Sunday Standouts: Spanish Shenanigans
Given the amount of pre-season testing done at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya, it usually makes for a relatively dull race. But due to the unusual circumstances over the break, testing of the new regulations and cars was completed in Bahrain instead, and combined with some new faces (and old) on the grid this weekend piqued a little more interest than in the past. There were certainly some standout moments and drivers who took advantage of their prior experience to claim a place on the winners list, but also some that simply had a disappointing performance this week.
————— Wins —————
5. Kimi Räikkönen
Although the cameras only focused on the Hamilton-Verstappen fight, Räikkönen slowly made his way though the grid from P17 to P12, a much better showing than last week’s DNF. Räikkönen has consistently been at the front of the ‘backmarkers’ - usually consisting of Alfa Romeo, Williams and Haas - with results of P11, 12 and 13 in three out of the four races. The Finn is yet to score a point this season, and it will likely take something drastic in the midfield to allow him that chance. But considering how far ahead most of the field are, this is a considerable achievement and he is in a good place to capitalise on any mistakes the top ten make.
4. Esteban Ocon
This is the Frenchman’s fourth time beating Fernando Alonso in as many races, and he seems to have a better handle on the 2021 Alpine car than his teammate. He placed 9th in the Spanish Grand Prix, and is currently also P9 in the drivers’ championship while Alonso sits in P12. He is faring much better against Alonso than most people expected, and it will be an interesting season to follow. Can Alonso make up for the past four races or will Ocon continue to lead the Alpine team?
3. Lewis Hamilton
Red Bull seemed to be on the back foot in Barcelona as Hamilton went on to comfortably claim his 100th pole, until Max Verstappen jumped the Mercedes on the first lap of the race. It was a ballsy move by the Dutchman, and relied on Hamilton knowing to yield for both drivers to come out of it unscathed. But even after that overtake Verstappen was unable to pull much of a gap, and with a brilliant strategic move of a two-stop strategy (hailing back to 2019 Hungary), Hamilton was able to take advantage of the fresher tyres to chase Verstappen down. Patience paid off for the Briton and this weekend rewarded him with his 98th win and another history-making pole.
2. Daniel Ricciardo
Barcelona saw Ricciardo come on in leaps and bounds, with the Aussie having a much better time on track. This has not been a bad season for Ricciardo, having a point-scoring streak of 15 races (currently the highest on the grid). But this is the first race where he has beat McLaren teammate Lando Norris in both qualifying and the race, and this is most certainly something Ricciardo has been hungry to cross off his list. The Honey Badger finished 6th, tying his best result this season from Imola. With this result, he finishes second-best of the midfielders to the following driver on the list.
1. Charles Leclerc
The Monegasque can look forward to his home race on May 23th, as the Ferrari seems to be a solid contender for third this year. It was an uneventful drive in Barcelona, qualifying and staying in P4 on race day. It is shaping up to be a close fight between McLaren and Ferrari, and the teams will need both drivers within the top ten. Leclerc is having a much better season than last year, and tails McLaren’s Lando Norris by only one point at P5 in the drivers’ championship. This is Leclerc’s fourth top-6 finish, and if his consistency continues he may soon snatch P4 from Norris.
————— Misses —————
3. Red Bull
Red Bull had a strong start to the season, but Mercedes’ smarter strategy calls meant that they decidedly had the upper hand this weekend. Sergio Perez seemed to struggle a bit more in Spain, and if he had been stronger perhaps Red Bull could have limited the strategic choices Mercedes had at their disposal. Because of the configuration of Red Bull’s low downforce rear wing, which made for a slidey rear and was aggressive on the tyres, it meant that degradation was a big issue around the Barcelona track. Paired with the extra set of mediums Mercedes had, it was an utter defeat over the Red Bulls .
2. Fernando Alonso
This was yet another disappointing race for the former world champion. Alonso seemed to have good pace in the first half of the race, but a risky one-stop strategy meant that he became vulnerable as his tyres’ lifespans slipped off the cliff. This was not Alonso’s fault of course, but compared to his teammate Ocon his performance on track seems decidedly average.
1. Yuki Tsunoda
Ever since he showed us electrifying pace in Bahrain, fans have simply been disappointed with Tsunoda’s recent racing. The Japanese rookie is far from bad, but when compared to how he was at the season opener, his performance this weekend just did not match up. A fuel pressure issue ended his race, but his qualifying was less than stellar when he found himself out in Q1. After, Tsunoda also made a rather testy remark in the media pen, suggesting that Alpha Tauri did not give him and Pierre Gasly the same car. He later apologised, but although fans have found his temperamental swearing over the radio entertaining, the team may not take these comments lightly. Tsunoda clearly has the speed to maintain a long career, but without media training he might not garner the best reputation in the long-term.
That is it for my Sunday Standouts for the 2021 Portuguese Grand Prix, if you enjoyed it share it on Twitter! This is a regular series for the 2021 season, so make sure to follow my Twitter @castorscorner and fill out the subscribe form to stay updated!