Perched 25 metres above the ground in our BBC 5 Live commentary box, James Allen and I enjoyed a panoramic view of Sunday’s Spanish Grand Prix in Barcelona, but while we joined most of Formula One in being delighted to see Nico Rosberg take a much-needed victory, my takeaway is that Lewis Hamilton should not fret too much about his quest for a second successive title being disrupted.
Rosberg finally put an underwhelming start to his 2015 campaign behind him with a lights-to-flag victory, the kind of performance which the sport’s critics will determine was boring, but will have left the Monaco-based German feeling very excited as he heads to F1’s blue riband event on the streets of the principality next week. He did most of the hard work on Saturday, finally putting together a strong final practice before heading into qualifying with his head down and slamming in a pole position time more than a quarter of second quicker than Hamilton. For his part Hamilton looked a little ragged, exemplified by a spin in the 150mph Turn 3 which for mere mortals would have left more than skid marks on the track.
Before the race we said that Rosberg’s start would be key, but even he could not have expected to have it so easy as his Mercedes launched itself beautifully on the 730m run down to Turn 1 while Hamilton’s car became bogged and fell into the clutches of the pursuing field. When Sebastian Vettel’s Ferrari emerged in 2nd place after the first corner, we knew that Rosberg could take flight and make the most of his team mate’s frustration.
And so it proved. While Rosberg moved serenely ahead, stretching his lead as Vettel’s Ferrari backed-up Hamilton, you could almost see the steam coming from his team mate’s helmet, especially when his first pit stop was a botched 5.3 seconds (note; that’s slow…). Hamilton’s engineer duly radioed him and announced that they would have to switch to ‘Plan B’. This turned out to be a switch to a demanding 3-stop strategy which meant that Lewis had somehow to drive quickly enough to make up the estimated 22 seconds it would take to overcome Vettel on a classic ‘undercut’ pit stop.
Amazingly, he did it, putting together a drive which would have been worthy of the man who won the Spanish Grand Prix in Barcelona new fewer than six times and was a master at mid-race strategy changes; Michael Schumacher. It may have led Hamilton to finish second, his efforts to catch Rosberg in the closing stages ending only when his engineer advised him that there weren’t enough laps left. ‘Is it impossible?’ Lewis questioned, and the answer came back in the affirmative.
Ferrari were nowhere in the end, in spite of bringing an upgrade to Barcelona, so it was once again a Mercedes whitewash. But if Rosberg is smiling about his victory, Hamilton should not feel too demoralised. He is clearly the fastest man out there, has the best car by far, and on current form will continue to achieve a win-rate against his team mate that will allow for the odd 2nd or 3rd place to give his team mate some crumbs of comfort.