The Spanish Grand Prix marked the real start to the European season. Traditionally the place where most teams bring out major upgrades to their cars, perhaps Williams could improve on their poor start to the season. Another hope was that DRS would not be as effective as in Turkey.
Mark Webber proved to be fastest in the first sessions, while Lotus got a huge boost in pace to leave the Virgins in the dust. The McLarens – particularly Hamilton – were able to come close to the Red Bull’s practice pace. Final practice saw Vettel fastest by less than a tenth from his teammate. Renault were more concerned with their car making it to qualifying, as an issue with their exhaust set Nick Heidfeld’s car on fire. This would go on to cause a Photoshop meme, with the German leaping away from the fire.
Come qualifying, there was hope from Lotus that Kovalainen at least would make Q2, and so it proved to be. This was mainly thanks to problems with Williams (Barrichello had technical problems and would start 19th) and Renault’s injured car. Jarno Trulli was fastest of the dropouts in 18th. Q2 saw the Force Indias choose hard tyres while Kovalainen went for it on soft tyres. This placed the Lotus fifteenth on the grid ahead of di Resta and Sutil. The Saubers and Toro Rossos also failed to make the final session, but Pastor Maldonado made it for struggling Williams.
In the final session, Vettel had no KERS for his single lap, and he almost made it to pole. But Webber, who had the boost, went faster by two tenths of a second. Third was Hamilton, while on home turf Alonso got into fourth. Petrov managed sixth ahead of Rosberg, while Massa would start a disappointing eighth. Behind came Maldonado, and in tenth – saving tyres for the race – was Michael Schumacher.
Race day, and Webber did not hold his lead as Vettel snatched it straight away. But he didn’t have it all his own way as Hamilton hounded him for two-thirds of the race. Only DRS’s ineffectiveness prevented Hamilton from getting that much-needed overtake on a track that has always been notoriously difficult in this area.
Alonso struggled on the Pirelli tyres, ending up fifth and the first of the lapped drivers. Webber and Button finished third and fourth to maintain their teams’ perfect total of laps completed thus far. Schumacher beat Rosberg, while Nick Heidfeld proved tyres were everything by finishing in the points from starting 24th. Both Saubers also got points.
Team Lotus’s Kovalainen had a rare crash while pushing hard on the circuit. He had been running well in a midfield position when he lost it and went into the wall. Retirements also came from Tonio Liuzzi and Felipe Massa, the Brazilian suffering from a gearbox problem.
The teams had to leave Barcelona quickly for Monaco, where the race weekend starts a day early and you have to fit in the track walk and setting everything up. Could Lotus continue to close on the midfield? Could Red Bull hold off McLaren? And how well would DRS work on the narrow streets of Monte Carlo?
[To be continued]