctioned with 15 points in the standings and a 400 thousand euro fine for the Styria Grand Prix, while for the following races it has received and will continue to receive only reprimands for the use of the incriminated brakes. An absolutely insufficient verdict according to Renault's team principal, Cyril Abiteboul, who kicked off the protests:
"We expected a substantial sanction: just us last year in Suzuka, when we were found outside the limits of the sporting regulations, not the technical ones, we were excluded from the event, losing all our points made. No discounts for us, I don't know why Racing Point should be given any. Instead they will only receive reprimands, a rather strange situation. We would like to have more clarity as to why a car out of the rules only receives reprimands, but continues to run in the World Championship and collect points. We think it's embarrassing".
The conference then moved on to the rumors about a possible early divorce between Vettel and Ferrari, given the German's disappointing performance. The answer is Mattia Binotto himself, who firmly denies it:
"There is nothing to discuss on this front. Between us and Sebastian things are going very well, within the team we work with transparency, and we have never thought about replacing him. We have no doubt about his talent, he just needs to put it all together to improve himself. The important thing is to help him and make sure he feels at ease with the team and the car".
Closing the conference then, is the theme of the Pact of Concord, which Mercedes has finally chosen to sign. Recently, in fact, the prinicipal Mercedes team changed its position after a chat with Liberty Media Ceo, Chase Carey:
"I was quite explicit about the things we need to move forward. After Silverstone I changed my mind: I don't think there will ever be unity among the teams in Formula 1, each one only thinks about its own goals. That's why we decided to continue the discussions with Chase: we had constructive meetings over the weekend, and most of the doubts we wanted clarified were discussed. I feel we are well on our way to signing the Concord Agreement. The renewal of the agreement is expected on August 18".
Wolff is renewing the pact but, at least for now, not his contract. The manager explains that he is in negotiations, but at the same time pausing for thought:
"For me it's flattering that Lewis says his renewal depends on what I do, but I think he doesn't need me. I think staying at Mercedes is the best thing for him and that's what he wants to do. He has the chance to achieve great success. I haven't made a decision yet. We are talking, and the discussion is positive. I don't want to give the impression that I'm leaving. That's not the case, I'm just in a moment of reflection about where the Formula 1 of the future is going, what's going on with Covid and also my own personal issues. My wife Susie is in a good position, she's running a Formula E team, which means she's away a lot. And I've been following god knows how many races. It's something we're thinking about. There is a discussion between me and Ola Kallenius (chairman of the board of Daimler AG). We want the best for the team. To continue to see it thrive. I really like my role, my plan is to continue, but I don't want to be in the situation where you go from being very good to just being good".
Friday opens on a hot, almost sultry Barcelona: 32° atmospheric temperature and 50° asphalt. In the morning the teams get ready for the first free practice of the day, with Williams that only for this session will bring on track Roy Nissany in place of George Russell. For the Israeli driver this will be his debut at the wheel of a Formula 1 car, an exciting day for sure. In this first session the drivers will have ninety minutes to find the right feeling with the Montmelò circuit, and decide the right strategy for the race. Potentially difficult weekend instead for Mercedes because of the heat, which in a similar situation in Great Britain led to a marked blistering on the tires. This factor, combined with Max Vertstappen's victory in the last 70th Anniversary Grand Prix, bodes well for an eventful weekend, to try and close the gap between the Mercedes on one side and the rest of the pack on the other.
In Ferrari, on the other hand, the strategy seems to focus, as in Silverstone, on the use of a leaner set-up in order to minimize the deficit in terms of power, but having to deal with some problems in the corners, as stressed several times by both drivers. As far as technical changes are concerned, while no changes are expected on Charles Leclerc's car this weekend, Sebastian Vettel's car will be fitted with a new chassis due to damage sustained during the British Grand Prix. As for the other cars, in general a high load set-up will be preferred in order to be fast in the high and medium speed corners that characterize the Montmelò track.
The cars with more aerodynamic efficiency will be at an advantage on this circuit, because they will be able to use less loaded wings in order to favor top speed on the long main straight. The Catalan circuit does not engage the engine too much, since the throttle is fully open only for fifty percent of the lap. In view of the sweltering heat, typical of Spain in August, Pirelli decides to use the three hardest compounds: C1, C2 and C3. The choice mirrors the one made last year for the same Grand Prix, but this year the tire pressure has been slightly increased in order to cope with the high load that the rubber will undergo during the race. The pressure levels will however remain lower than those of Silverstone, guilty of having penalized the performance of Mercedes and McLaren in the first place.
The Anglo-German team, in fact, in order to address this concern, in the days leading up to the race weekend spent a lot of time carefully studying the data of what happened in Britain, discovering that the cause was probably a wrong mechanical setup, which in an attempt to safeguard the front tires went to stress too much the rear ones. Therefore today Mercedes, as well as the other teams, could present themselves with different air intakes in order to cool the most heat sensitive components of the car. The International Automobile Federation establishes, for this race, two zones for the activation of the Drag Reduction System: the first one along the main straight, with the point for the determination of the gap between drivers placed before the last corner, while the second zone is indicated between turn 9 and turn 10, with the detection point fixed before turn 9.
The marshals establish that, starting from the second cut in turn 2, they will show the black and white flag to the drivers. Every other cut, always in the same turn, will be reported to the race direction. The area of the first corner has been resurfaced, while other changes concern the lengthening of the kerb at the exit of turn eight and the gravel escape routes at the same and at turn twelve. A new barrier has been installed at the latter, while the kerb at turn 15 has been lengthened to reach the entrance to the pit lane. Former Formula 1 driver Emanuele Pirro has been appointed as assistant steward for the race. The Italian has performed this function on several occasions in the past, most recently at the British Grand Prix.
At 11:00 a.m. everything is ready to start the first free practice of the Spanish Grand Prix. First on track is Lance Stroll, followed by Antonio Giovinazzi and Sebastian Vettel. The German is the first to set a lap time: 1'29"910 for him on hard tires. In the meantime, Charles Leclerc comes out of the pits, but he does it bringing on his car some rakes attached to the rear, to evaluate the aerodynamic flows. The Monegasque's time is also good, despite the slowdown due to the installations on the car. Once back to the pits, silence falls on the circuit for another ten minutes.
At 11:15 a.m. the activity resumes, with Esteban Ocon joining the track on Soft tires. However, it is only an installation lap, which ends without a time. He is followed by Max Verstappen on Hard tires, and Nicholas Latifi on Softs. Mercedes finally kicks off the session with Valtteri Bottas on Medium tyres. Verstappen takes the lead with a time of 1'19"574, followed by Sainz on Medium tires, and Latifi on Soft tires. Shortly after, however, Bottas beats the Dutchman with a time of 1'18"575, and then further lowers the limit to 1'18"573. Behind him, Verstappen, Sainz, Ricciardo and Raikkonen.
Almost half an hour after the start of the first free practice, Lewis Hamilton is now on track on Hard tires. At the moment, all the drivers are on track, except only Verstappen and Kvyat. The only ones who have not yet done a timed lap are Kvyat and Hamilton, who has just started the session. At the same time, however, Bottas has a little misunderstanding with Stroll: the Canadian was proceeding slowly before launching into a fast lap, touching Bottas who was coming into the pits. Shortly afterwards Lewis Hamilton moves to half a second behind his teammate, after a slow start that saw him stationed at the eleventh position of the timesheet. Perez then moves back to second place, spacing out the Mercedes. A few seconds later Hamilton takes the lead thanks to a lap of 1'18"516, just 57 thousandths ahead of his teammate.
Another near-accident for Raikkonen and Perez in the third sector chicane: the two almost collide after Raikkonen tries to overtake the Mexican on the braking. In the meantime Max Verstappen improves and takes fourth place, 531 thousandths behind Hamilton. Halfway through the session, as usual, everyone returned to the pits to give Pirelli the first set of tires of the weekend. At the moment, the time classification sees in the top ten Hamilton, Bottas, Perez, Verstappen, Stroll, Ocon, Ricciardo, Grosjean, Leclerc and Albon.
At 11:45 a.m. Ricciardo, Grosjean, Magnussen and the two Mercedes cars are back on track. Bottas takes the first position with a time of 1'16"785, followed at 39 thousandths by Hamilton. Grosjean is third, one and a half second behind. Verstappen and the two Ferraris then enter the track, all on new Soft tires. The Monegasque moves up to third position, 1.1 seconds behind Bottas, with Vettel behind him. Half an hour before the end of the first free practice the session is momentarily interrupted by a yellow flag, after Roy Nissany, driving a Williams, spins under braking at turn 10. No consequences fortunately, apart from the ruined set of tires of the Israeli. Speaking of Nissany, Perez complained several times about the flashing green light on the Israeli's rear end, which must be present due to a regulatory requirement: not having a super-license, Nissany is obliged to show the green light to warn the other drivers of his passage.
In the last thirty minutes, as usual, the drivers start the qualifying simulation: 1'17"724 for Max Verstappen, who conquers the third place. Second position for Bottas, who is nine tenths behind the Dutchman, while Hamilton is still in first place. The two Ferraris return to the pits, while Bottas and Hamilton are now trying the race pace simulation. Hamilton ends up slightly wide at the chicane of the third sector, while also the two Ferraris go back on track for the last minutes of the session.
At 12:30 a.m. the red light indicates the end of the first free practice. In the top ten we find Bottas, Hamilton, Verstappen, Leclerc, Vettel, Grosjean, Perez, Albon, Magnussen and Stroll. The first results show us a Racing Point less extraordinary than usual, perhaps due to the return of Sergio Perez after two Grands Prix of absence. Good instead the debut of Nissany, who closed the tests with only three tenths of delay compared to his teammate Latifi. Mercedes always remains at the top of the group, with their rivals forced to chase them. In the comparison of the use of Soft tires seen during the session, it can be seen that Verstappen is the third fastest driver, after Hamilton and Bottas, paying almost one second from the leader. Even the Ferraris, placed fourth and fifth, are more than a second behind the leader. Calm returns to the Catalunya circuit, until the start of the second free practice session of the day. In the afternoon the sun shines on the track, bringing to 30 °C the atmospheric temperature and 48 °C the asphalt.
At 3:00 p.m. the second free practice session starts, for another ninety minutes of testing. The first to join the track is Lando Norris, on Medium tires, who sets a lap of 1'19"260. Giovinazzi, Ocon, Grosjean, Raikkonen, Magnussen and Russell follow. Then the two Ferraris on Medium tires go down, followed by Valtteri Bottas on Hard tires. Norris also improves, lowering his time to 1'19"221. Shortly after, however, Charles Leclerc takes the lead with a time of 1'19"050, using the same tire as Lando Norris. Second place is taken by Bottas, 45 thousandths behind Leclerc, on Hard tires. Shortly afterwards Lewis Hamilton, on Medium tires, scores a lap of 1'17"970, thus taking the provisional leadership. Third time for Daniel Ricciardo, who is ahead of the two Ferraris and the McLaren of Norris.
Max Verstappen enters the track and immediately conquers the second position, four tenths of a second behind Hamilton, with Medium tires. After half an hour from the start of the session, among the top ten we find Hamilton, Verstappen, Bottas, Ricciardo, Leclerc, Norris, Vettel, Albon, Kvyat and Magnussen. Now, as in the morning, the teams will mount Soft tyres to carry out the qualifying simulation, followed by the long-run simulation to test the race pace. This last phase will be particularly important to understand if blistering will manifest on the tires, as happened in Silverstone. The first one to get back on track with new Soft tires is Bottas, who takes the lead with a time of 1'17"170. Giovinazzi, Raikkonen, Stroll, Sainz and Russell are also on track. While the latest arrivals launch into their practice lap, Bottas continues with two cool down laps, before setting another fast lap. Sainz thus reaches third place, with a one-second gap from Bottas. The Alfas follow, with Raikkonen in fifth place and Giovinazzi in sixth.
Valtteri Bottas' domination lasts little longer, given the time of 1'16"883 set by his teammate Lewis Hamilton. Grosjean, on the other hand, confirms the excellent set up of his car, taking third place. On track now also the two Ferraris, also on Soft tires. Only Verstappen, Albon and Ocon are missing. Leclerc ends his lap in fifth place, behind the two Mercedes, Ricciardo and Grosjean. Vettel instead completes a dirty lap, finishing only eleventh. Hamilton tries to complete a second fast lap but fails to improve, while Verstappen at his second attempt takes the third position, eight tenths behind Hamilton. Albon, on the other hand, takes thirteenth position with a time similar to Vettel's. The German Ferrari driver and his teammate Charles Leclerc also fail to improve on their second attempt, a sign that indicates that with Soft tires Ferrari’s performance drops dramatically after just a single qualifying lap.
Hamilton and Bottas return to the track, while Vettel and Albon go back to the pits, to prepare for the race simulation. Bottas comes back on track and sets a time of 1'22"028, while Hamilton tries the usual start from the pit lane with used Soft tires. The Briton sets a time of 1'23"111, then going down to 1'22"900, imitated by his teammate. First race simulation laps also for Verstappen, who goes on track with used Soft tyres and sets a time of 1'23"217. In the meantime Bottas and Hamilton's times remain constant at 1'23. The two Ferraris now take to the track, with Vettel choosing Medium tires, unlike the rest of the group. Leclerc sets a time of 1'23"877, while Vettel laps in 1'23"601. Verstappen continues to set times similar to the Mercedes and Hamilton, in response, mounts new Medium tires and takes the lead with a time of 1'22"234.
Regarding the use of Soft tires, at the moment there seems to be no blistering on the rear tires and so the simulation continues. After a brief squabble between Kvyat and Latifi in turn 1, with the Canadian driver narrowing his trajectory too much towards the Russian driver, Hamilton confirms to be extremely fast on Medium tires, lowering his time to 1'22"460. Verstappen on Softs, however, is not far behind, while Leclerc is about a second behind the Dutchman. At the back of the pack, George Russel, back at the wheel of his Williams, is struggling to find stability. The English driver complains over the radio, saying:
"I have no grip on the front and rear, driving is like going on ice".
There is also some gravel on track brought by Valtteri Bottas, after briefly leaving the track. Now even Verstappen stops to mount Medium tires and confirms himself at Hamilton's level: 1'22"532 for the Dutchman. Grosjean, on the other hand, after keeping a consistent pace all day, returns to the pits complaining of a loss of power. At the Ferrari pits also Leclerc changes to Medium at the end of the session, while Vettel changes the set of Softs. The Monegasque makes his debut with 1'22"534; 1'22"951 for Vettel. At 4:30 p.m. this second session and Friday's day comes to an end, with Hamilton, Bottas, Verstappen, Ricciardo, Grsojean, Leclerc, Sainz, Perez, Ocon and Gasly among the top ten this afternoon. This second round of free practice presents some great surprises, such as the new couple positioned behind Verstappen: Ricciardo brings Renault back to the top, while Grosjean confirms the excellent performance with which he started this weekend. Lewis Hamilton, talking about the first day of practice, admits:
"It's tough out there, it's quite hot. I've never been here with this weather. We usually get here in February and then early May. The weather is great, but it's really a killer heat to be in the car and this also creates problems for the tires. In the long runs it seems to me that we are pretty close to the Red Bulls, I think it will be a close battle between us in the race. The tires don't feel good in these temperatures, we slide a lot. I didn't see any blistering today, but I didn't see it last Friday either, so I can't get too excited".
Valtteri Bottas is also optimistic:
"Free practice went well, the feeling was not perfect, we had a bit of understeer. However, already at the end of the first session in the morning we were already ok. We went better in the morning than we did in the afternoon, at least for me. We will see how it goes on Sunday with the tires, we will have to manage them given the high temperatures. We have learned a lot and we seem to be strong on this track".
However, there are also some disappointments, such as the sixth and twelfth place of the two Ferraris, respectively of Leclerc and Vettel. Excellent, then, the performance of Max Verstappen, even if with eight tenths of a second gap from the Mercedes. The Dutchman, however, confirms to be always very effective in tire management, managing to preserve them and setting the same times as Hamilton and Bottas. So the lights go out on the Spanish circuit, after the first two practice sessions dominated by Mercedes, which confirm their dominance.
The Saturday of Ferragosto opens under a bright sun and an even higher temperature than the previous day: 29 °C of atmospheric temperature and 43 °C of asphalt. The third and final free practice session of the Spanish Grand Prix began at 12:00, with Grosjean, Sainz and Magnussen joining the track straight away. In the first few minutes there is only one installation lap for the two Haas, both on Medium tires, while Sainz runs on Hard tires. He is followed by his teammate Norris, on Medium tires. The Englishman is the first to set a fast lap, with a time of 1'19"620. The two Alfa Romeo drivers follow on Soft tires: Kimi Raikkonen takes the lead with 1'19"521, while Giovinazzi is third, seven tenths of a second behind his teammate. The track then comes alive with the arrival of the two Ferraris, both on Medium tires.
In this phase the fastest is Sainz, with a time of 1'19"446, but Leclerc is immediately ahead of his future team mate, with a time of 1'18"950. Vettel, on the other hand, with the same use of tires compared to his teammate, does not go beyond the seventh time. Bottas and Hamilton then take to the track on soft tires. The Finnish driver takes the lead with a time of 1'17"971, beating his teammate by 353 thousandths. Verstappen also joins the track on Soft tires. The Dutchman takes the third position, with a lap of 1'18"487. Halfway through the session we have Bottas still in the lead, followed by Hamilton, Verstappen, Leclerc, Gasly, Albon, Stroll, Kvyat, Sainz and Grosjean. Another excellent tire management by Max Verstappen, who is in fact the only one to improve on his second attempt: 1'18"160 for the Dutchman, who is less than two tenths from the leader.
Also Lando Norris shows a great control of the car: the Englishman is fifth, overtaken by his teammate Sainz, who takes the second position. In the last twenty minutes the two Ferraris are on track with new soft tires, taking the fifth and sixth position. Bottas mounts a new set of tires too and returns to the track setting a record time: 1'17"373, leaving behind Sainz Jr. by a good six tenths, stopped in second place. In the last quarter of a hour there is a misunderstanding between Latifi and Verstappen, with the Canadian complaining about the Red Bull driver:
"Max complains all the time about other drivers getting in his way, but he's no better".
Lewis Hamiton is also back on track, starting the qualifying simulation. The British driver takes the lead with a time of 1'17"222, beating Bottas by 151 thousandths. Provisional third place for Sainz, waiting for Verstappen who has just returned to the track with a new set of soft tires. The Dutchman confirms the half-second gap that keeps him behind the Mercedes, while Sergio Perez climbs to take the fifth position, ahead of Leclerc. Two minutes from the end, however, the session is neutralized after the red flag has been shown: Esteban Ocon has hit the protection wall coming out of turn 3, thus decreeing the end of the session. The Frenchman's accident was caused by a misunderstanding between Magnussen and Ocon: the Danish driver slowed down at the exit of turn 3, moving to the middle of the track just as the Frenchman was passing. Ocon then, also due to a moment of distraction, ended up on the barriers off the track. The incident is still under investigation, so during the afternoon it will be discovered if penalties will be applied to the drivers involved.
This is the end of the morning free practice, waiting for the afternoon qualifying. From this last session it's clear that if it's true that Mercedes and Verstappen lead a race apart, behind them the situation is quite homogeneous, with many cars within less than half a second of each other. Leading the group of the remaining top ten is Sainz, followed by Perez, Leclerc, Gasly, Stroll, Albon and Ricciardo.
The afternoon is hot on the Catalunya circuit, which is now ready to host the qualifying of the Spanish Grand Prix. With 30 °C atmospheric and 49 °C asphalt, Montmelò will give the drivers a hard time, trying to get the most out of their tires. At 3:00 p.m. the green light is on, starting the first fifteen minutes of qualifying that will give us the first five eliminated of the day. Immediately on track come Nicholas Latifi and George Russell, both on Soft tyres. The Canadian moves ahead of his teammate, with a time of 1'19"231. In the meantime, all the top teams arrive with Soft tires. At the same time, the verdict for the accident between Magnussen and Ocon arrives, but it doesn't lead to any kind of penalty.
Hamilton immediately takes the lead with a time of 1'17"037, beating Perez by 80 thousandths and Stroll by almost three tenths of a second. Fourth place for Bottas, 376 thousandths behind the leader. Behind him we find Verstappen, who complains about the feeling with the car. Only seventh place for Leclerc, and eleventh place for Vettel. Giovinazzi asks his engineers to check the bottom of the car, after going wide at the exit of the last chicane. Three minutes from the end of Q1 the drivers go back on track for a second attempt. For the moment the excluded drivers are Grosjean, Raikkonen, Magnussen, Latifi and Giovinazzi. Hamilton improves on used tires, setting a time of 1'16"872, followed by Perez, Verstappen, Bottas and Leclerc. At the end of the first qualifying session the excluded drivers are Magnussen, Grosjean, Russell, Latifi and Giovinazzi.
At 3:25 p.m. the lights come back on to start the second qualifying session, which will eliminate five more drivers. The first to take to the track are Hamilton and Bottas, on soft tires. The Briton sets a time of 1'16"013, beating his teammate by a tenth. Then the rest of the group enters the track, all on new Soft tires. Verstappen takes third position, followed by Sainz and Perez. A few seconds later Leclerc finishes his lap in fifth place, while Vettel is eleventh and therefore, at the moment, out of Q3. Both Ferrari drivers, however, made a not-so-clean lap and we can expect improvements in the second attempt. At the end of the first attempt of this Q2 everyone goes back to the pits, and for the moment the excluded ones are Vettel, Ocon, Gasly, Kvyat and Raikkonen. For the second attempt all the drivers are back on track, except Hamilton, Bottas and Verstappen, who choose to stay in the pits and save a set of tires. At the end of the second session the excluded drivers are Vettel, Kvyat, Ricciardo, Raikkonen and Ocon. However, it can be noted that in the race all the top ten will start with Soft tires that have already been used.
At 3:48 p.m. the last qualifying session begins. All drivers decide to go on track, and in detail Gasly, Sainz, Leclerc, Albon and Norris, are on Soft tires. The best time is set by Lewis Hamilton, who laps in 1'15"584, bringing to 54 thousandths the advantage over his teammate. Third position for Verstappen, followed by Perez, Stroll, Norris, Leclerc, Albon, Sainz and Gasly. A few minutes later, however, all the drivers return to the pits to mount a new set of tires and prepare for the last qualifying attempt. At 3:58 p.m. the second attempt starts, confirming Hamilton in pole position.
Bottas, Verstappen, Perez, Stroll, Albon, Sainz, Norris, Leclec and Gasly follow. With another incredible performance, the six-time World Champion takes the lead of the pack and is not even partially affected by this weekend's heat. Once again Max Verstappen is seven tenths behind. The Racing Points confirm to be extremely competitive, while the following group is at least four tenths behind. Ferrari fares even worse, having Leclerc and Vettel in ninth and eleventh position. Another disappointment comes from Renault, having collected an unsatisfactory thirteenth and fifteenth position, under the watchful eyes of the new president Luca De Meo. Lewis Hamilton is happy, even if he admits the physical and technical difficulty of driving in this heat:
"With this heat physically it is hard, especially in qualifying. The physical toll you pay is high and also the tires struggle more, like when you have to cool them down. In my second lap I thought I could improve my time but it wasn't like that. I made some mistakes. The first one was decent but in the end it was enough for pole. The guys did a great job".
The reigning World Champion then continues, stating:
"We are constantly learning. I was here with the guys until ten o'clock in the evening to see all the data and understand where to improve, especially in view of the race because Red Bull is super fast. Problems? At a physical level. There's a lot of stress under braking, even in corners, especially with the neck. In the heat we have to be careful not to overheat the tires. For balance, there is a lot of wind here too. There are gusts with the wind in your face at turn 1, and in the tail at turn 4. You have to figure out how to push and where to push. Finding the limit without losing control of the car. I have so much respect for my colleagues. The road to turn 1 is very long, so the work is not complete. We start from the best position but it's difficult to win here starting from pole; I'll try to start in the best way possible".
Valtteri Bottas is second and congratulates his teammate, but also throws down the gauntlet:
"Congratulations to Lewis, as always. He did the lap he had to do. In the third sector in particular he managed to do something better than me. I, on the other hand, could not find myself in that sector. I always managed to improve but it was not enough. We did a good job and as a team once again it's a great result. Beat Lewis tomorrow in the race? Yes, I think so. We have the best possible chance at the start. My long runs on Friday showed that I have the right pace, but it will be difficult to stay close. So I will have to try to pass at the start. I will fight and do my best to pass, trust me".
For Verstappen, third place is the best result he could have aspired to, and there is therefore something to be happy about:
"Third place is the best result we can record in qualifying. I hope we can put pressure on Mercedes: we will do everything to try to overtake them. Throughout the weekend we have been quite competitive and with Mercedes we can stay close in the race. The long runs of the free practice were not bad and I am quite happy with the sensations I have in the car".
It’s another disappointment, instead, for Ferrari. The car is not competitive, and there are no excuses to look forward to, as Sebastian Vettel admits:
"I struggled a lot to find the feeling with the car over the weekend, in qualifying it went a bit better but when I tried to push I found myself with the usual problems. It won't be an advantage to be able to choose the tire, but we'll see. We have been too slow overall and there is not much confidence to get something more out of the car".
A bit more optimistic, instead, is Charles Leclerc, who despite the ninth place is willing to give his best to recover in the race:
"I am not happy, we started well but then we lost performance, there was little we could do. We must understand what happened. It is difficult but in my head I am always optimistic, let's see tomorrow, it will not be an easy race but everything is possible".
This is how the qualifying session ends: it is now time for the teams to retire and prepare the best strategies. Sunday 16 August 2020 in Barcelona will be raced under a blazing sun: 31 °C air temperature and almost 50 °C asphalt. At 15:00, the cars are lined up on the grid for the last changes before the start, but a few minutes before the start, Toto Wolff lets himself go to a superstitious comment:
"If the conditions remain like this, Red Bull is the stronger car. Of course, we start in front, but the strongest car usually wins".
The Mercedes team principal seems to be especially worried about the management of the tires, which becomes extremely critical with these temperatures. According to Pirelli's suggestions, the ideal strategy for the Spanish Grand Prix certainly includes two stops, if not three. In fact, the fastest strategy would seem to be that of starting with Soft tires, then fit Medium tires and finish with another set of Soft tires. Alternatively, you could think about starting with Soft tires, and then change to two sets of Medium. For those who want to make three stops, the best strategy is to start with Softs, then switch to Mediums and finish with two sets of Softs, completing two final stints of fifteen laps each. Five minutes before the start, most of the drivers decide to start on Soft, with the exception of Vettel, Raikkonen, Ricciardo, Grosjean, Ocon, Latifi and Giovinazzi who choose Medium tires.
At 15:10 everything is ready, and the formation lap starts. A couple of minutes later, the lights go out and the Spanish Grand Prix officially begins. It’s a bad start for Valtteri Bottas, who is overtaken by both Verstappen and Stroll. Hamilton, on the other hand, keeps a tight hold on the leadership, trying to break away from the rest of the group. From the pits, meanwhile, Mercedes engineers are urging Bottas to proceed with the attack on Stroll and take back the position:
"Now it is vital to pass Stroll, we are still in the race".
On the fourth lap Bottas tries but Stroll defends himself well, although the Finnish driver can exploit the DRS. On the next lap, however, Stroll is overtaken without any possibility of reply. Hamilton meanwhile escapes, bringing to 1.2 seconds the lead over Max Verstappen. Sebastian Vettel tries to defend his position from Kvyat's attack, who is chasing him on Soft tires, while the German driver is running on Medium. Hamilton starts the sixth lap with a 1.3 second lead over his pursuer, while Bottas is still in third position, 2.1 seconds behind. Verstappen, however, complains via radio about the behavior of the British driver, who, according to the Dutchman, is going too slow. Hamiton is in fact trying to manage his tires in the best way possible, also taking advantage of the fact that overtaking on this circuit is not easy. Behind the top three, Stroll and Perez begin to pull away from the rest of the group, unable to keep up the pace.
After ten laps, Hamilton starts to increase his pace a bit, gaining four tenths on Verstappen. The rest of the group proceeds calmly, without attempting any overtaking, with gaps of one or two seconds from Perez onwards. A little later, Verstappen begins to experience some difficulties with his tires, allowing Hamilton to move up to 2.9 seconds. Red Bull prepares to make its first pit stop: the first one is Albon, during the seventeenth lap, to mount Hard tires. Verstappen remains on track, but the gap between him and Hamilton increases to 5.7 seconds, while Albon takes the opportunity to overtake Raikkonen on fresh tires.
The choice of fitting Hard tires on the car of the Thai driver serves as a parameter for Max Verstappen, who on lap 21 comes into the pits to fit Medium tires. Gasly then follows, leaving Leclerc and Vettel the chance to move up to seventh and eighth respectively. At this stage the Monegasque driver is 5.5 seconds behind his teammate and chooses not to pit. The two Mercedes also remain on track, while Verstappen returns from his pit stop in third position. On lap 23 Lewis Hamilton also stops to mount a set of Medium tires, followed immediately by Valtteri Bottas who opts for the same choice, leaving Max Verstappen the chance to regain the second position. Hamilton's stop is not very quick, so the British driver re-enters the track with only a 3.8 second lead over Verstappen.
On lap 27 Stroll makes his pit stop and gets soon back on track ahead of the group of drivers led by Magnussen, who is soon passed by Ocon. After Stroll, Perez, Leclerc and Vettel also stop on lap 28. The Monegasque driver rejoins the track in thirteenth position, on Medium tires, while Vettel is behind him with his old Soft tires. The Monegasque driver immediately attacks Kvyat and Norris, while a lively fight for the fourth place between Perez and Stroll takes place.
On the lead, Hamilton starts to suffer already from blistering on the right tire, a curious factor for tyres that have only seven laps on them.
The only ones not to have made a pit stop exactly halfway through the race are Ricciardo, Ocon and Grosjean, all starting on Medium tires. Albon, in fact, easily overtakes Ocon in turn 1 during the thirty-third lap (the French driver will therefore make his pit stop during the thirty-fourth lap), while Leclerc keeps trying to overtake Norris, to gain the eleventh position. The Monegasque tries an impossible maneuver even on the outside of turn 5 and then turn 10, while during the thirty-sixth lap, from the Ferrari box they tell Vettel to expect the arrival of rain:
"We expect rain after lap 50".
On the horizon, in fact, black clouds could be seen, full of rain. A few laps later, during the 37th lap, Charles Leclerc loses control of his car: the Monegasque driver ends up spinning at the exit of the last chicane. The yellow flag is waved, until Leclerc manages to restart, albeit slowly, while the sky is now covered by black clouds. On lap 40 Leclerc returns to the pits and is forced to retire, having loosened his seat belt while stationary. Albon also pits for Medium tires, followed by Verstappen, who uses the same compound on lap 40. Carlos Sainz also pits, coming back in tenth position ahead of Albon, after a great duel. On lap 46 Stroll and Gasly make their second stop. In spite of the black clouds above the circuit, Hamilton is warned that the risk of rain is very low; at the forty-sixth lap out of sixty-six, at the lead of the race it's always the British driver who sets the pace, followed by Bottas, Verstappen, Perez, Norris, Kvyat, Vettel, Stroll, Sainz and Albon.
A little later Kvyat and Norris return to the pits, allowing Sebastian Vettel to climb to fifth place. Then Bottas, on lap 48, makes his second pit stop, on Soft tires. The Finn returns to third position, 7.3 seconds behind Verstappen. New Medium tires also for Hamilton, who is still in the lead. The race leader, Lewis Hamilton, waits until the fiftieth lap to make his second stop, which brings him back on track still on Soft tires. The Briton has more than eleven seconds on Max Verstappen and eighteen on Bottas. The classification, fifteen laps from the end, sees Hamilton still in the lead, followed by Verstappen and Bottas; further behind are Perez, Vettel, Stroll, Sainz, Albon, Gasly and Norris. At Ferrari, the concern about Sebastian Vettel's tire strategy is tangible: the engineers ask the German if he feels like arriving at the end of the race with the tires in use is possible, but Vettel replies saying that they should have warned him before of such a possible decision, since in the meantime he had done some fast laps with these tires. At the end it is decided to try to avoid another pit stop.
During the fifty-third lap the race direction announces to have imposed a five second penalty to Sergio Perez for not respecting the blue flags, and Kvyat is investigated for the same reason, receiving shortly after the same penalty of five seconds, a few laps before the end of the race. Vettel is overtaken by Lance Stroll thanks to DRS and the advantage of the fresher tires. The German also has to defend himself from Carlos Sainz Jr., but the slipstream and the DRS help the Spaniard. The German thus slips to seventh position, with six laps to go. Further back in the pack, Romain Grosjean risks a collision with Kimi Raikkone: the Frenchman has in fact moved into the middle of the straight while Kimi was already on the same trajectory. The Finnish driver manages to avoid the contact with an extreme maneuver.
Four laps from the end Vettel seems to hold on, even if with difficulty, holding on to seventh position. Behind him follows Albon, at a distance of 1.6 seconds.
Lewis Hamilton sets the fastest lap, 1'19"822, immediately overtaken by Bottas with a time of 1'19"750. The gap of the first three positions is now so consolidated that Hamilton is called back to the pits to mount a new set of Medium tires on the penultimate lap. Vettel now has an advantage of just 1.1 second over Albon, who in turn is defending himself from Gasly. Meanwhile Grosjean risks a spin in turn 7, and ends up under investigation following a contact with Antonio Giovinazzi. During the final lap, the situation is quite static, with the first three drivers pulling away from the rest of the group. If Verstappen's victory in Great Britain had raised hopes, once arrived at the chequered flag we can't do anything but reconsider those expectations. The games are anything but reopened, because the reigning World Champion Lewis Hamilton is still in the lead. In second and third place are respectively Max Verstappen and Valtteri Bottas. Behind them Stroll, Perez (with a five second penalty), Sainz, Vettel, Albon, Gasly and Norris complete the top ten.
Mercedes confirms to be unbeatable, even in front of the insistent attacks of Max Verstappen or under the scorching sun of Barcelona. Lewis Hamilton knows it well, and today he surpasses Michael Schumacher's record of victories and takes one more step towards his seventh world title. It was an optimistic race for the Briton, who after a great start from the pole position only had to pay attention to the gap of twenty-four seconds from his rival.
"Today was a great day. I'm in awe of what this car can do. It was an incredible day with wonderful sensations and it was really surprising because we had some problems with the tires, but the handling today was very good. We managed to understand well what happened last weekend and at the end this allowed us to do what we did today. I was able to push from start to finish. Strategy? I studied very thoroughly before the start of the race, trying to understand how to use them and which ones to choose. This allowed me to understand how to make the tires last longer than the others. It also seemed possible to make one stop, but in the end the strategy we used was right. There was no need at the end to mount a soft tire. I asked the team to mount the medium because it was the safest choice. I have to thank all the guys at the factory who are continuing to push and work during these moments. Hopefully everyone stays safe. Stay safe. Keep wearing the masks, to protect not only yourself but others as well".
A honorable mention goes, however, to Max Verstappen, who did not stop for a moment to try and chase the leader. The Dutchman, partially betrayed by the tire manage (which he is usually good at), takes home a solid second place, thus consolidating his second place in the drivers' standings:
"It was the best possible result today to be in the middle of the Mercedes. We didn't have the pace that Lewis had, so I'm very happy with second place. The start was crucial, we managed to pass Valtteri and then it was a race where I tried to make my pace. I'm happy with how I managed the tires until the end, while Bottas recovered almost nothing and in fact I expected more. We try to keep on improving but also they keep on pushing, let's see what we can do".
Valtteri Bottas, instead, ends the race with a disappointing third place, after a bad start that led him to have to regain the position on Lance Stroll:
"The start was the key for me. It was not good enough, I lost several positions and had to try to push hard in the first stint to recover. However, this led me to struggle because of the duration of the tires. In the second stint I found myself behind Max. On this track it is difficult to overtake, it is too much of a risk. In the end I remained behind. Departure? I am not sure what happened, we will have to watch. Lewis in front made a good start, I was not able to take the slipstream and I lost ground. First corner? I found myself caught in the middle, they took advantage of my slipstream and passed me, it was a bit of a disappointment".
In Ferrari, Leclerc's retirement was a hard blow, especially for the Monegasque who comments on today's performance without his usual optimism:
"What happened in the penultimate corner? My car went completely off, not just the engine but all the lights, and the rear tires locked up. I spun, then I unbuckled my seatbelt and managed to start but by then we were already twentieth. It's a shame. This is more or less the picture of the last few races. Our problem? That we are not strong enough. Whether it's engine or aerodynamics ours is not a strong overall package, and Barcelona shows off the whole package. We have a lot of work to do".
Despite Charles Leclerc's bad day, however, a small glimmer of light can be seen in Ferrari, thanks to Sebastian Vettel's tooth and nail defense of eighth place. Excellent in tire management, the German was one of the few to make only one pit stop, managing to bring his Soft tires to the finish line:
"We tried everything. We had nothing to lose and so I tried to manage the tires after we thought about changing to a fresher one, which is why I pulled for a few laps before rethinking the strategy. Realistically the performance was tenth place, luck helped us and the fact of being lapped saved us a lap. What should Ferrari do now? My opinion now is not so important, the car is what it is, and we have to hold on. It's a difficult season, we try to do the best with what we have, but we can do little to change things. The important thing is to get back on our feet: there is a lot of work to do, including on my part, but there are many ups and downs".
Mattia Binotto responds to the German's words regarding his role within the team, in light of next year's developments:
"Vettel says that his opinion is now no longer important? His answer was in line with his disappointment at not being able to be part of next year's team, so he won't be able to give advice for next season as well. We are working well with him. His weekend was decent, we can definitely do better: he had a good race today and I think it can help him".
Then he continues:
"After every weekend there is always something to improve, we knew this track would be difficult for us, we had also seen it during testing. Today, however, I think the car could have achieved fourth place, which I think is the potential of the car. Starting ninth and eleventh compromised our race, we are convinced that the potential is higher than seventh place, the race pace was good and without reliability problems Charles could have finished fourth. Sebastian made one stop and finished seventh, the car must be reliable but today it wasn't. A problem with the electronics turned everything off and we need to understand what it is".
And finally, he emphasizes that Ferrari has not abandoned the development of the SF1000:
"We have not abandoned this car, we are working to develop next year's car. We will bring some developments this year, but not in the next races. We will bring between Belgium and Monza a lower load that we have developed specifically, ours is a good package that we will try to grow".
This concludes the Grand Prix of Spain, between new records, confirmations and renewed hopes. The appointment is now in two weeks, with the seventh Grand Prix of the season in Belgium, on the circuit of Spa-Francorchamps.