Sidepodcast // All for F1 and F1 for all

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.

The Matador strikes back // Title race looks set to be a real bull fight as Alonso closes gap to the top

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It wasn't a particularly memorable Grand Prix - it rarely is in Spain - but it proved to be a day that Fernando Alonso would never forget. He won the Spanish Grand Prix for the second time, his third win in his native Spain. Alonso was fairly restrained compared to his post race antics in Valencia last year. He didn't lay out the Spanish flag on the track, nor was there a cuddly toy; there was just a flag raised in salute.

To sweeten Alonso's day, championship leader Sebastian Vettel was pipped home by Kimi Räikkönen and Felipe Massa to further close Vettel's championship lead. But the German's struggles would have meant nothing if it weren't for a sumptuous Sunday drive from Alonso.

Unbeatable Alonso (again)

Alonso marks his territory
Credit: Pirelli S.p.A.

As much as I like to highlight good drives further down the grid and not focus on certain drivers, you just have to give Fernando Alonso the credit he deserves when he's in form like this. It seems that Alonso seems stronger without his team than when they start meddling in his race. Imagine where Alonso could have been in the Championship had Ferrari pitted him at the end of the first lap in Malaysia to change his front wing. Or if Ferrari had played it safe in Bahrain and told the Spaniard not to use DRS after it had already failed once. Without doubt he'd have bridged the 17 point gap that currently stands between Alonso and Vettel.

Ironically, I think that Red Bull may have set up Ferrari's winning strategy. Mark Webber was the first in for a scheduled pit stop at the start of the race on lap seven. Alonso was then in within two laps and Webber getting the undercut must have factored into Ferrari's calculations. As a result of pitting earlier, Alonso himself got the undercut on Vettel and was in prime position to challenge the ailing Nico Rosberg.

From there though, it was all Alonso. He got past Rosberg the next lap and set to work on building a gap and, quite simply, no one had an answer. All that was left to do was manage the gap and the tyres. There was a little bit of drama for Alonso towards the end. When Alonso pitted for his final stop on lap 49, he came in with a slow puncture on his left rear tyre, but so good was his pace that no one noticed. Perhaps that was more luck than judgement.

Good Rosberg drive overshadowed by the 'T' word

He didn’t get any credit for it but I think that Nico Rosberg put in a storming drive to finish sixth, holding off Paul di Resta by hook or by crook toward the end of the race.

Rosberg was on great form and posted a time two and a half tenths faster than his high profile teammate

Having qualified on pole, and in fairly dominant fashion to be fair to the German, finishing sixth is never going to get any attention, at least not in the positive sense, but in context, Rosberg got every point he could out of the Spanish Grand Prix. Through qualifying, it was pretty clear that Mercedes had the speed to grab pole, but Rosberg was on great form and posted a time two and a half tenths faster than his high profile teammate. That lap may have been crucial as it gave him an extra eight metres ahead of the pack and allowed him to lead into turn one while teammate Lewis Hamilton fell prey to Sebastian Vettel and Fernando Alonso.

Rosberg was one of the few drivers to successfully try a three stop strategy in Spain and despite having a car that munches tyres faster than I can devour a Yorkie bar, Rosberg’s drive may have been valuable for two reasons. Eight points is nothing to sniff at for Mercedes, they know that they have the fourth best car on the grid so best of the rest behind Ferrari, Lotus and Red Bull is not a bad result. It also gave the team some valuable data about their pace when running on these tyres for longer stints, a problem that Mercedes are desperate to solve. But most impressively, Rosberg was sixth, some twenty odd seconds ahead of Hamilton in twelfth for no other reason than the Brit couldn’t find the optimum mix of tyre saving and speed. His defensive driving against Paul di Resta in the final laps won’t hurt his reputation either.

Battle for the future goes unnoticed

Just as it has been for a long time, some of the best racing in F1 happens for the minor placings, sometimes not even for points, and goes unnoticed by the media and the F1 cameras. And this was the case in the battle for the final point in Catalunya as Daniel Ricciardo and Esteban Gutiérrez went toe to toe, both aware of the importance of a point for their reputation as well as in the Championship.

Ricciardo came out on top by a few car lengths to collect his second points finish of the season and increase his value compared to teammate Jean-Éric Vergne, who has really struggled to match the Australian in 2013.

Ricciardo heading to a points finish
Credit: Peter Fox/Getty Images

Despite losing out to Ricciardo, Gutiérrez provided a much-needed result. Though he was once again lapped, he provided his best result so far in F1 which was vital after the press had had three weeks to debate his viability in F1. In Spain though, Gutiérrez was closer to the overall pace, making it out of Q1 for only the second time, and much closer to the benchmark set by teammate Nico Hülkenberg.

Perhaps Esteban's drive looks better when you compare it to the awful weekend Hülkenberg had, especially after the German’s Keystone Cops moment in the pits. But Gutiérrez definitely stepped up his game in Spain, setting the fastest lap of the race. I doubt it’s just coincidence that his performance suddenly improved when F1 arrived at a more traditional track that he knew well. Despite racing in Malaysia and Bahrain in GP2 last year, and doing well, he has far more experience of European tracks, which will only help him as the season goes on, at least until we head to the flyaways at the end of the season.

Spain was supposed to be the race where the pecking order was shaken up. It always is because it’s the first European race and it’s far easier (and cheaper) to transport upgrades across Europe than across the world. And yet, nothing seems to have changed. Ferrari are consistently fast, Lotus conserve their tyres better than anyone and Red Bull have the fastest chassis but can’t get it to work with the tyres on a regular basis. As well as that, McLaren are still the slowest of the Mercedes cars.

However, the next round of F1 is hosted by a very different beast, one where I think that Mercedes are capable of winning: Monaco. With the importance of qualifying, it is the Silver Arrows best chance of victory before they solve their tyre calamities. If they lock out the front row in the principality, it will take a monumental tyre problem for them not to do well. Then again, I wouldn’t put it past them.