No race has been predictable or processional (although Monaco is yet to come) and every race has featured overtaking and the occasional thrill or spill.
But today’s Spanish Grand Prix at the Circuit de Catalunya took some following through 82 pitstops. Most teams apparently tried to straddle two strategies, either three or four stops, leaving decisions until race circumstances and tyre wear pushed the majority into four stops. ‘We must manage our tyres’ was the mantra of the drivers, engineers and team principals and so what developed was a game of judgement and strategy rather than a race.
But then … the Ferraris, who committed to a four-stop strategy from the off and allowed their drivers to decide on their own lap times did seem to know that they were in a race. Their drivers took first with Fernando Alonso, quite obviously and justifiably delighted at winning his home grand prix, and third, with Felipe Massa. Between them came Lotus’s typically underwhelmed Kimi Raikkonen.
Mercedes, whose Nico Rosberg began on pole and Lewis Hamilton on second spot, slithered backwards to the field to sixth and twelfth, despite radio coaching on lap time targets. I get restive when I can hear the engineers micromanaging drivers into not pushing, saving tyres, looking after tyres, managing tyres, and real racers such as Lewis Hamilton responding with a sour ‘Well, I can’t drive any slower’.
The Circuit de Catalunya is hard on tyres historically which would explain why the Red Bulls could do no better than fourth place for Sebastian Vettel and fifth for Mark Webber, who drove a solid race after a modest qualifying results and poorish start.
I’m absolutely not advocating that we return to the days of wonderfully durable tyres that allowed the race to roll our pretty much in grid order, I just think that we need to take a step back on the rubber so that the drivers can drive at their fastest for at least most of the race. Let tyre strategy be part of the result, not the whole.
Aside from the tyres, I was pleased to see Jenson Button drive from fourteenth to eighth on a three-stop strategy in a McLaren that seems to behave about as well as my son’s Jack Russell puppy. I doubt this result can’t have found favour with teammate Sergio Perez who began in eighth but finished ninth, on four stops. Whether a reminder not to destroy his tyres in racing Jenson was effectively a team order to hold station is open to debate but at least McLaren’s meagre but much needed haul of points wasn’t endangered by Sergio wheel banging his way past as he did in Bahrain, last race.
And both Force India cars were able to show reasonable pace and Paul di Resta drove to seventh place. A cross-threaded wheel nut put Adrian Sutil too far back in the field for him to recover to a points-paying position, which was a shame for him.
Formula 1 is always looking for ways to make the racing close and unpredictable, to involve strategy and different cars evolving at different rates. The teams have just voted out a proposal to make changes to the points system by awarding a point for pole position. I’ve always thought that not enough is made of the potential of the points system for differing strategies. What I’d love to see is a point awarded for leading the race. That would really mix things up. By Sue Moorcroft