Valtteri Bottas, Williams, Circuit de Catalunya, 2014

Bottas & Grosjean add intrigue as Mercedes dominate

2014 Spanish Grand Prix pre-race analysisPosted on | Author Keith Collantine

Valtteri Bottas, Williams, Circuit de Catalunya, 2014Despite Mercedes’ dominant start to the season, Sunday’s Spanish Grand Prix will only be the second time Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg have shared the front row of the grid.

The other occasion they did so – in Bahrain – it produced the most scintillating contest of the season so far. Hopefully the Circuit de Catalunya will serve up more of the same, though you’d have to say it doesn’t exactly have the track record.

The start

In Bahrain it was the second-placed Mercedes driver on the grid who got to the first corner first. Hamilton immediately erased Rosberg’s pole position advantage and went on to claim a narrow win.

Rosberg will be eager to avenge that – especially as he is almost certain to lose the championship lead to him team mate if he doesn’t.

This circuit has one of the longest drags to the first corner on the calendar – around 700 metres. That means an even slightly better start can be well-rewarded – and a poor getaway punished with the loss of several places.

Felipe Massa made exceptional starts in the last two races, though in China the benefit he gained was spoiled by contact with Fernando Alonso. He needs another good start to make up for a poor lap in Q3 which left him ninth on the grid. He would have been three places higher if he’d just replicated his best time from Q2.

Whereas if Valtteri Bottas can fire his Williams away from the fourth place on the grid as well as his team mate has been able to, he could find himself up among the Mercedes drivers. Temporarily, at least.

Perhaps the most interesting outcome of qualifying was Romain Grosjean’s excellent fifth place for Lotus. This is by far the most promise the E22 has shown so far, and having out-qualified both the Ferraris it will be a major result for Lotus if he can stay there until the chequered flag.

Strategy

Nico Rosberg, Mercedes, Circuit de Catalunya, 2014The surprising characteristic of the Circuit de Catalunya this year has been the general lack of grip at the track. The high temperatures in qualifying were partly responsible but the track is also visibly dustier than usual.

That combined with Pirelli’s harder tyre compounds means the four-stop strategies seen last year are unlikely to be repeated. Pirelli motorsport director Paul Hembery reckons teams will be choosing between two or three pits stops: “The simulation data suggests almost identical race times between the two approaches.”

The Circuit de Catalunya has enjoyed two sunny days so far but it is expected to cloud over at the circuit around late morning tomorrow. That will bring down the air temperatures slightly and – more importantly – shield the tarmac from the full glare of the sun, which should have a significant effect on track temperatures.

Drivers may therefore find grip levels are improved in the race. But Jenson Button isn’t expecting them to be any better.

“There’s going to be lots of sliding in the race tomorrow,” he said. “We’ve done a pretty good job in that we’ve saved a set of [medium tyres] for the race – I’m not yet sure what strategy we’ll adopt, but it’s good to have some leeway on strategy.”

One driver who will have to take an aggressive approach with his strategy is Sebastian Vettel. A gearbox change penalty caps a miserable weekend for him so far, and as he lines up 15th on the grid tomorrow he will need all of Red Bull’s strategic nous to salvage a strong points finish.

Qualifying times in full

Driver Car Q1 Q2 (vs Q1) Q3 (vs Q2)
1 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1’27.238 1’26.210 (-1.028) 1’25.232 (-0.978)
2 Nico Rosberg Mercedes 1’26.764 1’26.088 (-0.676) 1’25.400 (-0.688)
3 Daniel Ricciardo Red Bull 1’28.053 1’26.613 (-1.440) 1’26.285 (-0.328)
4 Valtteri Bottas Williams 1’28.198 1’27.563 (-0.635) 1’26.632 (-0.931)
5 Romain Grosjean Lotus 1’28.472 1’27.258 (-1.214) 1’26.960 (-0.298)
6 Kimi Raikkonen Ferrari 1’28.308 1’27.335 (-0.973) 1’27.104 (-0.231)
7 Fernando Alonso Ferrari 1’28.329 1’27.602 (-0.727) 1’27.140 (-0.462)
8 Jenson Button McLaren 1’28.279 1’27.570 (-0.709) 1’27.335 (-0.235)
9 Felipe Massa Williams 1’28.061 1’27.016 (-1.045) 1’27.402 (+0.386)
10 Sebastian Vettel Red Bull 1’27.958 1’27.052 (-0.906)
11 Nico Hulkenberg Force India 1’28.155 1’27.685 (-0.470)
12 Sergio Perez Force India 1’28.469 1’28.002 (-0.467)
13 Daniil Kvyat Toro Rosso 1’28.074 1’28.039 (-0.035)
14 Esteban Gutierrez Sauber 1’28.374 1’28.280 (-0.094)
15 Kevin Magnussen McLaren 1’28.389
16 Jean-Eric Vergne Toro Rosso 1’28.194
17 Adrian Sutil Sauber 1’28.563
18 Max Chilton Marussia 1’29.586
19 Jules Bianchi Marussia 1’30.177
20 Marcus Ericsson Caterham 1’30.312
21 Kamui Kobayashi Caterham 1’30.375
22 Pastor Maldonado Lotus

Sector times

Driver Sector 1 Sector 2 Sector 3
Lewis Hamilton 23.156 (1) 32.152 (1) 29.924 (2)
Nico Rosberg 23.299 (2) 32.306 (2) 29.783 (1)
Daniel Ricciardo 23.694 (9) 32.602 (3) 29.989 (3)
Valtteri Bottas 23.564 (4) 32.776 (6) 30.292 (4)
Romain Grosjean 23.732 (10) 32.676 (4) 30.525 (8)
Kimi Raikkonen 23.672 (6) 33.026 (10) 30.359 (5)
Fernando Alonso 23.677 (7) 32.896 (8) 30.542 (9)
Jenson Button 23.917 (14) 32.900 (9) 30.514 (7)
Felipe Massa 23.438 (3) 32.878 (7) 30.445 (6)
Sebastian Vettel 23.693 (8) 32.754 (5) 30.605 (10)
Nico Hulkenberg 23.817 (12) 33.210 (12) 30.658 (12)
Sergio Perez 23.919 (15) 33.263 (14) 30.820 (13)
Daniil Kvyat 23.652 (5) 33.189 (11) 31.062 (16)
Esteban Gutierrez 23.906 (13) 33.297 (15) 30.941 (14)
Kevin Magnussen 24.271 (17) 33.451 (17) 30.641 (11)
Jean-Eric Vergne 23.751 (11) 33.238 (13) 31.161 (17)
Adrian Sutil 24.179 (16) 33.329 (16) 31.029 (15)
Max Chilton 24.326 (19) 33.878 (19) 31.382 (18)
Jules Bianchi 24.309 (18) 33.735 (18) 31.427 (20)
Marcus Ericsson 24.569 (20) 34.338 (21) 31.405 (19)
Kamui Kobayashi 24.636 (21) 34.162 (20) 31.577 (21)
Pastor Maldonado 36.132 (22) 32.080 (22)

Speed trap

Pos Driver Car Engine Speed (kph/mph) Gap
1 Daniil Kvyat Toro Rosso Renault 337.7 (209.8)
2 Jean-Eric Vergne Toro Rosso Renault 335.8 (208.7) -1.9
3 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes Mercedes 334.4 (207.8) -3.3
4 Sergio Perez Force India Mercedes 334.0 (207.5) -3.7
5 Felipe Massa Williams Mercedes 332.4 (206.5) -5.3
6 Nico Rosberg Mercedes Mercedes 331.3 (205.9) -6.4
7 Valtteri Bottas Williams Mercedes 329.9 (205.0) -7.8
8 Kamui Kobayashi Caterham Renault 328.7 (204.2) -9.0
9 Jenson Button McLaren Mercedes 328.5 (204.1) -9.2
10 Marcus Ericsson Caterham Renault 328.3 (204.0) -9.4
11 Fernando Alonso Ferrari Ferrari 328.0 (203.8) -9.7
12 Nico Hulkenberg Force India Mercedes 327.7 (203.6) -10.0
13 Romain Grosjean Lotus Renault 326.1 (202.6) -11.6
14 Adrian Sutil Sauber Ferrari 325.3 (202.1) -12.4
15 Kimi Raikkonen Ferrari Ferrari 325.3 (202.1) -12.4
16 Jules Bianchi Marussia Ferrari 324.4 (201.6) -13.3
17 Esteban Gutierrez Sauber Ferrari 324.0 (201.3) -13.7
18 Max Chilton Marussia Ferrari 322.6 (200.5) -15.1
19 Daniel Ricciardo Red Bull Renault 320.9 (199.4) -16.8
20 Sebastian Vettel Red Bull Renault 320.4 (199.1) -17.3
21 Kevin Magnussen McLaren Mercedes 317.5 (197.3) -20.2
22 Pastor Maldonado Lotus Renault 315.6 (196.1) -22.1

Over to you

Which of the Mercedes drivers do you think will come out on top? And what can Bottas and Grosjean do from their strong qualifying positions?

Share your views on the Spanish Grand Prix in the comments.

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Images © Williams/LAT, Daimler/Hoch Zwei