The 2018 Spanish grand prix was not an instant classic and you can safely delete it from your DVR. But there were a few interesting developments worthy of a closer look.
Pirelli has finally brought tyres that are soft enough to mix up the strategies. The red Supersoft tyres were picked by the teams at the highest rate, but during free practice, the teams realized that the Supersoft was not much faster than the yellow Softs. This was true enough that the Ferraris and Ricciardo of the Red Bulls used the Soft in Q3 when they were trying to set their fastest lap. And considering that the Soft was as fast as the Supersoft and degraded more slowly, it was clearly the preferred race tyre.
Sadly for fans of race strategy, the top 3 cars were all able to make the race on only one-stop, which is something we thought we’d never see at the Spanish grand prix. But the one-stop strategy has to be chalked up to good tyre management by the drivers, as Vettel was tough on his front left tyre and forced into a second stop.
So kudos to Pirelli for bringing tyres soft enough that the softest compound was not the default tyre, that drivers could race the tyres without them falling apart but they weren’t so robust that tyre wear was irrelevant (see Vettel).
Haas is looking like it has a formidable car. Let’s put Grosjean aside for a second because the guy simply cannot drive. Magnussen, the other Haas driver was not able to pressure the top three teams but he was head and shoulders faster than the other Midfield teams. In fact, he raced alone all Sunday. Barcelona is considered a fair test of the car’s overall ability, so Haas may be running away with the coveted title of best-of-the-rest.
McLaren’s upgrades paid dividends and it looks like McLaren and Renault are on very equal terms. Alonso and Sainz had a good battle for much of the day. Hulkenberg was taken out on lap 1 through no fault of his own or he probably would have been there too. It’s not surprising that he’s not at Alonso’s level, but Vandoorne is not showing the pace he needs to in order to keep his seat going forward.
Grosjean seemed to lose downforce on his front wing as his teammate drifted across his line in turn 3. Almost all the drivers were struggling with grip on the first lap, so no shame there. But then, instead of spinning off the track, Grosjean floored the accelerator in a misguided attempt to stop the spin and get back on track. It was hopeless and all he accomplished was “fogging” the track with his burning rubber,
thereby blinding the other drivers, and putting his car directly in the middle of the track. Grosjean’s boneheaded move took out Hulkenberg and Pierre Gasly (Toro Rosso). The steward’s agreed that Grosjean’s decision to floor it was wrong and assessed him a three grid spot penalty at the next race at Monaco.
Grosjean was right to sit on the side of the track by himself with his crash helmet on for a long time after the crash. He needs a time out to think about what he is doing out there. The start of the 2018 campaign has been abysmal for him and Haas would do well to put a more steady driver behind the wheel of its fast car.
Hamilton looked great out there on Sunday and was never under pressure. Kudos to him, but let’s hope this does not augur a return to the boring days where Lewis vs. the field was an even-odds bet.
The red cars did not have a good race. Vettel’s power unit seems fine, so let’s assume that Raikkonen’s engine woes (x2 on the weekend) were a fluke that can be resolved. But the lack of race pace and the high tyre wear are worrying indicators that the Ferrari is not the best car on track that many assumed it to be through the first four races. Spain was the first race of 2018 in which Ferrari was absent from the podium. The Tifosi will want to make sure this doesn’t become a trend. Ferrari was 1-2 at Monaco last year, so we’ll see what they can do at the next race.