2023 Spanish Grand Prix Roundup
After the late drama of the Monaco Grand Prix, traditionally not the most renowned on the calendar for racing action, the Spanish Grand Prix had more than usual to live up to. Taking place at the historic high-speed Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya, the track for this year had removed a slow chicane sector towards the end of the lap to promise even more high speeds and potential for DRS overtaking.
With the threat of further rain in Q1 and very humid conditions, the early ‘feeler’ laps on slick tyres proved very tricky with a number of cars spinning or having to drive through the gravel, eventually leading to a red flag mid-way through the session due to the amount of gravel on the track. Leclerc was struggling with his rear tyres and subsequently also found himself with an off-track excursion, however it went from bad to worse for the Monegasque driver who at the end of Q1 found himself P19, only ahead of rookie Sargeant. Bottas, Magnussen and Albon also finding themselves out after Q1.
Q2 proved equally unpredictable as those considered as front runners finding themselves in trouble as time was running out, apart from Verstappen who’s early benchmark did not need to be bettered. Perez’s tricky qualifying performance of late did not get any better as he missed out on Q3 yet again, followed by Russell, Zhou Guanyu, De Vries and Tsunoda as the drivers failing to make the cut.
Q3 may have had a similar theme with Verstappen setting the fastest time that no one could match, but it was the rest of the order that gave surprises galore. Carlos Sainz joined the Dutchman on the front row with a surprised Norris in P3, Gasly in P4 (before being handed a 6-place grid penalty for getting in the way of other drivers twice), Hamilton in P5 and Stroll in P6.
Despite the cloudy outlook on race day the track was dry and shouldn’t prove as unpredictable from lights out as Qualifying had been. Verstappen would hope that his first pole position would result in his third race win but would the apparent mixed order behind him be enough to give him the edge and remain untroubled from the off.
As the race started Verstappen got a clean get away and kept ahead of Sainz into the first corner, the same couldn’t be said for Norris who after banging wheels with Hamilton needed to pit immediately for a new front wing. Stroll managed to take advantage of the commotion and stormed into third ahead of Hamilton. Russell’s strong start saw him rise to P7 after his poor Qualifying session, the improvements to the Mercedes clearly starting to show already.
Verstappen’s Qualifying pace was clearly no fluke as he set off on his own race, lapping a full half a second a lap than Sainz in second place. The pace of the Mercedes meant that Hamilton had overtaken Stroll to climb to third, whilst teammate Russell had made up 7 places by the time the laps barely got to double figures. Leclerc the only driver to better that, making up 11 places after starting the race from the pitlane.
The first of the pitstops meant that a gaining Hamilton replaced Sainz in P2 and Russell was now up to P3, much more like it from the Silver (now mostly Black) arrows, who both said the need for new tyres wasn’t as immediate as others had made out. Red Bull and Mercedes deciding almost half way was the best place to swap tyres and a possibility that one stop was going to be enough, whereas most of the field had set out for 2-stop races.
Verstappen’s advantage ensured that he re-joined the race still in P1, with Hamilton’s fresher rubber also meaning it wasn’t long before he retook P2 from Sainz who had changed his tyres a few laps earlier. Perez, still fighting his way through the field in a quicker car than most, was sitting in P6 a few laps later clearing Tsunoda, Ocon and Alonso in the process. Russell proving the pace of the improved Mercedes car, also passed Sainz and put the two cars into very promising podium places.
The depleting performance of the tyres meant that a one-stop strategy was looking just a stretch too far for the front runners, with a second flurry of pit stops shaking things up once more as the final quarter of the race emerged. Russell’s fresh rubber proving too much pressure for Perez as the Mexican also decided it was time for new tyres a few laps later.
Hamilton also took advantage of his position to pit for new tyres and re-join in P2. Perez meanwhile set off in hot pursuit of Russell to try get close to the final podium position towards the end of the race and immediately set the fastest lap time of the day so far. Verstappen, keen to take that extra point away from his teammate, was given a black and white flag for exceeding track limits for the third time and had to be reminded by his team not to jeopardise his strong position in the process.
Ultimately it was a masterclass by the Dutchman, with the third ‘Grand Slam’ of his career with a pole position, leading every lap of the race and the fastest lap by the end of the race. Also, despite the much-improved Mercedes performance, the Red Bull was eventually 24 seconds clear of Hamilton in second, and a further 8 ahead of Russell in third. Not that this would have dampened the spirits in the Mercedes camp, who can optimistically be impressed with the performance of their car on the day.
Perez eventually saw the chequered flag in P4, a great recovery from the Mexican, with Sainz in P5, teammates Stroll and Alonso in P6 and P7, Ocon in P8, Tsunoda P9 and Zhou completing the points positions. Late drama between Tsunoda and Zhou however led to a steward’s investigation, dropping a distraught Tsunoda down to 12th, with Gasly then promoted to collect the last point on offer.
Yet another strong performance from Max Verstappen meant that he extended his lead at the top of the standings to a healthy 53 points over Perez. Alonso remains in third however Hamilton and Russell closed the gap a touch to but a bit of pressure on the Aston Martin driver, not that he will be phased by any of that. Sainz and Leclerc are followed by Ocon and Gasly to make up the top 10 standings.
In the constructor’s standings, Red Bull remain at the top however it is Mercedes who are now the chasing team, replacing Aston Martin in second place thanks to their fantastic performance. Aston Martin remain comfortably ahead of Ferrari, with a large gap between themselves and Alpine, themselves ahead of the chasing pack lead by a disappointed McLaren.
After 2 races in a row, which should have been 3 before the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix was cancelled, there are a couple of weekends off for the drivers before a return to Montreal for the Canadian Grand Prix at the Circuit Gilles-Villeneuve on the 18th June.
Find out more about the race and the calendar for the 2023 season here: F1 – The Official Home of Formula 1