Verstappen’s 40th Victory

Today’s Barcelona Grand Prix was not about who was going to win, but who was going to earn second place. After Max Verstappen’s third victory in a row and his 40th victory overall, that seems to be the new question. Last week Fernando Alonso earned second at Monaco. In Miami, Sergio Perez was second. This week it is Lewis Hamilton, for the second time this year. Yes, that’s right, Mercedes is catching up. They have been quietly and efficiently working on their car throughout the first eight races looking for their winning edge. Unfortunately for them they are still 23 seconds behind the Max Verstappen’s Red Bull. Toto Wolff in a post-race interview said they were only 15 seconds behind Red Bull….but the race result is the race result.

Verstappen pulled off the triple crown of a Grand Prix race weekend by earning pole position, leading every lap and driving the fastest lap. He did so by exceeding track limits three times earning him a black and white flag during lap 59. One more track limit violation and he would have been assessed a five second penalty. A fourth violation would not have affected his podium status though. Still, Verstappen’s racing engineer urged him to keep the car between the white lines the final seven laps of the race.

Charles Leclerc continues to struggle. Ferrari has made upgrades to their car, but they appear to be downgrades based on their performance this weekend. Leclerc couldn’t make it out of Q3, complaining that his rear tires lacked proper grip. He was forced to start from pit row due to the number of changes made to the car overnight. Carlos Sainz’s performance during qualification was completely the opposite. He earned P2, only five one hundredths of a second behind Verstappen. Still, Ferrari struggled with tire management and race pace today. Sainz finished a disappointing fifth. Leclerc climbed his way from 19th to finish 11th.

Barcelona is the first week that Fernando Alonso has showed signs of struggling. His long weekend started during qualification when his car took damage after spinning thru a wet spot on the track into the gravel. He still managed to make it to Q1 qualifying ninth. He finished the race in seventh. His teammate Lance Stroll had a better weekend qualifying sixth and finishing the race in sixth. Alonso caught up to Stroll by lap 53 after avoiding a late defense attempt by Esteban Ocon on the long straight during lap 52. Given that Stroll was 13 seconds behind Sainz, there was no need for Aston Martin to switch positions because they were not going to catch the Ferrari. It appears Aston Martin has some work to do to overcome the new Mercedes race pace.

Red Bull driver Max Verstappen of the Netherlands, left, and Aston Martin driver Fernando Alonso of Spain, right, steer thier cars at the start of the Monaco Formula One Grand Prix, at the Monaco racetrack, in Monaco, Sunday, May 28, 2023. (AP Photo/Luca Bruno)[/caption]

The only real fireworks in this race occurred during lap one when Lando Norris bumped into Lewis Hamilton during turn two. Heading into turn one, Hamilton overtook Norris on the inside. As Hamilton weaved into turn two, Sainz slowed, causing Hamilton to slow and Norris failed to react quick enough, losing a portion of the left side of his front wing as he ran into the back of Hamilton’s car. McLaren’s hope for a podium was dashed. Norris had driven at a blistering pace during qualification, earning third position. McLaren is working hard to turn the corner. This weekend was just bad luck.

Red Bull driver Max Verstappen of the Netherlands steers his car during the Monaco Formula One Grand Prix, at the Monaco racetrack, in Monaco, Sunday, May 28, 2023. (AP Photo/Luca Bruno)[/caption]

Overall, the Barcelona Grand Prix was a tame affair punctuated by tire strategy. All of the teams were concerned that rain would affect the race. After a short drizzle during the formulation lap, the rain stayed away, and the teams were left to race their race. Cooler temperatures helped the Mercedes achieve two podium spots as they work thru understanding their upgrades. Parity is in Formula 1. After qualification, seven different teams had drivers in the top ten. Six teams finished in the top ten. Both drivers for Red Bull, Mercedes, Alpine and Aston Martin finished in the top ten leaving Carlos Sainz and Zhou Guanyu as the lone representatives of their teams in the top ten. On to Canada in two weeks!

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