Spanish Grand Prix: The PUMA Perspective

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Another race, another victory for Sebastian Vettel and Red Bull, suggesting the combination is on track to repeat their respective 2010 championship successes, particularly as the German comfortably leads the drivers’ classification from Lewis Hamilton after five of 19 races run, with the team already having a one-two finish in hand over McLaren in the constructors’ championship.

Second and third place in Sunday’s Spanish Grand Prix went to the latter team’s duo of Hamilton and Jenson Button, with Vettel’s teammate Mark Webber taking fifth ahead of Fernando Alonso.

Red Bull dominated the weekend, on Saturday locking out the front row of the grid despite a mechanical issue on Vettel’s car, handing pole position to team-mate Mark Webber. Although Vettel’s winning margin of 0,6 seconds over Hamilton after 66 laps suggests a close grand prix, this result hides the fact that the winner was hampered by a repeat of his qualifying problem.

Alonso, driving for PUMA’s partner team Ferrari, put in a sensational lap in qualifying to start fourth, using the grid position to great effect to catapult into the lead in the run down to the first corner on the opening lap.

The Spaniard, world champion in 2005/6, maintained his advantage through the first pit stop reshuffle, but eventually Vettel’s onslaught proved too strong. After ceding the place, Alonso slid down the order with tyre issues: ‘We were very slow on the soft (compound), and very, very slow on the hard (tyre),’ he said afterwards.

However, he thoroughly enjoyed racing in the lead before his home crowd, grinning broadly as he related the challenge of putting in a string of perfect laps with a car still not fully on terms with the front-runners, saying ‘You have to use your strategy, your KERS, everything in the right place to defend the position and I enjoyed, I really enjoyed, those laps.’

Felipe Massa in the second Ferrari had a fraught weekend, eventually retiring with transmission problems while running on the fringes of the top ten. Having qualified seventh, it was destined to be a trying Sunday afternoon for the Brazilian, and so it proved.

This grand prix marked the first in ten years at Circuit de Catalunya in which the pole starter failed to win, indicating precisely how difficult overtaking was at the venue in the recent past. However, Pirelli’s rapidly degrading tyres and F1’s drag reduction system have certainly changed the face of the sport, with the highest placed driver to finish in his original grid position on Sunday being Nico Rosberg – but only after his DRS failed during the race, preventing the son of 1982 world champion Keke from finishing higher up the order.

Is it all over for all teams bar Red Bull after four wins in five races for Vettel? Far from it, in fact, for the ultra-wide, sweeping Barcelona circuit, similar in many ways to the last three venues in Malaysia, China and Turkey, has traditionally played to Red Bull’s strengths.

Next come Monaco (this Sunday), Montreal (two weeks later) and Valencia (a fortnight after the trans-Atlantic race): all held on street circuits at which Ferrari, Fernando and Felipe have in the past excelled. There is light at the end of the tunnel, particularly as Ferrari’s engineers are working hard to reduce the deficit.