‘Struggling’ Lewis holds on
Spanish Grand Prix 11.05.2014 / Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya
Another lap and Nico Rosberg might have squeezed past – instead, Lewis now leads the championship
For the rst time this season, Lewis Hamilton leads the drivers’ world championship following his fourth consecutive grand prix victory – coincidentally, his rst ever win at the Spanish Grand Prix. After scoring another 25 points, 29-year-old Hamilton has nally been able to claw back the decit caused by that spark-plug failure in Australia. But, as ever, his team-mate Nico Rosberg shadowed him throughout the race and nished right on his tail.
Mercedes split the strategies of their two protagonists, putting second-placed Rosberg on option-prime-option, compared with Hamilton’s option-option-prime tyre sequence. This required a masterly defence from the British racer, since it put him on the slower, orange side-walled hard-compound Pirellis in the latter stages of the race.
After a quiet opening gambit, from the rst corner onwards Hamilton and Rosberg were mostly driving in isolation. It made for a tense endgame: with two laps to go, Rosberg got within a second of his team-mate and was able to use his DRS, while Hamilton was nursing the graining on his tyres (in particular the left-front). After 66 laps, Hamilton’s margin of victory was just 0.636 seconds. Rosberg admitted afterwards that if the race had been just a single lap longer, he could have had a shot at passing Hamilton for the victory.
If you wanted an example of how close this intense battle was, then lap 49 made for a fascinating snapshot of the race. Both Mercedes runners had almost a half-minute advantage over Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo, but between them their private duel was hotting up. Hamilton lit up the timing screens with a blinding 1min 29.759secs lap – at that point, the fastest of the race. Just behind him, Rosberg did his personal best lap of the grand prix, recording 1min 29.793secs. The 0.034sec decit proved how close the ght for the race win was – ultimately reecting the bigger battle for world championship honours.
The differences between them are down to the nest of margins; the fractions of a second lost or gained in the pitstop or subtle variations in set-up trim. During this race, Hamilton was affected by a slow change on the front-left tyre at his rst pitstop and another somewhat laboured tyre change at his second. It led to some fraught radio messages from the cockpit of the number 44 machine back to the Mercedes pitwall.
“While I am driving I am always asking how much of a gap do I need,” said Lewis in the sanctuary of the Mercedes motorhome after the race, when quizzed about the nal laps. “When I was in Bahrain I knew I had to have a ten-second lead, but then the Safety Car came out. Here I was asking about the gap I needed, but lost a lot of time in my pitstops.
“Nico’s pitstop was three seconds, mine was 4.8 seconds – or something like that. That was signicant. On those last laps there was a huge amount of pressure and he was very, very close to taking it – and I don’t like that, being in that position. I like to say it was no problem and under control – but it wasn’t.”
Hamilton conceded that the advantage he enjoyed over his team-mate on Friday afternoon disappeared with set-up changes made on Saturday morning. From that point, he was on the back foot. But again, as was the case in China, at a race where he wasn’t comfortable with his car, he was able to extract the maximum points haul while in damage-limitation mode. As a result, you could understand the terse nature of his radio transmissions, something that Mercedes motorsport boss Toto Wolff admitted in his post-race debrief.
“You have to understand that the intensity of the battle is huge and if you are alone in the car you have to rely on the information from the engineers – you don’t really know where your team-mate is,” said Toto. “Lewis has a very strong personality and he’s ultra-competitive, and sometimes his words might sound harsher than he actually means them. Thankfully his race engineers have known him for some time now, so there is no problem.”
While there were smiles in the Mercedes camp, just next door at Ferrari it was a very sombre affair. Local hero Fernando Alonso had spent most of the race tucked up behind his team-mate Kimi Räikkönen. On his home turf, you could sense the growing frustration in Alonso’s driving, and then the relief as he was able to muscle his way past, into Turn 4, in the closing laps.
After the race, much of the attention was focused on why the team had decided to bring Alonso into the pits rst on lap 16 instead of Räikkönen, who was ahead on track. Both drivers tried to downplay the moment, but it was clear from Räikkönen’s body language that the decision had left him fuming. Even though he is a man of few words, it was signicant that he engaged with the press for less than four minutes. That in itself spoke volumes. Alonso was much more vocal about where the team had nished. In his nal stint he had to concede position to Sebastian Vettel who had driven brilliantly to nish fourth after starting the race from 15th.
“We had some chances to ght but we are still far away from where we want to be,” said the unhappy Alonso. “Overall we were the fourthquickest team, so it’s disappointing.”
For every team aside from Mercedes, ‘disappointing’ is becoming a recurring adjective this year. At this rate the Silver Arrows are likely to win every race, something that Toto Wolff was questioned about – and joked: “Yes, we will do that… and then we’ll retire!”