Driver insight with Karun Chandhok: Spanish Grand Prix

by Karun Chandhok on 15th May 2017

Karun Chandhok's latest post-race insight – the big Barcelona updates, how Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes combined to deny Sebastian Vettel and Ferrari, and why this is shaping up to be the best F1 season for years.

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That was one heck of a race, gripping stuff from start to finish and yet another sign that this championship race could be one of the best ever. We see such close margins in qualifying and the race, and the way Mercedes and Ferrari are having to juggle things is great to watch. The world championship battle is really going to be an interesting one.

The update war

Traditionally Barcelona is the race where most of the teams bring updates. It’s start of the European season; they’ve got four races of data and logistically it’s a lot easier to bring new parts from the factory. Friday was about looking around to see who has brought new parts, and Mercedes visibly looked to have made a big upgrade. We on the outside have to take that with a pinch of salt because we don’t know what teams have done under the skin. Engine upgrades, weight – we can’t see those things. Mercedes had a new dramatic-looking scoop under the nose and new camera mounts, changes to the rear floor, engine cover, bargeboard and monkey seat. Ferrari and Red Bull didn’t look to have brought too much visually but you have to look at the lap times, that’s the ultimate judge. Ferrari was right in the hunt with Mercedes, though there was a new T-wing and some edits to the bargeboards and front-wing. The same with Red Bull.

It was interesting to see how aggressive Mercedes would be, and it will be going forwards.

F1's new physicality

Qualifying was really good, FP3 showed Ferrari were right there. I don’t think Lewis’ lap was perfect; in fact he did his best time on his first run in Q3 and he was a few tenths up if he had closed out that lap so I think he had a few tenths left. But so did Vettel. His first and second sectors were really good but he made a bit of a mistake at the chicane and we heard him ranting and swearing over the radio. He was saying he thought that all weekend he had been missing the apex of the chicane and did it again in qualifying and didn’t get it hooked up. But when we got to the start of the race, they were hooked up. No question. You just had to listen to Lewis’ radio and he was panting, showing how hard he had to work. I think that’s great, whether you’re watching the Olympics, Tour de France, swimming, you want to see the athletes using every little bit of energy they have got to get the result. We hadn’t seen that in the past and this 2017 generation of cars has certainly helped that I think, the physical strain has really gone through the roof. It’s really good to watch.

The racing was really great, the moves Vettel had to pull on Bottas, the way Lewis came at Seb in the dirty air; the racing was really good. We’re seeing once again those quality moves. OK, Lewis’ move on Seb was DRS assisted but he had be there in the dirty air to make the move.

The strategy game

I think Mercedes, particularly, was really good at thinking on the go. Going to the medium tyre in second stint of the race, Mercedes managed to prolong Lewis’ first stint by nine laps over Seb, which meant he had less to do over the next two. It went to the medium tyre on the heavy fuel, and though they pitted as the Virtual Safety Car a benefit was gained from that because Lewis was already in the pitlane. Lewis only did 14 laps on the medium tyre, which was a lot slower than the soft this weekend. It was a really clever move to get rid of the mediums so quickly. When you have a lighter car, which you will at the end of a Grand Prix, and the more rubber that is put down, which again you see in the final stint, the soft tyre will last longer. So by using the medium tyre earlier on it outfoxed Ferrari and Lewis was therefore on the faster tyre at the end. Despite the fact that Lewis came out behind Seb, although only just, when Seb rejoined on lap 37 Lewis had so much more pace. Then you become the hunter rather than the hunted and Seb on the medium tyres was vulnerable. We heard him on the radio say there was nothing he could do and that Lewis just blasted past him. James Vowles and the Mercedes strategy team did a fantastic job.

What was clear to me, as Bottas and Kimi retired, the A-listers Seb and Lewis once again staked their claim as the number ones in the team. You could argue that if Kimi had out-qualified Sebastian and been on the front row he wouldn’t have got into the tangle. Valtteri had the engine issue but he was already a long way behind the front two at that point. The status quo has resumed after the wobble from Lewis at Sochi.

The best of the rest

Force India scored solid points in the midfield battle. Ricciardo got a podium, which is always nice going into his adopted home race at Monaco, but he was 75 seconds behind the race winner. That will not have escaped the team’s attention and nor will it please them because it's a long, long way to be behind. It’s a tough track with nowhere to hide and you ask so much of the car, but still it’s a long way back.

Hülkenberg and Wehrlein both had great races and came away with a solid haul of points. The lap of the weekend though was Fernando Alonso’s from qualifying. It’s a shame he got messed up with Massa at turn one but it was the most amazing lap. If you get a chance, it’s worth watching the onboard.

Monaco is next with its very different demands. The usual suspects, Ferrari and Mercedes will be right up there, there’s no reason why they wouldn’t be. Both Lewis and Seb are brilliant around there so we’ll see how it unfolds. 

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