Historically, F1 races held in Asian and Middle East locations are considered by drivers as the toughest races on the calendar due to hot and humid conditions.
The truth is, it's one thing to race in the pouring rain, and another to race in the sweltering heat. Sure, changing conditions in a wet race could prove to be difficult driving-wise, but racing for an hour with cockpit temperatures soaring above 50 degrees celsius is just as equally challenging for drivers, to the point where they lose almost 4 kg of body weight after a hot race.
Not to mention, the heat also poses a challenge for F1 cars as they become more susceptible to failure. And in any championship battle, reliability is a key factor. Sometimes, it's even the deciding factor. Just ask Ferrari in 2006 with Michael Schumacher.
The recent heatwave in Spain meant conditions were more akin to a race in Sepang than the usual European weather. And in the midst of a 40-degree Sunday afternoon, Max Verstappen took victory in an unexpectedly eventful Spanish Grand Prix ahead of teammate Sergio Perez and George Russell.
In what was a race of survival in Circuit de Catalunya, here are the glaring things we've learned throughout the Spanish GP weekend.
Mercedes-AMG, the defending constructors' champions, hasn't had the best of starts in a long while. The W13 proves tricky to set up, and its major porpoising issues meant they're unable to extract maximum pace out of their 2022 challenger. However, the Spanish GP saw flashes of an impending return of the Silver Arrows to the sharp end of the grid.
Their latest introduction of updates to the W13 seems to be working well, as both Lewis Hamilton and George Russell showed a competitive pace in the three practice sessions. In qualifying, they were well within striking distance of pacesetters Ferrari and Red Bull. In the race, Hamilton regrouped from a first-lap collision with Kevin Magnussen to finish 5th. That position would have been 4th if only Hamilton didn't have to fuel-save at the end.
Furthermore, the Mercs are gaining back their straight-line speed to the point where even the Red Bulls with their powerful engines found it difficult to get past the W13. It's all looking good for the Mercs after Spain. The question now remains if they could finally carry this momentum in the next races. When they do, it might be the first time since 2013 that we'll see a three-horse race in the championship.
Ferraris lose their cool
In the first five races of the season, it was Red Bull who was experiencing reliability issues with their car. But at the 6th race in Barcelona, it was Ferrari's turn.
Charles Leclerc started on pole and was comfortably leading the race after Verstappen's minor issue due to the wind gust at turn 4. The Monegasque then looked set to cruise to an easy victory. But at lap 27, his Ferrari F1-75 suddenly lost drive on a suspected power unit failure. That meant Leclerc has recorded his first DNF of the season, and in the process, lost the lead of the championship to race-winner Verstappen.
Carlos Sainz, on the other hand, had a bad start after qualifying 3rd. To add insult to injury, the Spaniard also fell victim to the wind gusts at turn 4 early on, which dropped him down the leaderboard. After the incident, all he could do was salvage 4th place in his otherwise eventful home race.
Sainz hasn't had a smooth weekend since Saudi Arabia, which leaves him 5th in the championship. His bad weekends not only hurt his chances but also his team's in the constructor's championship as well. Leclerc meanwhile, will have to break his Monaco curse if he has any plans of regaining the lead in the driver's championship next week.
Russell excels in close-quarter combat
After Leclerc and Verstappen ran into trouble in the early part of the race, it was George Russell who took the lead for Mercedes. The events after that were a revelation of how good the young British driver is when it comes to wheel-to-wheel racing.
George Russell defended his lead hard but fair against the attempts of both Sergio Perez and Max Verstappen. There was even a point where Verstappen was side by side with Russell at turn 3, but there were no flashbacks of Silverstone 2021 this time. Russell held his line and gave the Red Bull driver the exact space he needed for them to continue battling.
Even though he eventually faded in the latter stage of the race, it was clear to see that it's only a matter of time before the intense but clean Verstappen-Leclerc battle becomes a threesome of Verstappen-Leclerc-Russell.
F1 is still DRS-dependent, Part 2
While the Russell-Verstappen battle in the early part of the race kept us at the edge of our seats, it also showed another example of why Formula One still needs its drag reduction system.
Max Verstappen was able to stay at the back of George Russell's Mercedes. But once they came to the main straight without DRS, Verstappen was unable to get close enough to even attempt an overtake, much to the frustration of the Dutchman.
That is proof that DRS should stay to give overtaking opportunities for drivers.
Mick Schumacher has to score points
Let's put it out there. I consider myself a Michael Schumacher fan, so it pains me to see that his son Mick Schumacher is yet to score points this season. He and his teammate Kevin Magnussen both reached Q3 and looked to be in a strong position for a double points finish in Barcelona.
The race, however, told a different story. K-Mag had contact with Lewis Hamilton on the opening lap and had to take the gravel route, dropping him to the back of the grid. On the other hand, Mick was nowhere pace-wise and simply fell out of contention for points. In the end, the Haas drivers only finished 14th and 17th. Not a good day at the office for the Kannapolis squad.
The Green Bull?
Aston Martin came to Barcelona with a rather familiar-looking AMR22. By familiar, we mean it has a design feature that we've seen from a front-running car. Still got no clue? The Aston Martin's sidepods for Barcelona have an uncanny resemblance to that of the Red Bull RB18. The previous “Pink Mercedes” has transformed into.... the “Green Bull?”
Just like two years ago, Aston Martin was cleared of any wrongdoing. The FIA issued a statement that a routine investigation was conducted. They found out there was no evidence of any leak of technical information from the Red Bull camp or any trace of reverse engineering. So all is well and legal.
However, the new sidepods did not quite translate into better results for Aston Martin. Drivers Sebastian Vettel and Lance Stroll failed to reach Q2, and they weren't able to score points in the race. Looks like it's back to the drawing board for the folks in green.
Red Bull: Back to Multi 21 days?
Despite some intermittent DRS issues and a minor off in the early part of the race, Max Verstappen was still able to finish 1st in an eventful Spanish GP. Perez, meanwhile, drove a solid race to finish 2nd. The Mexican may have mixed feelings considering he didn't put a wheel wrong throughout the race. But there's no denying the fact that Red Bull is operating like clockwork to always bag maximum points.
It somehow reminds me of the Vettel-era days. One driver may run into trouble early on, but the other one is always in contention for victory. That has been the case so far for Red Bull. They've just had their second 1-2 finish of the season, and in the first six races, a Red Bull driver is always on the podium except in Bahrain.
Next round will be in Monaco. Historically, it's a track that favors Red Bull. However, I still believe Ferrari has the chassis advantage this season, but they have to get their act together and get both drivers in contention for the win from this point on. Because otherwise, they might even find themselves slipping back down to third. Yes. Third. Because the Mercs are still in contention thanks to their 100% reliability so far this season.
With these wide Formula One cars, I'm not putting my hopes up that we'll see plenty of overtaking in Monaco, and I'm much more looking forward to qualifying than the race itself. But who knows, right? The Spanish GP this year was entertaining, and that used to be boring.