Written by Kritika Raj, Edited by Meghana Sree
The Formula One Spanish Grand Prix of 2023 experienced some unpredictable results throughout the weekend. From a Ferrari getting knocked out in Q1, a Red Bull in Q2, and a McLaren qualifying third, to the Mercedes getting their first double podium of the season in the main race, it was a very eventful few days in the world of F1.
The Scuderia Ferrari team continues to have consistent lows with little highs race after race. After bringing upgrades primarily to the side pods of Carlos Sainz’s car for the free practice, which enhanced the pace and performance of his car, he managed to bag the second position during qualifying, whereas Charles Leclerc shockingly got eliminated in Q1 and qualified nineteenth on the grid. Leclerc was one of three drivers (Sainz and Max Verstappen being the other two) on the grid to get into Q3 in every Grand Prix so far in the season until Spain, where he failed to reach Q3 as he was lacking confidence and reported a strange feeling with the rear of the car.
One car starting on the front row and the other from the pit lane (the Ferrari team decided to make changes to Leclerc’s car with the parc ferme conditions active, resulting in a pit lane start), the Italian team were hopeful with Sainz having a podium finish and Leclerc at least finishing in the points. But this hope quickly faded as the strategy with tyre management was not up to the mark at all. Both drivers were called in at the wrong times and were given questionable tyre compounds that didn’t seem to fit the conditions of the track.
During the whole race, Sainz was in the run for a podium finish along with the Mercedes and the Red Bulls, when he got called in for a pit stop at lap 42 and was given the hard tyre compounds with which he could only deliver P5 at best.
Leclerc suffered the same misfortune regarding tyre management. Late in the race, he was given the hard tyres too, even after he suggested soft tyres on the team radio. He finished P12 but was promoted to P11 because of the five second penalty given to Yuki Tsunoda which dropped Tsunoda down to P12 instead.
McLaren had a similar disappointing fate as well, although their weekend was going well at least until that Saturday. They too brought upgraded cars to the weekend, with changes to the front wing, brakes, suspension, floor, rear wing, and an elimination of the cockpit vanes of both the cars. These changes rewarded the drivers in qualifying, with Lando Norris qualifying third after a fine lap and the rookie, Oscar Piastri, qualifying tenth. However, Piastri started his race at ninth position after getting promoted because of Alpine’s Pierre Gasly being handed a double three-place grid penalty for impeding Verstappen and Sainz in the qualifying session, due to which Gasly was dropped down to tenth place instead.
Come Sunday, what could have become a positive weekend for McLaren quickly turned into a nightmare for the team very early on in the race. On the very first lap of the race, Norris damaged his front wing due to contact with the rear of Lewis Hamilton’s Mercedes. Norris then had to pit for a front wing swap, dropping him down to the very bottom of the pack where he struggled for the remaining 64 laps, and he eventually finished his race at 17th place. On the other hand, Piastri got swiftly overtaken by a number of cars and was knocked out of the points as he received the checkered flag at 13th position.
Unlike Ferrari and McLaren, the Silver Arrows did have a dream weekend and the best result so far in this season. After struggling to catch up to the table toppers, Red Bull Racing, since the beginning of this season, Mercedes finally seems to have cracked the code to success. Hamilton, after starting P4 and Norris dropping down the field, was quick to overtake Sainz in the Ferrari later in the race. He defended his gained position brilliantly, to finish his Grand Prix on the podium up in second place.
The other Mercedes driver, George Russell, managed his race beautifully as well, gaining nine positions over the course of the main race. After getting eliminated out of Q2 on Saturday, Russell started 12th on the grid and overtook a large number of cars to place himself onto the podium in third position. This gave Russell his first podium of the season. This finish paired with Hamilton’s first podium since the Australian Grand Prix 2023 gave Mercedes their first double podium this season.
With the Spanish Grand Prix, we’ve seen Mercedes gradually inching towards the still incomparable pace of the Red Bulls with the help of their new upgrades, while the likes of Ferrari and McLaren are still figuring out a way to get their cars competitive enough to at least battle for a second or third best position in the championship.