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An in-depth analysis of the F1® Spanish GP 2022

23/05/22

Thanks to Versor, the official AI Partner of the Australian Grand Prix.

After Miami’s debut Grand Prix two weeks ago brought the heat on and off the track, the temperature was turned up a notch in Barcelona for the Spanish GP at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya.

With an air temperature of 36°C and on track temperatures exceeding 50°C, tyre degradation was the main area of concern pre-race and conjecture about whether a two-stop or a three-stop strategy would be the optimum approach.

Mercedes brought an array of upgrades to Barcelona and indicated signs throughout the weekend of finally competing with leading constructors, Ferrari and Red Bull. The team also seemed to have eliminated their infamous porpoising issue, with the cars only bouncing being limited to the fast corners throughout the circuit.

World Championship leader Charles Leclerc once again started from pole position and looked poised to cruise his way to a race victory after firing his way to a 12.6-second lead at the front, however on lap 27 his Ferrari began to slow down due to a power unit issue and Leclerc was forced to retire from the race.

Ferrari’s failure provided an opportunity for the Red Bulls of Sergio Perez and Max Verstappen and Mercedes’ George Russell. In the laps preceding Leclerc’s retirement, Russell had been furiously defending against Verstappen in a battle for second place. Despite the Red Bull driver’s better pace, Verstappen was unable to complete the overtake due to intermittent issues with his car’s DRS, analysis of the telemetry data revealed that this technical problem gave Russell a slight edge in the opening portion of the lap. Suddenly this had become a fight for the lead and Verstappen saw his opportunity to take the lead in the championship following his rival Leclerc’s retirement.

A polynomial fit of the lap times for both Mercedes and Red Bull drivers highlights the narrowing gap between the two teams and paints a picture of how the race unfolded at the front of the grid. With Russell’s superb defence, Red Bull opted to pit Verstappen on lap 29 changing from the medium compound tyres to the softs, becoming the only driver in the top 3 to complete this part of the race on the soft tyres. During this stint, Verstappen set blistering lap times compared to Perez and Russell who were on the medium tyres.

Perez had solid pace at the front of the race, however, it was evident that Verstappen was much faster on his fresher tyres and on lap 48 Red Bull controversially ordered Perez to allow his teammate to pass him. This decision allowed Verstappen to take the lead and eventually win the Spanish Grand Prix giving him the lead of the World Championship for the first time this season, which he now leads over Charles Leclerc by six points.

Despite being denied a potential third career race win, Perez finished second and set the fastest lap of the race bringing home maximum points for Red Bull. The surging Mercedes of Russell came in third to round off the podium and send a warning shot to Ferrari and Red Bull that they are now a legitimate threat after their relatively slow start to the season.

Lewis Hamilton’s race looked to be over on the first lap after being clipped by Kevin Magnussen at turn four forcing him to pit due to a puncture and dropping him from sixth to 19th. Hamilton felt that the car had damage and suggested over team radio that the car should be retired to preserve the power unit. Mercedes however urged Hamilton to persevere, believing that a points finish was still possible; the decision would ultimately prove beneficial with Hamilton setting a lighting fast pace throughout the second half of the race. Hamilton looked to be set for a fourth-place finish, however overheating issues lead to a water leak in the closing stages of the race forcing both Mercedes cars to ease off the pace and dropping Hamilton to fifth. Despite this small technical hiccup, it was still an inspiring drive from Hamilton which earned him the fan’s driver of the day award.

Any hopes of a Driver’s Championship or a ninth consecutive Constructor’s Championship seem to be impossible for Mercedes given their comparatively poor results in the opening five rounds of the season. The Silver Arrow’s announced this weekend that they are once again a threat at the front of the grid and may be challenging for race victories in the weeks and months to come. Meanwhile, Leclerc will be hoping to turn the Championship fight back into his favour ahead of his home Grand Prix at Monaco in just a week’s time.

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