The fourth race of the 2021 Formula One season is covered here by our F1 correspondent Nick van der Meulen in his report F1 Review Spain 2021.
The fourth round of the 2021 F1 World Championship took place at Barcelona, Catalunya. The circuit is popular with the drivers, despite it being difficult to overtake the grid enjoy the long straights and the mixture of slow and fast corners. Tyre conservation is generally a challenge and this proved to be the case in the most recent race.
Duel in Spain
The race was always going to be between reigning world champion Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes) and Max Verstappen (Red Bull Racing-Honda), as they locked out the front row of the grid on qualifying. Hamilton rewrote the history books by being the first driver to appear in pole position 100 times on a F1 grid, but he could not capitalise on it at the start.
Verstappen barged into the lead into Turn 1 and the Dutchman held it until six laps from the end. Red Bull Racing looked to be in a commanding position when Verstappen pitted, while Hamilton stayed out on track. By the time the Englishman trundled down pit lane, the Red Bull pilot looked at ease out front with Hamilton having to work to close the gap. As he came up behind Verstappen, he abandoned the chase and returned to pit lane for a second stop for medium rubber.
The one-stop strategy planned for Verstappen backfired and Hamilton sailed past into the lead with six laps remaining – a lead he would not relinquish. Bizarrely, Verstappen was brought in for fresh rubber immediately after being passed for the lead. The Dutchman snatched the point for fastest lap as a consolation and had to be content with second place.
What of the protagonists’ teammates? Mercedes pilot Valtteri Bottas lost out at the start, as he had to to avoid teammate Hamilton in Turn 3 on Lap 1, which gave Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc the opportunity to sneak past. The Finn managed to gain the upper hand at the first pit stop and worked hard to finish an eventual third. Sergio Perez (Red Bull Racing-Honda) could not take advantage of his machinery from eighth on the grid and finished an eventual fifth.
There were late pit stops from Verstappen, Bottas, Perez and Leclerc, as they could safely re-join the race without losing track position, with the intention of claiming a point for fastest lap. It is clear that this will be a regular tactic for racers who aren’t vying for position in the race’s dying stages. Once Verstappen and his Red Bull team determined that they could not challenge for victory, this became a priority.
Resurgent Red Cars
Ferrari had a decent points haul at Catalunya, however, one can’t help but feel the team’s tactics lost Leclerc a possible shot at the podium. The Monegasque did well to stay ahead of Bottas but, like Hamilton, was kept out on track for as long as possible. Once he emerged from the pits, Bottas was gone, not to be seen again. Leclerc finished a fine, and lonely, fourth. Teammate Carlos Sainz continued to rake in points by finishing seventh on home soil.
McLaren fail to deliver
The McLaren-Mercedes team will have wished for more at Catalunya, although Daniel Ricciardo will feel more satisfied having outgunned teammate Lando Norris all weekend. The Australian finished sixth, although he was warned about weaving on the main straight while defending position. Norris was unhappy to have “lost” a set of tyres after being held up by Nikita Marzepin (Haas-Ferrari) in qualifying. The Englishman continued to struggle in the race and was warned for late moving on the straight when defending his position. He had to be content with points for eighth position.
There was an interesting scrap in the closing stages for the final point on offer between Fernando Alonso (Alpine), Lance Stroll and Sebastian Vettel (Aston Martin-Mercedes), Pierre Gasly (Alpha Tauri-Honda) and Kimi Raikkonen (Alfa Romeo). Eventually, it was Gasly who won a hard-fought point after a torrid race.
There’s a two-week breather before the next round at the legendary street circuit at Monaco. It is the slowest circuit on the calendar and notoriously difficult to overtake at, however, there were some good passes made in the recent Formula E event held there. One hopes for an exciting race at an iconic venue.