Lewis Hamilton converted his 100th pole position into his 98th Grand Prix win as he took the chequered flag at the Circuit de Barcelona Catalunya. It was a familiar podium, with Max Verstappen finishing second for Red Bull and Valtteri Bottas coming home third in the second Mercedes.
At the start, both Hamilton and Verstappen got off the line well, with Verstappen again getting his elbows out into turn one and forcefully taking the lead from Hamilton. He led for a majority of the race, but different strategies brought the race back into the Mercedes driver’s favour and with six laps to go, he passed the Dutchman into turn one and sprinted away to his 98th victory, with Verstappen making a late change to soft tyres to try and steal the fastest lap, which he duly took. The one-stop strategy that Red Bull were committed to didn’t work, and he was a sitting duck as the Mercedes cruised up to the back of him, and he had little defense.
A distant third was Valtteri Bottas, after a long battle with Ferrari’s Charles LeClerc. It was another quiet weekend for the Finnish driver, who had the unfortunate situation of being told not to hold his team mate up, as the pair were on different strategies. Bottas offered little resistance to Hamilton as the World Champion came up to pass him. The pair got very close as Hamilton tried a move around the reprofiled Turn 10, but Bottas backed down to let his quicker team mate through.
Sergio Perez finished in fifth for Red Bull, after a disappointing qualifying with a shoulder injury left him starting eighth. It was a good recovery drive from the Mexican, who didn’t look to have the level of pace he would have wanted during Friday and Saturday. He said he was carrying a shoulder problem which impacted him during qualifying, but he produced a smooth and clean race to finish a strong fifth, and seems to be getting more comfortable in that second Red Bull.
Daniel Ricciardo had his finest race of the season so far to cross the line in sixth for McLaren, ahead of Carlos Sainz in the second Ferrari. Lando Norris finished outside the top 5 for the first time in 2021 and crossed the line in eighth, with Esteban Ocon in ninth for Alpine and Pierre Gasly picking up the final point in tenth for AlphaTauri.
100 Poles, 98 Wins
It was another solid performance from Lewis Hamilton this weekend, who finally hit the huge milestone of 100 pole positions. Since 2014, he has been in the most dominant car, but regardless, that is an almighty number to hit, and he is far ahead in pole-sitters table. He currently has 100 pole positions from 270 starts, with Michael Schumacher in second, on 68 poles from 308 starts. He is also nowhere near finished, so expect that number of pole positions to keep rising.
He also took his 98th race victory this weekend. No-one thought that Michael Schumacher’s 91 wins would be surpassed, but Hamilton has raised the bar significantly. It is also the best start to the season for Lewis Hamilton, winning three out of four so far, and finishing second in the other. For the chasing pack, mainly Max Verstappen, it’s an ominous sign that Hamilton is still clearly the man to beat and shows no sign of slowing down.
Hamilton is chasing an astonishing eighth world title and with the performance levels he has been showing so far this season, especially after recovering from a poor pre-season, it is certainly going to be a very interesting time watching to see if he can continue to raise the bar.
He has also recently stated that he wants to get contract talks at Mercedes sorted by the summer break, so we could well see him in the Mercedes for 2022, when the big rule changes and drastically different F2 cars come in.
Strategy Proves Costly For Red Bull
Red Bull came into this Grand Prix knowing that they needed to get back on the top step and not lose more ground to Mercedes. Verstappen qualified in P2 on Saturday, just behind Lewis Hamilton, but all was looking good for the former World Champions, as the Dutchman elbowed his way past Hamilton into turn 1 and then started pulling out a good lead.
That lead was soon eradicated as the Safety Car was brought out as Marshals cleared away Yuki Tsunoda’s stricken AlphaTauri, but he was able to keep Hamilton behind him at the restart. The two drivers quickly rebuilt their lead over the chasing pack again, but it was Red Bull who blocked first and pitted Verstappen. It wasn’t the quickest stop, due to a tyre not going on easily, but he still emerged in P5 before quickly passing Perez.
Hamilton and Mercedes stayed out longer, but when they finally came in, the undercut worked and Verstappen regained the lead from Hamilton. Although Hamilton was gaining on the Red Bull driver, he opted to pit again and put on a set of used mediums, which saw him quickly catch up to Verstappen again and easily pass him.
Red Bull paid for sticking to their one-stop strategy, and It proved to be costly. They have lost more ground in the title race, and while it is still early days, these little matters all add up at the end of the season.
Another Nearly Weekend For Williams
So near, yet so far… again. George Russell did his usual thing on Saturday, and got the Williams into Q2, starting in P15. Latifi however, went out in Q1 again, starting 19th and one place behind young Mick Schumacher in the Haas.
Williams opted for a different strategy for the race, and double-stacked both drivers during the safety car. This looked to be a smart move, as both drivers, on fresh tyres, started getting stuck in to the competition. Further, into the race, George Russell found himself fighting Fernando Alonso for 10th place, and the teams first point since 2019.
It wasn’t to be, however, and Russell said over the radio that his tyres were gone and he had given it his all. It was a shame as it looked like he had a genuine sniff at points, but the early pit stops the team did backfire and both cars slipped back again.
Another frustrating weekend for the fallen F1 giants. The signs of progress are there, and there are positive things to take away from the weekend again, but it’s getting frustrating as a Williams fan to see them come so close and then slip back, time and again. I can only imagine what it is like for the team and drivers themselves. If they keep up what they are doing though, I’m confident that points can come soon.
My opinion is still split on Latifi though. While Russell is consistently getting the car into Q2 and fighting around the fringes of the top 10, Latifi has only made it out of Q1 on one occasion and spent most of the race fighting towards the back. He needs to up his game if Williams want to make real progress.
Nikita Mazepin really isn’t helping himself. He lost control of the car in FP1 and did well to keep it out of the gravel.
He then blocked Lando Norris in qualifying, an action that earned him points on his license and a grid penalty. The penalty was pointless, however, and he had already qualified slowest and last, 6 tenths of a second slower than the next car.
He quickly dropped away from the pack during the race, and even got in the way of the leaders as they came up to lap him, prompting a frustrated Toto Wolff to get on the radio to the FIA to complain about the young Russian not seeing blue flags.
While Mick Schumacher is making good progress this season, finishing ahead of Latifi’s Williams in Portugal and qualifying ahead of him in Spain, Mazepin just seems to be languishing around at the back making no progress whatsoever.
I get that the Haas is a terrible car, and one that won’t be updated throughout the season as the team are focused on 2022, he should have shown some signs of progress by now. He has finished the last few races yes, but drop dead last, far behind his team mate and embarrassing himself consistently every race weekend in one form or another.
What Is The Championship Looking Like Now?
Lewis Hamilton leads, now 14 points clear of Red Bull’s Max Verstappen. Valtteri Bottas has moved up to third ahead of impressive Lando Norris in fourth. Charles LeClerc is in fifth in the resurgent Ferrari after another solid performance.
In the constructors race, Mercedes lead Red Bull by 29 points, with McLaren in third, just five points ahead of Ferrari in fourth. Alpine are a distant fifth on 15 points. Alfa Romeo, Williams and Haas are still yet to score.
Where Are We Heading Next?
Next up is the jewel in F1’s crown; Monaco. It’s certainly dividing opinion, but I do still love the Monaco GP. Mainly for the setting and location, as the races there don’t often provide us with excitement. It’s very much a matter of qualifying well and then hoping you keep it out of the barriers. We head there on 20th May, with the race on the 23rd.
It’s a circuit that has favoured Red Bull in recent years, so they’ll be hoping to close ground on Mercedes and Hamilton. It may also provide Williams with a good chance to score points, especially if Russell can qualify well on Saturday!
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