GRR

2024 Spanish Grand Prix | 5 talking points

24th June 2024
Damien Smith

The disappointment is a good sign of how expectations have changed. Until recently, Lando Norris would have been his usual bubbly self after finishing second in a grand prix. But at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya on Sunday, a bad start from pole position cost the McLaren driver what he felt was a nailed-on victory, and he just couldn’t pretend to be chirpy. Instead, that man Max Verstappen took the top spot in a tense Spanish Grand Prix that nevertheless offered further hope we’re in for a competitive Formula 1 summer.

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Verstappen vs Norris: start proves the key

A fast-starting Mercedes led at the end of the first lap, but this one was always about Max Verstappen vs Lando Norris in terms of the fight for the win. After an impressive second F1 pole on Saturday, Norris and McLaren fancied their chances for a successful conversion to victory on Sunday as Verstappen acknowledged that this long period of Red Bull domination appears to be over. Here’s hoping.

The evidence was certainly strong in Spain. But Norris was left kicking himself for a less than optimum getaway that led him to edge Verstappen on to the grass verge on the run to Turn 1. As Max pointed out, that slowed them both down as George Russell scorched from fourth on the grid, shot last his team-mate Lewis Hamilton and swept around the McLaren and Red Bull to lead out of Turn 1. A brilliant move.

But once DRS was enabled – the ‘flappy’ rear wing device is always a touch too powerful on the main straight in Spain – Verstappen easily snatched the lead back from Russell and Norris lost valuable time behind the Mercedes. McLaren did its best to work Norris back into contention to beat Verstappen, sacrificing track position with a long first stint to give the 24-year-old a tyre offset advantage later in the race. Norris was always confident he had the fastest car on track to blow back past his rivals to chase after Verstappen. Sure enough, after a first stint on soft Pirellis six laps longer than the Red Bull’s, Norris picked off Carlos Sainz Jr, Hamilton, and Russell on his mediums, then ran three laps longer than Verstappen before taking on a final set of softs.

That left him eight seconds down on the triple world champion with less than 20 laps to run. By the chequered flag, that gap was just 2.219sec. Had he made a better start and beaten Verstappen to Turn 1, Norris felt sure the result would have been different. “Not could, I should have won,” he told David Coulthard in the post-race interview. A move up to second in the drivers’ standings, 69 points behind Verstappen, was no consolation.

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Verstappen savours another hard-earned win

As in Canada, you sensed Verstappen took extra pleasure from this victory because he’d been forced to work so hard for it. And once again the lacklustre form of his team-mate showed that the Dutchman is the asset at Red Bull that makes all the difference. The 61st victory of his career was Verstappen’s seventh in 10 races, but unlike at the start of the year, he’s feeling big pressure to deliver them now. Two fast circuits follow in successive weeks to complete a gruelling triple-header. But he knows a Red Bull home win in Austria next weekend is far from a foregone conclusion, while Norris and McLaren will be fired up for their own home race at Silverstone just a week later.

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Mercedes’ upturn in form is real

They didn’t quite have the speed to take on Verstappen and Norris, but Russell and Hamilton were still contenders in Spain – and the Mercedes pair showed a clean pair of heels to the Ferraris. The upgrade introduced in Monaco really has made a difference.

After his disappointment of costly errors in Canada, Russell’s fantastic start showed his depth of character, having been narrowly outqualified by Hamilton on Saturday. Mercedes then pitted him early for medium Pirellis and later fitted a set of hards for his long final stint, which just didn’t work in his favour. Hamilton, running softs for his final stint as was conventional in this grand prix, moved ahead to score his first non-sprint race podium since the Mexican GP last year to secure a three-four result for Mercedes.

The result came at the end of a weekend in which a troubling distraction was thrown up by news that a scurrilous email that accused Mercedes of sabotaging Hamilton’s season had been sent far and wide. It triggered Mercedes to call the police and Toto Wolff into denials the claim had come from within the team. Good timing, then, that Hamilton should get the strategic nod over Russell in the race.

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Sainz shuffled out in home race

This was a tough home weekend for Sainz Jr. As the saga continues over where he will drive next season, he found himself out-qualified by Charles Leclerc and then made contact with his team-mate as he made a move. The Spaniard’s right rear wheel was grazed by the Monegasque’s left front at Turn 1, triggering a degree of niggle between them. But Sainz’s complaints on the radio were much more vociferous after Hamilton hustled past into Turn 1 later on. The stewards took note of the move as the Mercedes edged the Ferrari on to the kerbs, but that was as far as it went. To our eyes it was a fair move, but that was certainly not how Sainz saw it from the cockpit.

Then, like Russell, Sainz took on the hard tyre for the final stint as Ferrari split its strategy and he was forced to cede fifth place to his team-mate to cap a frustrating day. Although it was certainly a better one than the other home hero experienced. Fernando Alonso toiled to the flag a lap down in 12th after a horrible weekend for Aston Martin.

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New signing watches Alpine’s double score

Behind the top six, Oscar Piastri moved up from ninth to finish seventh far in the wake of his McLaren team-mate. And Sergio Pérez ran a three-stopper from 11th on the grid, having taken a three-place penalty from Canada, to come home an underwhelming eighth. The Mexican demoted Pierre Gasly on the last lap, but at least the Frenchman and his team-mate Esteban Ocon recorded a second consecutive double points haul for Alpine in ninth and 10th.

The pair’s modest success was witnessed by the Renault-owned team’s new signing. A certain Flavio Briatore has been taken on in an executive advisor role to offer guidance to the beleaguered team. The deal caused a flurry of outrage among many F1 followers, given the stain that will never fade from Briatore’s reputation. Fifteen years ago, he was forced out of the same team in its Renault guise for his part in the awful ‘Crashgate’ controversy when it emerged that Nelson Piquet Jr. had conspired to crash on purpose at the 2008 Singapore GP to the benefit of team-mate Alonso, who then won the race. The disgraced Briatore was given a life-time ban from F1, which he succeeded in overturning via a French court in 2010. Now the same team upon which he brought such shame has re-hired him to help plot its way out up the grid! Only in F1.

 

Images courtesy of Motorsport Images.

  • Formula 1

  • F1

  • F1 2024

  • Spanish Grand Prix

  • Talking Points

  • Max Verstappen

  • Lando Norris

  • Lewis Hamilton

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