The brake duct drama has so far threatened to overshadow this weekend’s Barcelona based Formula 1 Aramco Gran Premio De España 2020, with Racing Point still adamant they have not done anything wrong. Ferrari and Renault appear to be continuing their stance on appealing the decision made by the FIA that allows the team to continue racing with the ducts despite being found guilty of using the design from Mercedes’ 2019 cars.

Williams and McLaren were both standing up against Racing Point however have withdrawn from their stand since, possibly due to the teams using engines from Mercedes in 2021. “McLaren Racing has decided not to appeal the decisions of the FIA Stewards in relation to Renault’s protests of Racing Point,” the team said.”The team welcomes the Stewards’ decisions and findings in this case and importantly that the FIA has demonstrated that transgressions of the rules will be investigated and punished.

Ferrari continue to have their own internal issues with a new chassis provided for this season’s surprise package in not performing as expected, Sebastian Vettel. He’d had a solid impact with the ripple strips at the 70th Anniversary race last weekend at Silverstone, and although Head of Chassis Engineering Simone Resta said: “It would not have had much of an effect on performance, but it was the logical decision to take.”

Practice and Esteban Ocon was lucky to get away with a small amount of damage after coming up behind the Haas of Kevin Magnussen moments after the Danish driver had passed him in FP3. Magnussen had slowed and moved to the centre of the track, with Ocon coming in at speed and having to take evasive action, slamming his Renault nose first into the wall. Both were summoned by the stewards to provide their accounts.

Esteban Ocon crashes during practice

Carlos Sainz and Romain Grosjean will play at Barcelona with new engines. Grosjean’s unit failed late in the race last weekend, with a power deficit slowing his dramatically. As both he and Sainz, who had cooling problems, have had no prior changes they can do so for this weekend without penalty. This season, each driver can run three each of ICE (Internal Combustion Engine), turbos, MGU-Hs and MGU-Ks and two each of control electronics and energy stores.

Sergio Perez returns after his enforced break, and immediately showed how a rest could be of benefit. Qualifying’s end saw him in a stunning P4, pipping team mate Lance Stroll by just 0.1 of a second, and did so in gusty conditions. “The conditions haven’t been easy today, very hot, very windy as well. In the final sector, the wind changing direction through qualifying. It wasn’t an easy session out there but overall a good result for the team.” he said later.

Qualifying also saw Daniel Ricciardo go backwards from a quick set of practice sessions. FP2 and FP3 saw 4th and 10th against his name, however qualifying saw the Australian down in P13. he was philosophical afterwards, saying: “I don’t think we lost anything; I think everyone else found another step today.”

Sebastian Vettel in qualifying

Up front it was situation normal, with Mercedes locking out the front row and Red Bull’s Max Verstappen in P3. It could have been slightly different though, as Lewis Hamilton laid down a scorching 1:15.584, with Vatteri Bottas an equally quick 1:15.643. “In the end, it was very close with Valtteri out there, he’s keeping me on my toes and every millisecond counts.” said Hamilton, with Bottas countering: “I knew it was going to be close with Lewis, but he did a really nice and clean lap on that first run in Q3.” Both, though, were well aware of Verstappen’s 1:16.292. “We will try to stay as close to Mercedes as possible, put pressure on them and hopefully we can have a good fight.” said the Dutchman.

Alexander Albon limbers up before FP3

His team mate Alexander Albon qualified P6, behind the Haas pair, and looks good for a tilt at his first podium, however he wasn’t satisfied. “I’m not entirely happy with my qualifying as I wanted more but we can have a good race from P6 and it was an improvement over the last two weekends.”

McLaren make for a P7 and P8 duo, with four teams on the first four rows. Sainz’s engine swap paid dividends with some good pace, and he did well to hold out his team mate Lando Norris, with the pair notching a 1:17.044 and 1:17.084. Sainz was reasonably happy, but felt there was more: “I lost a bit in Sector Three compared to my best time in that same sector and maybe that would’ve put us P6 in front of Albon – but in general it was a strong quali.” Norris pushed hard in his sessions, knowing that the Ferrari’s were behind him: “I was kind of happy all the way through qualifying but just on the final run in Q3 I locked up – just over-pushed a small amount into Turn 10 and locked my fronts – so I lost around a tenth, which could’ve been a couple of positions.”

Charles Leclerc managed to squeek through to Q3 and will start in P9. Vettel’s P11 was only 0.08 slower: “Overall today, the first sector was ok, but then in the middle one the car started to be more and more nervous, I struggled in particular in turn 7, but also turn 5 was very tricky.” Pierre Gasly is the AlphaTauri meat in the Ferrari sandwich, taking P10 by just 0.03 ahead of Vettel. “Q3 was very tight and even if at the end I’m happy, inside myself I’m also a bit disappointed because you always feel like you could have done slightly better and maybe get a few more hundredths out of the car.”

Max Verstappen rests during qualifying sessions.

Daniil Kvyat takes P12 ahead of Ricciardo, Kimi Raikkonen, and Ocon, with the veteran Finn not disappointed: “We made it to Q2 and we could have achieved even more, but we didn’t have any more sets of soft tyres so we had to use the mediums.” Magnussen, Grosjean, George Russell, Nicholas Latifi, and Antonio Giovinazzi finish the field.

Raceday and only one car would not finish the race. Somewhat unusually, it was Charles Leclerc, and in somewhat unusual circumstances. Lap 36 and running well after a tire swap for 10th place, his car suddenly “went dead”, with a complete power loss throughout the vehicle. Leclerc was able to restart the vehicle however had to garage the stricken Ferrari two laps later with his seatbelts not being able to completely re-lock.

Leclerc’s car fails

With the first four rows belonging to four teams, and Mercedes taking the front row, followed by Verstappen in P3, it came as no surprise that it would be those three again that would stand atop the podium. Hamilton lead from the start, with a quick insert into 3rd by Lance Stroll as Bottas muffed his run from the line. Pierre Gasly was another that had a good starting and was in 8th in the first lap.

It would take five laps for Bottas to get past a determined Stroll. Verstappen is closing on Hamilton as the Briton goes into conservation mode for his tires. Behind is Alexander Albon looking to hunt down Sergio Perez, whilst at the rear of field, a frustrated George Russell is trying to claw his way into the top 15. Hamilton’s work pays off and on lap 12 the garage radios in and advises he can get a hurry on. He responds with the fastest lap so far.

Daniil Kvyat and Kimi Raikkonen are also looking to improve from the relatively tight second pack, with Kvyat within range of Vettel in a dice for 11th on lap 14 of 66. Raikkonen is down in 15th and has the Danish driver, Magnussen, to contend with. Renault’s run isn’t looking great here, with Ricciardo and Ocon in 13th and 16th. Racing Point are in a race of their own, with a substantial time gap ahead to Hamilton, Verstappen, and Bottas.

Albon passes Sainz

Albon pits for better and harder rubber on lap 19 and immediately looks to be on a charge as he re-enters the field down in the second half of the field. Ocon gives Albon some room as he squeezes past Raikkonen, with that space allowing Albon to also pass the veteran. Verstappen’s rubber is getting greasy and a terse message gets results. A 1.9 second swap and he’s out and in the contest, emerging ahead of Stroll in P3.

There’s drama in the Mercedes camp on lap 24 as Bottas pits behind Hamilton, and it’s a slow stop for the normally slick team, with a 4.3 second tire change causing angst in the lead car. That delay is damaging for Bottas as he slots back into the field in 3rd behind Verstappen. Albon is making his way through and on a daring pass on Sainz gets through to the top ten. Just under half race distance and both Stroll and and Perez are holding their own in 4th and 5th, but have yet to pit. Leclerc and Vettel are in the same position and look set to challenge Racing Point.

Bottas radios in, he’s uncomfortable and understandably so as track temperatures hit 47 Celcius. Stroll is in on lap 28, with medium rubber being bolted on in a rapid 2.5 seconds and back out ahead of Albon. Still also to pit are the Renaults and they’ve quietly scythed their way into the top ten. 4th placed Perez pits on lap 30 and Ferrari calls in their two, but they come in on the same lap, holding themselves up. Vettel’s opted for the faster wearing but quicker softs, a curious move given the heat, with Leclerc going for mediums. They drop to 13th and 14th. Ricciardo is in 4th but a late tire swap for a one stop strategy has seen his podium chances in the past disappear and it looks likely to happen here in Barcelona.

A storm brews

Leclerc has clawed back a place and as he looks to pass Lando Norris, the horizon shows storm clouds building. Storm clouds are building for Renault as the delay in getting one of the drivers in sees Lance Stroll now in 4th. That’s enough, says the team, and Ricciardo is finally called in for softs on lap 36. And again that late change sees him go backwards, he’s out in P13 behind Raikkonen. It’s here that Leclerc’s Ferrari fails.

Lap 40 and the radar shows that rain may indeed be on the way. Albon pits again and he’s on mediums for the run home. Verstappen comes in, as does Sainz, with both now wearing mediums. It’s a crucial call from Red Bull as Verstappen is 3rd behind Bottas. News comes through that Raikkonen has raced 83,846 kilometres in his F1 career, that’s more than double driving the circumference of Earth.

Lap 49 and Bottas comes in for a second set, this time he goes for softs in an effort to get some pace back. It also highlights that Hamilton is on 26 lap old rubber…that lasts one lap as the champion comers in and a better stop this time. Such was his lead he comes back out in P1. 14 laps and Vettel is starting to get frustrated, knowing that the tires he are on are starting to show wear. It’s his best drive this season so his annoyance is understandable.

Somewhere in the preceding 50-odd laps, Sergio Perez has allegedly ignored blue flags, the visual signal that says there is faster cars coming up, and he’s been hit with a five second penalty. Ten laps and Verstappen’s gap over Bottas is a substantial 7.1 seconds. Is he also conserving his tires in an effort to challenge Verstappen in the closing stages? meanwhile, Kvyat has also bene hit with a five second penalty for the blue flag situation. Mid pack of the top ten and Vettel is passed by Stroll for the P5 position. Seven laps left and Vettel is told the clouds won’t be dumping rain and his time for a swap is being eroded, as is his position as Sainz also passes him.

Four laps and Hamilton says he has hit some debris but without damage, Stroll is now in P4 effectively as his gap to Sainz is now less than the five seconds Sainz will be hit with. Two laps and Bottas has found clean air, making up two of the seven seconds he needs to pass Verstappen. But he’s in, strangely, for new mediums, giving up a tilt at P2 but aiming for the fastest lap and the extra point. The flag is dropped and Bottas does indeed get that point, finishing behind Verstappen and Hamilton, with the champion taking his 88th career victory and a record breaking 156 podiums. Strikingly, the pace of the top three has only they on the lead lap, with P4 onwards classified as a lap down at the finish.

Hamilton wins at Barcelona

Stroll does take P4 ahead of Perez and Sainz, and somehow, somehow, Vettel has finished on 39 lap old rubber in 7th. Albon, Gasly, and Norris fill out the top ten, with Ricciardo’s late stop again cruelling a good finish as P11 is his lot. He’s ahead of Kvyat, Ocon, Raikkonen and Magnussen for the top 15, followed by Giovinazzi, Russell, Latifi and Grosjean with the latter pair two laps down.

Hamilton now has just three more wins required to equal Michael Schumacher’s tally of 91, with his final words before all teams head to Spa in Belgium the weekend after next: “All of us drivers grew up watching Michael and dreaming of one day being here. This is… far beyond what I dreamed as a kid… and I think Michael was an incredible athlete and driver, and I always feel really humbled and honoured to be mentioned in the same light like a driver like him, and Ayrton and Fangio, it’s pretty cool. And I hope the Hamilton family are proud also.”