Many would consider the Spanish Grand Prix to be the actual start of the 2014 Formula 1 season, kicking off the European leg of the sport. As with quite a few of the Grands Prix we’ve seen this season, the interteam dynamics and off track storylines have been far more interesting than what we’ve seen on track. For the most part the Spanish Grand Prix at the newly renamed Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya was an uneventful affair, with teams sticking to their strategies in this 2 stopper.
One of the most interesting aspects of the 2014 season has been the interteam battles, most notably Mercedes. The duo of Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg started the 2014 campaign as 2 of the friendliest teammates in Formula 1, but as the season’s progressed, the relationship has deteriorated to that of respectful coworkers and nothing more. Hamilton was quoted in the media saying of all his closest friends Rosberg wasn’t one of them. His teammate made similar comments and it made abundantly clear that both would be vying for the clear number 1 within the team.
On paper, Rosberg was favored all weekend long. He put down consistently better lap times in Friday practice and qualifying but in the end it was Hamilton who was able to dig deep and put the W05 on pole. While not particularly a champion’s drive today, Hamilton maintained consistency from the start and took his 4th consecutive victory this season. Rosberg finished within 1 second of his teammate to take 2nd place and the body language following the race was anything but friendly.
Hamilton’s dynamic with the team was a departure from this season’s previous races. Lots of second guessing over the radio and a general frustration from the driver over the car’s twitchy performance. It was a telling sign of just how tense things have become in the Mercedes garages and it will be an interesting storyline to follow as the season progresses. The team’s domination over the sport right now is very Red Bull-esque and by the end of the race both Mercedes’ drivers had lapped the entire field with the exception of the 2 Red Bulls, the Williams of Valtteri Bottas and the Ferrari of Fernando Alonso. There was an expectation that the other teams would bring more of a fight to Mercedes after the 3 week break, but no one is close. Right now the World Championship is Hamilton’s to lose.
Things throughout the rest of the field were business as usual. Ferrari seemed to have made some improvements during the 3 week break and Kimi Raikkonen was clearly communicating better with the F14 T, much to the dismay of Alonso who was keen to capture a podium at his home Grand Prix. Despite the car’s lack of performance Alonso gives it his all every race weekend.
Say what you will about his past indiscretions with McLaren and Renault, the guy cares immensely and is able to squeeze every ounce of performance from every car. Alonso remained behind his teammate for much of the race but was able to overtake Raikkonen and finished 6th overall. The real question is how much longer Alonso will put up with Ferrari’s lack of performance. With more competition from his teammate, it seems a matter of time before the driver heads somewhere else.
Red Bull remained inconsistent all weekend. While Daniel Ricciardo settled into the RB10, Sebastian Vettel had a hellacious Friday practice and qualifying. To top things off, he was handed a 5 grid spot penalty and started in 15th. Vettel has been very vocal in the media all season long about his distaste for the new cars and Red Bull’s performance. This week he called for more aggressive cars, which seems to be the very reason he’s currently struggling. Without the exhaust blown diffusers of last season, Vettel has been unable to get the same kind of traction out of the corners. This has largely been his achilles heel in 2014 – in season’s past Vettel could hold down the accelerator at the exit with full confidence that the car would maintain grip.
Most of his complaints boil down to a lack of success and the fact that Ricciardo is outdriving him certainly isn’t helping. It’s interesting how the team have largely abandoned Vettel’s corner. Horner and Newey have nearly resorted to radio silence in the media and it begs the question that Vettel could be leaving soon for Ferrari, where he may have already signed a pre-contract. Loyalties certainly seem to be shifting in the Red Bull paddock and Mark Webber must be enjoying every minute of it.
Elsewhere on the grid, Valtteri Bottas gave Williams another reason to keep believing. He once again outdrove his teammate Felipe Massa and finished a very respectable 5th. The Lotus of Romain Grosjean and the Force Indias of Sergio Perez and Nico Hulkenberg rounded out the top 10 spots. McLaren were yet again nowhere to be found all race.
After some respectable times on Friday, Jenson Button barely made it into Q3 on Saturday and struggled today, finishing 11th with his teammate Kevin Magnussen just behind in 12th. Still without a title sponsor 5 races into the season and one really has to wonder what’s going on at McLaren. Theoretically they should be doing far better with the superior Mercedes engines. They looked strong in pre season testing and have fallen every race since. Not good enough Ron.
With Spain in the books and the teams back in Europe, it’s really starting to feel like Formula 1 is properly underway. Next stop is Monaco in 2 weeks!
Photos courtesy of F1 Fanatic.