The event thrived in the 2000s during the reign of Fernando Alonso, but their hero’s meagre results in the last half dozen or so years have given the local fans little to cheer about of late, with dwindling attendances causing the once popular Grand Prix to follow Alonso out of Formula 1 a year after the Spaniard hung up his HANS device.
This has prompted a debate on whether to scrap F1’s Friday practices altogether so that teams arrive at qualifying having enjoyed a mere hour or two to dial in their cars.
If that is indeed a solution to F1’s processional races (if it is a cause), then the abundance of data is never more than at the Circuit de Catalunya in Barcelona, site of F1’s two four day pre-season tests ahead of each season and at which teams have thousands and thousands of miles worth of insight they can turn to when setting up their cars for GP weekend, which could make the Spanish Grand Prix the most processional of them all.
And while it’s true that the 2019 Spanish Grand Prix wasn’t exactly bursting with action, Mercedes’ pace is such that they have a significant gap to those behind, here or indeed anywhere else.
Ferrari are doing their best to throw away any chance of challenging their would-be title rivals with strange strategy calls, mistakes and indecision that has seen their cars trip each other up on a number of occasions this season.
This has allowed Max Verstappen in the first Red Bull to creep ahead of them in the pecking order, while sixth quickest of the top six – Pierre Gasly – in the other Red Bull is a short distance behind, significantly ahead of ‘class B’.
The only variable is where Max Verstappen is likely to slot in (third, fourth or fifth) and which of the Ferraris is likely to have the upper hand on any given day.
So the lack of action in Spain wasn’t necessarily due to the gathering of data, in the same way that it wasn’t all thanks to the Spanish Circuit’s layout, or the much maligned turbo-hybrid era that has allowed Mercedes to completely dominate and that F1 is so desperate to remedy in 2021.
It was all these things.
Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton stole a march on pole-sitter Valtteri Bottas on the long drag down to turn one, and was never challenged en-route to his third win of the season.
After a bit of a dust up at the first corner, Bottas, Verstappen, Vettel and Leclerc emerged in that order, with the German appearing from the melee with a flat spot that would plague his entire first stint, and that of his team-mate as Ferrari deliberated about whether to instruct Vettel to allow him to pass.
Let him pass he did, but he could do little about Verstappen ahead before the first round of tyre stops allowed Vettel to increase his pace and pull up behind team-mate, giving Ferrari another headache as to if and when to allow them to again exchange places.
Typically, Ferrari made this headache into a migraine, and by the time the swap was engineered, Max was out of sight.
A late safety car for a tangle involving McLaren’s Lando Norris and Team Lance Stroll’s Lance Stroll wasn’t enough to inject much drama up at the front as the top six cruised to the finish.
There was good news for George Russell in Qualifying as he finished a season’s best four tenths of a second behind the last midfield runner, in this case Antionio Giovinazzi’s Alfa Romeo.
It was less good for Robert Kubica. Despite swapping chassis with his team-mate having complained the two were different and an at least partial cause behind him finishing behind Russell in every meaningful session of 2019, in Q1 he was 1.2 seconds off Russell’s time – the gap between the two having never been greater.
As a result of an off in practice prompting a gearbox change, Russell was handed a 5 place grid penalty and lined up for Sunday’s race 19th, two places behind his team-mate in 17th.
Kubica was able to lead Russell away, and re-pass him for 18th when the Briton edged by.
On lap ten, Russell passed Kubica for 18th, catching the Pole unawares on Barcelona’s long straight:
“I wasn’t practically ready to defend and by the time I saw him in the mirror, it was too late” said Kubica.”
They both fell behind Giovinazzi, before profiting two places each from the Norris/Stroll incident.
And so they finished. Russell in 17th and Kubica directly behind him in 18th.
“I think we are going in the right direction” said George Russell post race.
Which is certainly backed up by Russell’s Q1 performance. However, points still seem a long way off.
Next up Monaco.