The first four races of the Formula 1 season have all gone the way of the silver arrows. Barcelona is the fifth.
Ferrari’s engineers are going to have to work feverishly to make up the difference in speed. They have the drivers but lack engineering supremacy and at times score less than full marks on tire changes in the pit.
The story this season that everyone wants to see unfold is to see if LeClerc is the new Hamilton – a serial world champion in the making.
And part of that story was the inevitable contest between Sebastian Vettel and Charles LeClerc for supremacy within Ferrari. Up to now Ferrari has consistently used team orders to spoil that duel and given Vettel priority for taking podium spots.
Because Ferrari’s engineers have not yet found the key to unravel Mercedes’ speed advantage the spotlight is shifting to the contest within Mercedes who unlike Ferrari have surprisingly let Bottas and Hamilton fight it out. Who would have thought that Valerie Bottas would upstage Hamilton as was the case in Australia and Azerbaijan.
But in Barcelona Hamilton charged as it was Hamilton who made the better start of the two Mercedes drivers from his second place on the grid behind Bottas. As he pulled along the right flank of Bottas, he was challenged on the left by an eager Vettel. The trio headed down to the first corner virtually in line and it was clear that one of them had to yield. It was Hamilton who got the upper hand to take the lead, while Vettel slewed off the track with a stream of tyre smoke.
The order as they crossed the line for the first time was Hamilton, Bottas, Verstappen, Vettel, Leclerc, the order in which they would eventually finish the race.
In between there were some interesting moments. By Lap 12, LeСlerc was actually past his team mate Vettel who eventually offered to surrender his place over team radio. And Leclerc was able to pull a one-second gap with Vettel hanging on. Ferrari confused us with their drivers’ strategy and on Lap 36, switched the cars around again, LeСlerc letting Vettel go around him on the outside of Turn 4.
In the end there was little doubt that the day in Barcelona belonged to Hamilton and Mercedes with their record fifth one two of the season. And Hamilton with this win now leads Bottas in the race for the Championship. Ferrari once again were left scratching their heads. All credit to Verstappen of Red Bull who showed magnificent race craft to finish ahead of the red Prancing Horses and score his third podium of this season.
Charles Leclerc has had to settle for fifth place after Sebastian Vettel, the same rank as in Melbourne, Shanghai and Baku.
No doubt he will quickly turn the page to focus on the next chapter in the most eagerly awaited race of the season. It’s Monaco and the mesmerizing sight of Formula 1 powerhouses fighting their way through the narrow streets of Monte Carlo. May 23-26 is when it all happens.