Strike two to Hamilton as Merc keep it interesting and Ferrari keep Alonso happy
Sky F1's Martin Brundle reviews the Spanish GP and considers the strategies of Mercedes and Ferrari on and off the track
Last Updated: 14/05/14 11:18am
Sunday's grand prix was one of the better races I've seen at Barcelona. Even if it wasn't a classic, it was full of tension and, pleasingly, most of the fights which were building up during the race came to fruition at the conclusion.
There was plenty to talk about and just as much to enjoy even if it did require a little bit of imagination during the middle stage of the race to foresee how the divergent strategies would merge together. That was particularly apparent in the battle for victory between the two Mercedes with Lewis Hamilton just about holding it all together to take the win and the lead of the World Championship.
It is moments such as those on Sunday when Lewis just managed to keep Nico at bay which can decide the destiny of a World Championship. In the two key rounds of the season so far, it's Lewis who has landed the final punch and the significant psychological impact of this weekend's result could be worth more than the difference in points scored.
When push has come to shove, Rosberg is 2-0 down in the big rounds. The long and the short of what we've seen so far this season is that when Hamilton has the best set-up, he has won comfortably, whereas when Rosberg has had the best set-up Hamilton has still won. Through pure hunger and killer instinct, Lewis has stolen victories that could and should have been Nico's.
For Nico, the solace will be that it wasn't a walkover and he pushed his team-mate all the way to the line again. He knows that he has all the ingredients to beat Lewis and, with so many races remaining, all is far from lost. That will be of consolation but what he now needs is track position. He needs better results in qualifying and better starts - and that needs to happen in Monaco.
After the race, Kimi Raikkonen's displeasure was evident and understandably so. It seemed clear that Ferrari's race strategy was designed to put Fernando Alonso ahead of his team-mate and that must have been a shock to Kimi.
But look at it from Ferrari's perspective. They have to keep Fernando happy because they have to keep him. At his age, Fernando has only got one more ace card up his sleeve to play, and he knows he can't get it wrong when he signs his next contract. If they are doing their job correctly, Alonso's representatives will already have started talking to McLaren and Mercedes, but Mercedes have no reason to rock the boat with their contracted and ideal pairing, and, because of his past history there, there are a lot of hurdles to overcome if Fernando is to return to McLaren.
At the same time, however, Ferrari need to be proactive in persuading Alonso to stay, which is why they are now doing everything they can to keep him sweet and why they are not being shy in making some high-profile approaches to some big names like Newey and Brawn.
Elsewhere, there was a welcome return to form for Sebastian Vettel - my driver of the day in Barcelona - as the World Champion finally came alive for the first time this season. I suspect that's ominous for Daniel Ricciardo, although he's showing all the signs of being able to handle it, but it was great to see Sebastian throw caution to the wind as he scythed through the field while creating a new optimum racing and overtaking line into Turn Ten. Afterwards, he told me with a trademark cheeky grin of old that he hoped the others weren't watching and wouldn't notice how much grip he found out there. Somehow, I don't think that's very likely...
Nor do I foresee Mercedes being beaten any time soon and it's not out of the question that they will win every race this year.
Whether because of the barriers or the weather, Monaco is always capable of throwing up a surprise and the cars will be an absolute handful around there next week. I said during commentary in Spain that I hadn't seen the cars move around so much in twenty years and there will be several areas around Monaco which the drivers have been able to dismiss as 'easy tarmac' in recent years that they will really have to think about now. But it's only the Red Bull which looks like being remotely threatening to the Mercedes. Running into each other is more of a threat.
Throughout the decades, we've had periods of domination like this - McLaren in the 1980s and late 1990s, Williams in the early 1990s and Ferrari in the 2000s - and while I don't think it's necessarily good for F1 for one team to be so far in front, it's not as disaster either providing that two things keep on happening: the first is for Nico to keep on taking it to Lewis and the second is for Mercedes to carry on letting them race wheel-to-wheel. Inside the team, they'll know that they will receive massive kudos if their drivers are allowed to fight each other and biting criticism if they are not. Hence, at the moment, we're seeing one team effectively racing as two different and rival outfits, on Sunday afternoons at least, and hopefully they will realise that even if there is damaging contact, it is better than team orders.