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Class of the Field
Adam Barton

A Formula One fan since he was six, back while Häkkinen and Schumacher were having many an epic battle, Adam has seen a great deal. From German domination (twice), to British determination (once) and a Spanish invasion. A near compulsive fan who one day hopes to write about the sport for a living, outside of F1 Adam also authors his own blog One Guy's Opinion.

Rosberg reigns in Spain // Dominant display from German aided by Ferrari denting Hamilton’s challenge

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Mercedes even had to hamper Nico Rosberg just to help Hamilton
Credit: Mercedes AMG Petronas

The start of the European season is always hyped as the start of the development race where we find out the true pecking order for the F1 season, as teams bring new parts galore and race around the optimum testing track, highlighting the best chassis of the season. Unfortunately, Ferrari’s title credentials took a critical blow, as they watched the Mercedes of Nico Rosberg drive off into the distance.

Ferrari’s struggles suggested that their perceived leap forward since 2014 was more of a step; proven as Lewis Hamilton, who has dominated the 2015 season so far, was held up behind Sebastian Vettel for his first two stints, unable to overtake through Barcelona’s long mid-speed corners, and ended up finishing 17 seconds behind a cruising Nico Rosberg.

The pace of the Lotus was evident, though not necessarily rewarded through bad luck and a minor collision between Pastor Maldonado and Romain Grosjean, leaving them with just four points when at least double that was available. Unfortunately, both Sauber and Force India had a tough weekend as their lack of funds became clear, slipping down the grid without the money to develop. Further back, it was a reality check for McLaren who struggled after expecting a real step forward as F1 returned to Europe. 

Road to recovery begins for Rosberg?

Nico Rosberg, Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team: Started 1st, Finished 1st

It’s been said for weeks that Nico Rosberg needed to perform and beat Lewis Hamilton to get back in the title race. Three races late, he has got the monkey off his back, and how!

Rosberg was faster over a single lap, had better race pace and conserved his tyres better
Credit: Mercedes AMG

Having been put thoroughly in the shade by Lewis Hamilton, the German set the pace in two of the three practice sessions. The Brit knew he was under pressure in final practice, pushing beyond the limit to find every last thousandth of a second to beat Rosberg. Hamilton found the pace in Q1 by over a tenth as everyone was forced to use a set of medium tyres to ensure progression to Q2.

It was Q2 where Nico made his mark, setting a time nearly six tenths faster than Hamilton and almost a second ahead of the field. That gave Rosberg confidence that he could stop the rot and beat his teammate comfortably. He went half a second faster on his first run in Q3, setting an unassailable time two and a half tenths clear of Hamilton, as the track temperature brought an early end to competitive proceedings.

Off the line, it was Rosberg who got the better start as Hamilton spun up his tyres and was engulfed by Sebastian Vettel and Valtteri Bottas, repassing the latter into turn one. But that gave Nico Rosberg the required buffer, opening up an 11 second gap through the first stint and pitting last of the top three. After a slow stop kept Hamilton behind Vettel, Mercedes were forced to change strategy to get the Briton ahead of the Ferrari.

In the end, Mercedes had to hamper Nico Rosberg just to help Hamilton, keeping Rosberg out an extra few laps to help the Brit. The facts are clear coming away from the Spanish GP, Rosberg was faster over a single lap, had better race pace and conserved his tyres better, stopping one less time. While Hamilton was held up by Vettel for 30 laps, I’m unsure he would have got past Rosberg had he been second out of turn two, unable to pass the slower Ferrari for half the race.

Is Rosberg now back in the title hunt? I doubt he can seriously challenge his teammate but he’s proved he’s back on form and on his day, he has the pace to beat the reigning champion.

Home run for Sainz hindered by setup

Carlos Sainz Jr, Scuderia Toro Rosso: Started 5th, Finished 9th

Toro Rosso looked strong all weekend before the race, running as consistent top 10 competitors through practice. Sainz, buoyed by the home support, held off his teammate to qualify a very impressive career best fifth, ahead of Kimi Räikkönen and Felipe Massa. Sainz set the second fastest time in Q1, beaten only by Lewis Hamilton before qualifying for Q3 with almost a second to spare ahead of the tenth place cut off. A blistering lap then saw him beat Verstappen by a tenth, qualifying just half a second behind Valtteri Bottas on the second row.

Sainz, buoyed by the home support, held off his teammate to qualify a very impressive career best fifth

Unfortunately that was as good as it got for Sainz and Toro Rosso. The setup of the car was all wrong, making them the slowest down the straight bar the Manors, leaving the rookies to make up time in the corners with higher downforce. It made the young duo easy prey down the front straight as they fell down the field. Sainz fought back though and an alternative strategy brought him back into play.

A slightly longer first stint and then a move to the hard tyres for the second left Sainz on the faster medium tyres for the last stint, though he needed to make them last 23 laps. He reeled teammate Verstappen in to breeze past using DRS with three laps to go after a big slide through the chicane from the Dutchman. That gave the Spaniard a chance to chase Daniil Kvyat for ninth, making an aggressive move around the outside of turn one on the final lap, giving Kvyat space until the Russian outbraked himself, hit Sainz and forced him off the road. It was Sainz's corner but, perhaps luckily, the rookie kept the points after a stewards’ investigation to claim two well-earned points on home soil. 

Aussie Grit mk. II

Daniel Ricciardo, Infiniti Red Bull Racing: Started 10th, Finished 7th

Something is clearly wrong at Red Bull. Okay, the engine isn’t all there (although all four cars managed to finish for the second time this season in Barcelona) but so far the senior team are being matched and occasionally beaten on pace by Toro Rosso.

That said, Daniel Ricciardo is making a fist of it and his performance in Spain was not one by a man losing hope. Ricciardo was evenly matched with teammate Kvyat throughout qualifying, and in the end was pipped by one and a half tenths in Q3 as both Red Bulls progressed into Q3.

The Aussie managed his pace on the mediums to gradually open up a ten second gap
Credit: Getty Images/Red Bull

Ricciardo lost out to the Lotuses at the start, but jumped past Sainz on lap five and then up to seventh past Max Verstappen and Romain Grosjean at the first pitstop, running a lap longer and benefitting from clear air. Once up to seventh, Ricciardo had reached his potential for the race. Unable to catch Felipe Massa ahead, the Aussie managed his pace on the mediums to gradually open up a ten second gap to Grosjean behind by the end of his second stint. He moved on to the hard tyres for a 23 lap final stint showing the true pace of the Red Bull as he increased his lead to the field behind to 30 seconds at nearly a second a lap.

Seven points is hardly what Red Bull expect from a weekend but Ricciardo’s pace shows that there is some potential and at least one driver good enough to fight for every scrap that comes their way.