Mercedes on the march and other winners and losers from the 2023 Spanish Grand Prix
The 2023 Spanish Grand Prix is in the books.
After a shocking qualifying session on Saturday, the potential was in the air for a rather mixed up field in the Grand Prix itself.
While the name at the front was not a surprise, the two who joined Max Verstappen on the podium might have been a bit unexpected. That duo tops our list of winners and losers from the 2023 Spanish Grand Prix.
For a number of reasons, Sunday was a mega result for Mercedes.
Beyond the team’s double podium, which saw Lewis Hamilton finish second and George Russell finish third, was the justification for the upgrades and changes made to the W14. After debuting at pre-season testing a year ago with their “zero-pod” design, the team has struggled with the aerodynamics each week, battling to try and get things right.
Then in Monaco they unveiled a new look for the W14, featuring sidepods similar to what teams like Alpine and Williams are using. The result in Monaco was a P4/P5 finish for Hamilton and Russell respectively, but this Sunday was something bigger, and something that has the team thinking that even brighter days are ahead.
“We took a decision to go in another direction early in the season; it was a risky move, but everyone has just pushed forward and we’ve got a good race car. We now need to just keep chipping away,” said Mercedes Team Principal Toto Wolff after the Spanish Grand Prix. “We are a good Team at grinding away; once there is a clear direction we just go for it. Let’s keep our expectations real though. We’ve got a long way to go to catch Red Bull but it’s good to see we are moving in the right direction.”
“We seem to be moving in the right direction though and that’s the main thing. We’ve made good progress in the championship,” added the team’s Trackside Engineering Director Andrew Shovlin. “Max [Verstappen] is clearly out of arm’s reach for us at the moment, but we had fun today and we’re looking forward to the next races.”
In addition, the double podium saw the Silver Arrows surge ahead of Aston Martin, and into second place in the Constructors’ standings. Something that might not have felt possible just a few weeks ago.
Coming into Sunday, Haas might have felt there were points in their future. Nico Hülkenberg had posted some of the fastest times of the week, advanced to Q3, and started Sunday in P7 thanks to the penalty handed down to Pierre Gasly.
But instead of pushing up for points, Hülkenberg slid back as the team endured a high level of degradation with both Hülkenberg and teammate Kevin Magnussen. The result? No points for the team, as Hülkenberg finished 15th and Magnussen finished 18th.
“Quite a disappointing result today, we just couldn’t get the tires to stay alive. We did one more pit stop than everyone else, but even if we hadn’t stopped, we would’ve gone slower and ended up there anyway,” said Team Principal Guenther Steiner. “We need to go back to the drawing board and try to find a solution to our tire degradation.”
Max Verstappen was dominant all week, and was dominant on Sunday. Yet another week in what has become a theme for this season.
But Sunday was a solid result for the team, as Sergio Pérez rebounded from a difficult qualifying session and race in Monaco, and another difficult qualifying session in Barcelona, to charge to a fourth-place finish.
While Pérez might have been disappointed overall, it was a strong result for the team that keeps them well atop the Constructors’ standings. “This weekend, in general, has been a step back and we weren’t quite there, but there are plenty of things we can do better,” said Pérez after the Spanish Grand Prix. “All in all, we brought home twelve points today and I think, looking forward, Canada should be a strong race for us. Everything is pretty close right now so that will be an interesting one.”
Team Principal Christian Horner seems to believe that Pérez’s struggles the past few weeks might work to take the pressure off, allowing him to regain his fine form from earlier in the year.
“It was a good recovery from Checo, especially the second part of the race and I think that will give him a lot more confidence. He had a difficult Monaco, a difficult qualifying but a better Sunday,” said Horner after the race. “Looking at the gap between the two drivers, the pressure is off now and we know what Checo is capable of. I’m sure he will refind that form from the early races in the near future.”
While the Silver Arrows are rising, Ferrari looks to be heading in the opposite direction.
It was a disastrous Saturday for Charles Leclerc, who failed to advance out of Q1 and qualified in P19. The team took the opportunity to make a number of changes to his SF-23, meaning he would start from pit lane on Sunday. He managed to fight through the field, but fell short of securing points as he came across the line in P11.
As for Carlos Sainz Jr., he managed to qualify in P2 and started alongside Verstappen on the front row. However, he could not fend off the Mercedes duo, as well as the hard-charging Pérez, and settled for P5 in his home race.
“It was a tough race. Unfortunately, we couldn’t fight at the front as our pace is pretty much dictated by tyre management and degradation,” said Sainz after the Grand Prix. “I know Sundays have been frustrating so far this season, but we gave it our all on track this weekend and we will keep working on this new package and on developing our car.”
For his part, Leclerc is hoping the team can find some answers to the questions that seem to be plaguing the Scuderia.
“We really must analyse all the data, because while the upgrades seem to work as expected, we are always slightly caught out by what is happening with the tyres and we struggle to get them in the right window which is a big problem,” said Leclerc.
We ran the same tyre twice in the same race and we went from having a very bad car to quite a good one towards the end of the race,” he added. “Now we will go back to the factory and find out what went wrong yesterday in qualifying because that’s what put us in a tricky situation today. There’s a lot of work to do.”
Team Principal Frederic Vasseur believes that Ferrari has taken a step forward, but concedes that it is not enough.
“We made a step forward this weekend in terms of our qualifying pace, with Carlos on the front row after the best Saturday of his season so far. However it is clear that, in terms of race pace, Red Bull and Mercedes are quicker than us,” said Vasseur.
To hear him tell it, the biggest problem might be a lack of consistency.
“Our problem is not our outright performance, it is our lack of consistency. Charles’ first set of Hards was a sort of a nightmare but then on his last set of the same compound he was happy with the balance: we must assess this inconsistency,” added Vasseur. “Now we will focus completely on this issue before Canada. For sure we will continue to develop the car but this is a matter of improving by tenths of a second, whereas in the race we are looking for seconds at the moment. There is something in the car that we must unlock if we want to move forward.”
As you can tell from this graph from Formula1Points, as Mercedes is climbing, Ferrari seems to be standing still:
They’ll need to turn things around in a hurry, starting in Montreal in two weeks.
Looking at that above graph, you also get a sense of how big the past two weeks have been for Alpine.
As the grid left Miami behind, both Alpine and McLaren were sitting on 14 points for the season. Since then, Alpine has posted two-straight double-points races, including a P3 for Esteban Ocon in the Monaco Grand Prix. On Sunday, Ocon finished in P8, while Pierre Gasly managed to stay in the points despite the penalties that saw him start tenth after qualifying fourth, and that is exactly how his day ended.
When you combine that with what we will discuss in a moment, it ended up being a pretty good day for Alpine.
Sunday was set to be a big day for McLaren, with Lando Norris starting in P3 and Oscar Piastri starting in P9.
That promise and potential was gone by the second turn of the Grand Prix.
Norris ran into the back of Hamilton in Turn 2 of the opening lap, and was forced to pit and take on a new front wing. Shuffled to the back of the field he managed to pick up a few spots, but still limped home in P17.
As for Piastri, while he was in the fight for points late into the race, the best he could manage was a P13.
“Following a very positive qualifying session, today’s Spanish Grand Prix was a more realistic showing of our current competitiveness. We knew it would be more difficult to perform at the top of the field on race pace today given the hotter conditions,” said Team Principal Andrea Stella. “The situation was compounded by contact on the first lap between Lando and Lewis Hamilton, which resulted in Lando pitting for a new front wing and falling 30 seconds behind the field.”
Sunday was a chance for McLaren to perhaps pull ahead of Alpine. Instead they fell further behind.
Let’s hear it for Zhou Guanyu. Zhou started the day in P13, but managed to pick up a few spots on the track, finishing in ninth and picking up two hard-fought points for Alfa Romeo.
“I really enjoyed today, it was a well-executed race from my side: I think these have been some of the best two days for me in Formula One, in terms of performance,” said Zhou after the Grand Prix.
“Today, we showed that we’re ready to fight for every single lap, every single tenth of a second on track. We have shown that, working together with determination and as a team, we can deliver the result we all, and our drivers, deserve,” said Alessandro Alunni Bravi, Alfa Romeo’s Team Representative.
“The field is very close, we saw that today: every thousandth of a second matters so we need to be aggressive, have a results-driven mentality. We had a hard fight on track with the Haas, the Alpines, the AlphaTauris and to come out of this with points is a very positive result,” added Bravi.
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28 of September 2023