With top teams closing the gap even further after the most recent string of upgrades, team strategy shone through as the deciding factor in the Spanish Grand Prix.
Well, folks, predictions that the Grand Prix in Spain was to be decided by strategy turned out to be true. Whilst one certainly discredits the role of the upgrades and the part they played within the outcome, the masterful strategic manoeuvring of Mercedes was what ultimately gave them the peak of the podium. In what was a chaotic race from the get-go, there can be seen a streak of almost poetic resolution within the top three drivers.
A Mercedes, a Ferrari, and a Red Bull – two of which were swept up in the collision on the first turn of the race and were forced to retire, and Bottas would later retire after playing his part in the fight for 1st. The remaining three were split heavily by the gap that emerged between Vettel and Hamilton and Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo. Fighting non-stop throughout the whirlwind of 66 laps, Hamilton and Vettel’s fight was ultimately swung in Hamilton’s favor as Mercedes called him in during a Virtual Safety Car after Stoffel Vandoorne ran into the gravel following a point of contact with Williams’ Felipe Massa.
The call turned out to be the right one, as Hamilton closed the 8-second gap to Vettel in no-time – even prompting a bewildered Vettel to ruminate on just how Hamilton managed to close the gap so quickly. While it was ultimately Hamilton’s masterful engagement of DRS on the straight that saw him pass Vettel, it was the brilliant work of head Mercedes strategist James Vowels and his team that elevated Lewis’ performance to the next level. Even Mercedes Team Principal, Toto Wolff, was over the moon with their advice:
“There was a bit of thought process in the strategy group [during VSC] – at a certain stage we planned to do the opposite to Sebastian. And then the magic call was the one to take the pitstop at a time when it looked like the VSC would end soon.
Because [otherwise] Sebastian could have reacted to that, pitted next lap. So we timed it perfectly, I really take my hat off to James [Vowles, Chief Strategist] and his group of strategists.” – Toto Wolff
Though Ferrari still managed to place second in the Grand Prix, the pendulum of victory has once again swung back into Hamilton and Mercedes’ corner. While the Prancing Horses head back to Maranello to nurse their wounds, Monaco – the crown jewel of Formula One – looms on the horizon. And Ferrari won’t be so keen to let it slip out of their grasp. Scuderia were in the mix all the way, and it was refreshing to see an overtake for the lead on track. Make no mistake, both teams have a big chance of winning the title with one of their drivers. This race, more than any other so far, advertised a battle between two Goliaths of the sport. For eight years, Sebastian Vettel and Lewis Hamilton have been winning championships, but differences in the packages they’ve had each year has rarely seen these two great drivers fighting head to head for victories. How exciting that this has changed in 2017, and they are finally in a fight with one another.
Talking of strategy, Sauber’s Ruth Buscombe, the senior strategist for the team, put Pascal Wehrlein on the risky one-stop that saw the German’s C36 finish 7th on circuit and 8th after a 5s penalty. Wehrlein had to manage the tyres quite heavily, and his ability to defend from Carlos Sainz in the second phase of the race but retain enough pace to pull away from the chasing Haas cars and Daniil Kvyat behind this scrap was crucial to finishing in the points, especially after the 5s penalty was announced.
Sauber actually had two cars in contention for points at a circuit in which they were expected to struggle given that they hadn’t brought any upgrades this weekend. Marcus Ericsson finished 11th, which could prove crucial in the Constructors fight with McLaren.