On the weekend of 22 April, we watched the first Sprint Race go ahead during the first European race of the season.
We start, as we always do, in Q1, which was moved to Friday to accommodate the Sprint. Not long into the session, we saw Albon’s rear right breaks explode into fire, which brought out the Red Flag. Luckily, the session was able to get back underway, seeing the Williams driver joined by his teammate Latifi, in P18, sandwiching Ocon (P19). The remaining positions were taken by both Alpha Tauri’s, with Gasly in P17 and Tsunoda in P16.
Moving into Q2, we saw a race against the clock to get in the fastest times to progress before the rain began to fall, we saw Sainz pushing for a second fastest lap, ending in a crash at the final corner, which brought out the second Red Flag. With the rain falling during the stoppage, that set in stone those who would progress, and those who would be eliminated. The latter including the seven-time world champion, Sir Lewis Hamilton in P13, ahead of Stroll in P15 and Zhou in P14. Russell joined his Mercedes teammate in P11, and the final spot was taken by Schumacher (P12).
Despite Sainz’s crash in Q2, his previous time was still good enough to progress, meaning that just nine drivers would participate in Q3. With the rain continuing to fall, the remaining drivers put on the Intermediate tyres, and it did not take long for a third Red Flag to be waved, following Magnusson’s trip into the gravel. Luckily for the Haas man, he was able to save his car from beaching, and was able to continue.
Yet another Red Flag came out when Bottas pulled up at Turn 16, and a final Red Flag was brought out when Norris spun into the wall at Turn 12. Between all these stoppages, we were able to watch some quick laps, seeing Vettel placing P9, over half a second behind Bottas (P8). Perez was unable to climb too high, ending a disappointing P7, another half a second behind Ricciardo in P6. P5 was claimed by Alonso, less than a tenth of a second behind Magnusson in P4. The top three had a surprise, with Norris claiming P3, narrowly ahead of Haas driver. Leclerc took P2, almost eight tenths behind the Pole sitter, Verstappen.
Lining up on Saturday, the grid sees everyone on the Soft tyres, except Magnusson, Schumacher and Latifi, who decided to go with the Medium compound.
As the five lights go out and the sprint begins, we see Verstappen get away poorly, dropping behind Leclerc after just a few metres, and by the time they get to Turn Two, Norris had even had a look to pass the Red Bull, but had to defend from Magnusson. Behind, Perez had gotten past Ricciardo and Alonso, looking to force his way past Magnusson. Sainz had also gained two positions, while Hamilton had fallen to P15.
It did not take long for the Safety Car to come out, following Zhou coming together with Gasly at Turn 10, putting himself in the wall and dropping Gasly to the back of the grid, and in need of a new front wing.
The sprint gets back underway on Lap 5, and Albon is able to pass his teammate for P17, and it takes until Lap 7 for Sainz to pass Alonso, going around the outside at Turn Two. On the following lap, Perez is able to breeze past Magnusson for P4, using DRS along the main straight.
On Lap Nine, Bottas passes Vettel for P9, and on the next lap, Sainz has caught Ricciardo, who has been held up by Magnusson. On Lap 11, Perez is able to pass Norris going down the main straight for P3, and behind, Ricciardo goes down the inside of Magnusson for P5 at Turn Two. Sainz is able to breeze past Magnusson on the following lap on the main straight and keeps hunting for Ricciardo.
On Lap 14, Sainz is able to fly past Ricciardo using DRS down the main straight for P5, and on Lap 16, Schumacher is able to pass Vettel going into Turn Two. Ahead, Bottas and Alonso are having a drag race down to Turn Two, with Bottas staying brave and going down the inside of the Alpine for P8.
By Lap 17/21, Verstappen has reduced a two second gap to seven tenths of a second, and Sainz is chasing down Norris. On Lap 19, Sainz is able to make the pressure count, getting past the McLaren at Turn Two, and on the following lap, Verstappen is able to go around the outside of Leclerc at Turn Two for the lead.
Onto the final lap, and Verstappen was able to gap Leclerc by three seconds and takes the chequered flag to win the first sprint race of the season, bringing home eight points for Red Bull, along with Perez ending in P3, bringing home a further six points. Ferrari claimed seven points from P2, while Sainz brought home five points in P4. Mclaren saw four and three points from Norris and Ricciardo finishing P5 and P6 respectively. The final two points paying positions were taken by Bottas in P7 (bringing home two points for Alpha Romero), and Magnusson finished in P8, taking the final point for Haas.
Prior to the race, a fair bit of rain had fallen, leading to every driver putting on a set of the Intermediates, with 19 of them lining up on the grid, and Zhou being forced to start from the pit lane following his crash on Saturday.
As the five lights go out and the race begins, Verstappen and Perez get off the line perfectly, with Verstappen being able to comfortably keep his lead, while Perez is able to breeze past Leclerc, who is unable to recreate his start from the Sprint. Sainz finds himself in the same position, being swarmed off the line by both McLarens, and losing a place to Norris, who is also able to go down the inside of Leclerc at Turn Two for P3. Behind, Ricciardo tries to do the same to Sainz, but as the two go around Turn Two, Riccardo tags the side of the Ferrari, sending Sainz into a spin and ending up in the gravel, causing his second retirement in two races. Ricciardo was put into the gravel, but he was fortunate enough to be able to continue. This incident brought out the Safety Car.
As the Safety Car leads the pack around, we can see that Magnusson had climbed to P5, with Russell in P6. Bottas was able to remain in P7, and Alonso had taken P8. Schumacher had fallen to P17 after being held up by the Sainz-Ricciardo incident, bumping into Alonso, and ending up on the grass momentarily. The rest of the Top 10 were filled by Vettel in P9 and Tsunoda in P10. Ricciardo was able to pit and return to the track with a new front wing and a fresh set of intermediates, putting him firmly at the back of the pack.
As the Safety Car returns to the pits on Lap 5 and the race resumes, Norris is able to remain ahead of Leclerc, and Vettel is able to pass Alonso for P8. On the following lap, Alonso sees half of his right-hand side sidepod fall off after dropping to P12, and he ends up pulling into the pits to retire.
On Lap 8, Leclerc is able to pass Norris by diving down the inside at Turn Two, retaking P3, with five and a half seconds between himself and Perez to make up.
On Lap 12, Russell is able to make a move on Magnusson by going around the outside at Turn Two but ends up running wide and going over the large yellow ‘sausage curbs’, which lets Magnusson get back through on the short run towards Turn Five. Later in the lap, Russell is able to go down the inside of the Haas at the chicane of Turns 14 and 15. All this fighting had brought Bottas into play, who is able to take P6 from Magnusson on Lap 14, going down the inside of Turn 17.
The first proper pit stop came on Lap 18, seeing Ricciardo put on a set of Mediums, as the track appears to be drying out quite considerably. The majority of the grid goes into the pits and puts on the Medium tyres. Perez pits as Leclerc appears to be within a second of the Red Bull, and as Bottas stops, his front right tyre refuses to settle on the car easily. He loses around 11 seconds in the pits compared to Russell, but returns to the track in P6. Ocon and Hamilton also have a hairy moment, as the Alpine is released from his pit stop into Hamilton, thankfully there was no contact, but Ocon receives a five second time penalty.
Verstappen and Leclerc come into the pits on Lap 20, with Leclerc coming out just ahead of Perez, however with Perez already having warmed up his tyres, he is able to get on the wet side of the track and go down the inside of the Ferrari at Turn Five.
On Lap 23/63, Leclerc looks to make a move past Perez going down the main straight, but with DRS remaining absent for the time being, he is unable to have enough speed to make the pass. Schumacher takes a trip through the grass and spins on Lap 25, falling to P18, guaranteeing that his wait for his first points in F1 would continue.
On lap 28, Perez misjudges his braking point going into the chicane at Turn 14-15, going across the grass and letting Leclerc close up behind him.
Ricciardo pits again on Lap 31 and puts on a set of Hard tyres, truly becoming a guinea pig for the McLaren strategists.
The DRS is finally activated on Lap 34, but this does little to lift the excitement, as the race has entered a lull as nobody is able to overtake. By Lap 42, Verstappen had an 11 second lead on his teammate who has a further two and a half seconds between himself and Leclerc, really showing just how dominant he has been today.
On Lap 48, Tsunoda is able to breeze past Magnusson using DRS for P8. Leclerc pits on Lap 50 and puts on a set of the Softs, and returns to the track just ahead of Norris, but with the McLaren having warmer tyres, he is able to pass the Ferrari before reaching Turn Two. Red Bull responds by pitting Perez for Softs, who comes out ahead of Leclerc as he passes Norris on the main straight.
On Lap 52, Verstappen is pulled into the pits, also putting on a set of the Softs, returning to the track, comfortably ahead of his teammate. On Lap 53, Leclerc is looking to get within one second of Perez to get DRS off the Red Bull, but he ends up taking too much curb at Turn 14, and spins, gently hitting the barriers and is very lucky to even still be in the race, as he crawls back to the pits for a new front wing and Soft tyres. Norris passes Leclerc as he gets back onto the track.
Returning to the track in P9, Leclerc now has a lot of work to do to reduce the damage, while ahead, Tsunoda is able to make his way past Vettel for P6. On Lap 57, Leclerc is able to pass Magnusson, and on Lap 59, Leclerc passes Vettel for P7. On Lap 62, Leclerc is able to pick off Tsunoda for P6, and that would be the highest he could reach before reaching the chequered flag.
As Verstappen crosses the line, he claims his second win of the season, making his win rate 100% in the races that he has finished. He also takes the extra point for Fastest Lap, as his teammate claims P2, making this the first 1-2 for Red Bull since 2016. Norris takes the final step on the podium, ending his week fantastically. Russell takes P4, half a second ahead of Bottas, and Tsunoda holds onto P7, comfortably ahead of Vettel in P8, who brings home Aston Martin’s first points of the season. Magnusson brings it home in P9, ending a slightly disappointing weekend for Haas who would have been expecting a little more than just three points across both the sprint, and the race. The final points paying position goes to Stroll, who ends a strong weekend for Aston Martin, despite their very poor start to the season.
My Driver of the Day goes to Max Verstappen, following a very confident and extremely dominant performance. A special mention must be made for Perez, who had very strong performances in both the sprint and the race, as well as both the Aston Martin drivers, who had strong weekends as a whole.
My losers for the weekend are Ferrari, following a clumsy qualifying session. Despite Sainz’s strong sprint, his hard work was undone by the incident at the start of the race, and Leclerc bottled a rather easy podium, and potentially even a strong P2.
Featured Image Credit: inews.co.uk