Motorsport.com’s Global Editor-in-Chief Charles Bradley gives his views on a surprisingly spectacular Spanish Grand Prix at Barcelona.
1: The Vettel v Hamilton title fight is in full swing
Not once but thrice did we get to see Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel racing side by side towards Turn 1 at Barcelona.
We expected that at the start, with Vettel again making a blinding getaway thanks to his clever new steering wheel-mounted device.
And following Hamilton’s inspired stop under the Virtual Safety Car, we saw it again when Vettel rejoined from his final stop, the two swooping into the first corner as one – and each coming out with less ‘Pirelli’ markings on their tyres as intended as they banged rear wheels.
But the decisive moment came with 21 laps to go, as DRS-enabled Hamilton swept past – as Vettel said “like a train”. Think back to all the snorefests we’ve had to sit through at Barcelona, and this was a truly remarkable race.
And it underlines the fact that Mercedes and Ferrari are neck-and-neck right now.
Let's look at this by the numbers: Vettel and Hamilton have seven titles between them, with Vettel having the edge 4-3.
Hamilton has more race wins, however: 55 to 44. And more podiums (108-91), poles (64-47), front rows (109-74) and fastest laps (34-28). But they're just stats; now it's game on between them.
This is a true F1 rivalry, and as Vettel admitted after the race they “are not best friends” but they do respect each other. And that’s how it should be.
So sit back and enjoy this – we could be in for a truly classic season.
2: Raikkonen and Bottas need to stay away from each other
Once again, Formula 1’s Finns Valtteri Bottas and Kimi Raikkonen collided on Sunday. This time it was clearly Bottas’s fault as the instigator, although stewards rightly regarded it as a racing incident – as three cars (Max Verstappen included) all funneled into the medium-speed right-left chicane that forms Barcelona’s opening corners.
It brought back memories of their two collisions in just three races in 2015 – at Sochi and Mexico – and although their racial stereotype is to shrug off such things with ice-like calm, you wonder if this isn’t a rivalry that’s actually going to simmer before hitting boiling point again.
And what a difference a year makes for Verstappen. A hero here last year, and a first-lap casualty this.
3: F1 pulls a PR masterstroke, unearths child star
Not since Macauley Culkin in Home Alone (and sequel) has a small blond child earned so much airtime – but after tearful scenes were captured by an eagle-eyed cameraman when a young boy’s hero Raikkonen was taken out on the opening lap, it began a saga that played out across the TV and internet world.
It turned out his name was Thomas, and he was from Amiens in France. Some bright spark from F1's comms department managed to track him down in the crowd, and Ferrari then invited his family in to its hospitality. The six-year-old was given a smart new cap (to replace his rather unofficial merchandise-looking one) which Kimi signed as they all smiled for photos.
As Kimi’s pal Anthony Hieatt, the F3 team boss, tweeted about the 'Iceman': “Think we should call him the Niceman from now on”. Quite!
Turns out Thomas’s mum has a cat called Schumi, and he (the boy, not the cat) got to kiss Kimi as well as take a tour of the garage – which he was very happy about.
A feelgood story from what started as a disaster; bravissimo Ferrari. Fan engagement indeed.
4: The FIA has Force India’s number over, er, numbers
The FIA’s instruction for teams to place bigger numbers on its car, and a request for the TLA (the three-letter abbreviation of the driver’s name) to be displayed more prominently at Barcelona was great for the fans. But it turned out to be bad news for Force India, which now has a EUR25k fine hanging over its head.
Oddly, the issue wasn’t raised at scrutineering, when all cars are presented to the FIA for all manner of checks and measures, but after the race the team was summoned to the headmasters’ office – amusingly, with one of the numbers of its cars wrong on the official sheet (it must have been really difficult to see…)
Many teams used the shark-fin of their cars for displaying the TLA, but Force India argued that its dorsal appendage is filled with sponsor logos. But there’s nothing like the potential of a monetary fine to motivate a team into action, eh?
Either that, or it could always rename its drivers Bwtocon and Bwtperez?
5: Toro Rosso flags up Renault’s power deficit
While Daniel Ricciardo cruised around to an unlapped third position for Renault-powered Red Bull, his cousins in its B-team, Toro Rosso, weren’t so happy after the race.
Both Carlos Sainz and Daniil Kvyat got stuck behind Ferrari-engined cars during the Grand Prix, and felt that their power deficit was far from the three-tenths of a second that the FIA insists the Renault unit is within the Mercedes and Ferrari.
“It's a bit of a desperate situation to have a Ferrari 2016 engine faster than us on the straights, compared to our car at the moment,” rued Sainz of his battle against Sauber’s Pascal Wehrlein.
“We need a bit more power. You can see yesterday we were two tenths to P7, so imagine if Renault brings three tenths – suddenly everything changes.”
I think Ricciardo would quite like that too in time for the ‘power tracks’ that lie after Monaco…