Practice Session, FP1:
A nice warm welcome for the first race weekend in Europe and the debut of all the teams motorhomes too. The question to be answered during this and the next session was how much the field has closed down the gap to Mercedes and where do the teams stand. Not much as far as top times are concerned as Hamilton lead the way still while Button & Ricciardo followed up. Perez had a strange incident when his left mirror cut loose and he had to drive all the way to the pits one handed; he ended the session P9 while Hulkenberg ended P11. It is to be noted that this track ideally doesn’t suit the SFI car that much.
We saw a lot more laps by the drivers and teams in the second session; they were really on it. It was evident as the drivers tested the new bits on the car and also completed the long runs for Sunday’s race. Hamilton continued to lead with Rosberg joining him up there along with Ricciardo. Vettel’s weekend started on the worst possible note as problems on his car in FP1 meant that he couldn't do a single run in FP2. The SFI duo struggled a bit to find the one lap pace on their car as Hulkenberg ended P11 while Perez only managed P16; the race pace though looked decent enough to challenge for points. It was good to see them doing 100 laps during the course of the day without any issues.
Another fine morning in Spain as teams geared up their preparation for the qualifying session. Rosberg took the lead from Hamilton this time as Alonso moved himself up to P3. It was fairly a straight forward session for everyone as they went on to fine tune the car one final time. It was really a difficult time for both the SFI drivers as Perez & Hulkenberg only managed P15 and P16 in the end. The car lacked grip all through the session and our weakness of the track was to be seen clearly.
Mercedes was still leading the pack and it has become more the fight between the two Mercedes drivers than them with others. For this particular weekend, SFI were looking a bit down on performance. Considering the one lap pace, the team were keeping their fingers crossed to get at least one car in Q3 if not both.
We got to see something new at the start of the qualifying session; NO we didn’t actually. It was a familier sight of Maldonado hitting the wall to bring out a red flag early in the session. With him out, everything was back to normal in the proceedings; it was another poor qualifying for Sutil as he along with both the Marussia & Caterham duo were out in Q1. Both the SFI duo made it through to Q2 but Perez only just made it there, they were clearly not at their best in the first phase.
The second session was fairly a straight forward session with only the last few seconds bringing out a bit of scare for the thousands of Alonso fans in the stands; he just made it to Q3 in the end. That meant for both the SFI drivers that was it, as they didn’t manage to get through to Q3. Hulkenberg beat Perez though as they qualified a pretty good (considering the FP sessions) P11 and P12 for the race. Perez conceded that he didn’t have a good last lap otherwise he could have made it to the final leg.
Hamilton surely kept it for last there, after being down to Rosberg in Q1 and Q2, he took pole position from his teammate who looked really dejected or you could term it as surprised post the session. Beside them was the ever smiling Ricciardo while his teammate wasn’t smiling at all as his car broke down at the start of the session without him doing any lap. It was also a good show by Bottas to start P4 and Grosjean to start P5.
A predictable qualifying maybe then, just had to see which Mercedes driver does the best lap of the whole of qualifying session. It was a surprise however to see Ferrari down and to see Grosjean up in top 5. For SFI, they moved up a place after Vettel’s penalty, it was bit of a damage limitation for them during qualifying. The position gave them free tyre choice plus an extra set and a position to get into the top 10; the race pace on Friday looked far better for them.
It was raining in Barcelona during morning hours of race day though there was only 10% chance of rain happening during the race and the prediction did come out to be a correct one (sometimes they do get it right). It was a hot day for the race though unfortunately the race wasn’t to be so hot in the first phase, although one could say, during the end moments, it did get a bit tensed for certain drivers and teams. Coming to the start, it was Hamilton leading the way as Rosberg didn’t manage to get anywhere close to him. Bottas leapfrogged Ricciardo while Alonso couldn’t manage to move ahead of teammate Raikkonen. The SFI duo moved up a place as Hulkenberg was up to P9 and Perez at P10.
The only talking point all through the race was that, Hamilton and Rosberg were both on different tyre strategy and how it could help Rosberg to pass Hamilton and go on to win the race. The duel was indeed a good fun to watch but all we got was Rosberg closing the gap to Hamilton, not actually coming close to fight wheel to wheel for grid position. Though behind them there was some close actions as the Ferrari duo were among their own tussle and finally Alonso managed to pass Raikkonen with a spectacular move in Turn 3. Ricciardo meanwhile had passed Bottas for the last podium position; the other RBR driver Vettel was in a league of his own. He didn’t have a perfect start in the race but by mid race and towards the end he was charging up through the field fairly easily.
It was sort of a mixed running for the two SFI drivers in the mid part of the race, both went for different strategy to maximize the team’s scoring opportunity but both were always together all through the race. It was not the kind of performance where one will be like, “this is amazing”, but then they were doing a solid job with a car which wasn’t the best suited for the track. Out of the two, Perez looked more comfortable and faster than Hulkenberg and rightly so he passed his teammate towards the end to take the P9 position from the German and he then started to catch Grosjean in the process. I doubt if there was a radio call made to the German to move aside (I’ll still check for it, if there was any).
The “Rosberg catching up Hamilton” duel continued till the last lap but unfortunately Rosberg was left with no more laps in the end to catch and pass the British driver. Hamilton thus won his fourth race of the season and now takes over as the leader in the Driver’s Championship. Clearly Rosberg doesn’t like this any bit; are we in for some tensions between the two, finally? The “smiling assassin” Ricciardo was finally up on the podium (he can keep the trophy now) while the drive of the day went to Vettel who effectively came from P16 to P4 in those 66 laps. It was a good day for Grosjean who got Lotus their first points and kept the charging Perez at bay. The SFI driver ended at P9 in the end with his teammate Hulkenberg at P10, another double point finish for the team. They tick off with some points after a difficult Friday, Staurday to begin with.
SFI lost a place to Ferrari in the championship but they hold a strong P4 position from their direct competitors Williams & McLaren. At this stage it seems like Red Bull are creating a gap between them and the likes of Ferrari along with the trio of SFI, Williams & McLaren. We are positioned in a good mix with lots of our “strong” tracks coming up in the next few races. The aim will be to consolidate as many points as the team can in less favoured tracks while score the maximum in the tracks favouring to their cars, the fight for P2-P5 in the championship is very much on. The next race will be a good one to watch considering how twitchy all the cars have been in Barcelona, no room for error in Monaco certainly.
Thank you for reading.