Today was quite good.
The race was thrilling, up there with the likes of Canada 2011 and Bahrain 2014. It was also a profitable race, the first this year, as the Ricciardo bet came off (the Ferrari one did not, but as the former was 8, it was still very green). The Verstappen bet I mentioned earlier in another place, which was not available by the time I wrote my race weekend pieces, will not count in my records. It was, however, nice to get a 250/1 winner, even though I put on only a tiny sum.
The start, which even at 3.12pm feels like a year ago, was dramatic. Vettel started well, Raikkonen poorly, slipping down a few places. Rosberg passed Hamilton very early on but when the Briton tried to come back, Rosberg moved across the track [or held the racing line, as you like], Hamilton went onto the grass, lost control and struck his team mate. Both cars were out on lap one.
The safety car emerged, guaranteeing Ricciardo the lead of the first lap.
At this stage the order was Ricciardo, Verstappen, Vettel and Raikkonen. (Or thereabouts. Sainz was up to 3rd at one stage, I forget precisely when, but slid a few places simply because his car wasn’t fast enough).
The safety car came in and the order remained unchanged. Ricciardo built up a small gap over Verstappen but wasn’t galloping away. The Ferraris looked faster but Spain is a circuit that doesn’t make overtaking easy.
The first set of pit stops were much of a muchness, the top four all shifting to medium tyres, but the second stops were where things became very interesting. Ricciardo went for three stops, as did Vettel, Verstappen (then leading ahead of Raikkonen) and Raikkonen stayed out on a two stop strategy.
It was unclear if the medium tyres would be able to do the 30 odd laps Verstappen and Raikkonen would need to reach the finish without another stop. Meanwhile, Vettel and Ricciardo were catching rapidly. Then oddness occurred. Vettel pitted much earlier than expected. Ricciardo pitted later, and then started catching Vettel rapidly, who was reeling in the Verstappen-Raikkonen duel at about half a second a lap, on course to more or less catch them by the last few laps.
Raikkonen was within a second of Verstappen and could close the gap on the Red Bull to almost nothing on the straight, but the Dutchman was unflappable and his car supreme in the twisty third sector, ensuring the Ferrari wasn’t quite close enough.
Meanwhile, Ricciardo was homing in on Vettel, who was perhaps 5s behind the leading duo. The Aussie got the gap down to DRS range, then lunged, overcooked it, and failed to retain the place. The tussling stopped Vettel narrowing the gap to the leaders, and ensured the Dutchman or Finn would take the race.
Ricciardo had another go, but debris or wear got the better of him. Kvyat, ironically, passed him as a puncture struck the Aussie’s car. He trundled to the pits for a final fourth pit stop, and such was the gap to Bottas he retained his position of 4th.
Could Raikkonen pass Verstappen after 20 laps of trying?
Verstappen became the youngest man to get a podium, win a race and the first Dutchman to win. An incredible performance of skill, speed and icy calm. In his first race with Red Bull.
I said earlier I was shocked by the in-season driver change, but if anything ever vindicated a decision, this was it. An unbelievably exciting race with an incredible result.
Bottas was anonymous due to the duels ahead of him, but got a solid 5th for Williams, Massa climbing to 8th. Not really a Williams track, so they’ll be pleased with that.
Sainz was impressive to get 6th, and Kvyat got 10th, so that’s a good result for Toro Rosso.
Perez’s 7th is only the third points score for Force India this year. Hulkenberg failed to score points, but his excuse (his car burst into flames) is quite persuasive.
Alonso’s McLaren lost power. A shame, as the team was on for a double points finish (Button got 9th).
Haas just missed out with Gutierrez 11th (Grosjean retired), and Sauber were better than expected with Ericsson 12th.
All in all, a bloody exciting classic of a race that was greener than a jealous Kermit the Frog.
So, the standings:
Still very much Rosberg’s to lose. His car’s the class of the field and he’s 43 points ahead of his team mate. Not impossible by any stretch for Hamilton to come back, but if they finish 1-2 in the next seven races (Hamilton winning) the Briton would have a lead of just 6 points.
Red Bull 94
At the moment, I think this flatters Red Bull. Bear in mind the Ferrari DNFs and that the Prancing Horse was faster today (not all circuits are so difficult for overtaking). However, Renault have an engine upgrade coming, and it’s possible the Red Bull may end up finishing second in the Constructors’. The Ferrari chassis isn’t as good. Monaco, Singapore etc will be tasty for the Red Bulls.
Got very lucky today, and the race was fantastic. The next race is in a fortnight, in Monaco.