Spanish Grand Prix 2016
19 May 2016
Round 5 – 66 Laps – 4.655km per lap – 307.104km race distance – medium tyre wear
Formula 1 returned to the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya, a track the paddock knows very well, in style with a dramatic, unexpected and surprising Spanish Grand Prix. Few could have expected the result, as Max Verstappen drove to victory on his debut for the Red Bull team, becoming the sport’s youngest ever race winner. As always, there were plenty of strategic elements for us to sink our teeth into, here are the main headlines:
Three stop fails to pay off
The choice between a two and a three stop strategy ended up deciding the podium places. Red Bull and Ferrari both opted to split strategies with their cars, with Kimi Raikkonen and Verstappen stopping twice and Sebastian Vettel and Daniel Ricciardo planning to pit three times.
It was brilliant to see four drivers battling it out and the tension continued to build as the laps counted down, as the strategies started to take shape. Pirelli actually predicted before the race that a three stop would be the quickest, but that fails to take into account how difficult it is to pass at the Barcelona track.
Plus, both Vettel and Ricciardo failed to make significant inroads into Verstappen and Raikkonen’s advantage in the final laps, not helped by traffic. Ricciardo then picked up a puncture and had to pit again, which dropped him to fifth, but he bounced back to fourth. Vettel had to settle for third, with the three stop failing to work out.
Two stop the way to go
So a two-stop race proved to be the winning strategy. Both Verstappen and Raikkonen stopped on lap 12, with the Red Bull then pitting one lap before Raikkonen. The undercut was very important in Spain and this helped Verstappen to keep the gap to the Ferrari at a comfortable level as the final stint began.
Tyre degradation wasn’t as high as expected at the circuit, some thought Verstappen and Raikkonen would lose life in their Pirelli mediums late on but that wasn’t the case. They were able to keep up a decent pace throughout the final laps, which helped them to stay ahead of the chasing Vettel and Ricciardo.
So it appears the three stop was the wrong choice and both Red Bull and Ferrari shot themselves in the foot by splitting strategies, it cost Vettel and Ricciardo the chance to properly challenge for the win, having looked so strong early on. Of course, this was all helped by the two Mercedes drivers taking each other out…
Avoiding the hard tyre
The hard Pirelli compound made its debut appearance in Spain but it was rarely used throughout the weekend. Some drivers struggled to get temperature into their tyres, especially in the cooler conditions earlier on in the on-track action, and the long life of the mediums meant they got much more use on Sunday.
Just two stints were completed in the whole race on the orange-marked tyres, with both Jolyon Palmer and Kevin Magnussen completing laps on the compound. But Magnussen couldn’t get the tyres to work and failed to reach the end of the race, having to stop again. Palmer made it to reach the chequered flag but the pace was pretty underwhelming, which goes to prove why it didn’t get much action.
Haas likes the soft compound
The Haas F1 team once again tried something different with more running on the soft tyre compound. Both Romain Grosjean and Esteban Gutierrez brought eight sets of the softs, unlike most of their rivals. Gutierrez completed two stints on the softs to elevate him to 11th overall, while Grosjean retired, but had been on course for a three-stop strategy, with three soft tyre stints and one unusually short one on the mediums mid-race.
Jack Leslie @JackLeslieF1
Hard: Palmer (32 laps)
Medium: Guitierrez (35 laps)
Soft: Grosjean (19 laps)
Ricciardo (4 – including drive-throughs)
All the Data
Thanks to Pirelli Motorsport for the detailed infographics