A round-up of the good, the bad and the downright ugly from the 2013 Spanish Grand Prix
- Spanish Grand Prix
It might not quite have been a packed house at the Circuit de Catalunya, but it was a noisy one as Alonso delighted his home fans with victory. His supporters had been silenced on Saturday when Mercedes locked out the front row, but the race was a different matter and almost felt scripted. Alonso had to run every time he entered the paddock in the morning due to the sheer numbers of fans wanting some of his time, but he knew how to show his appreciation - throwing his cap in to the general admission area on the driver parade and greeting many of them. Far from tempting fate, the crowd in the main grandstand was so confident that Alonso would win that many were moving flags in position opposite the podium numerous laps before the end. That the FIA called him to the stewards for receiving an object (the Spanish flag) after the end of the race was ridiculous, but fortunately sense prevailed and - fresh from Barcelona's La Liga title victory on Saturday night - the city has another success to celebrate.
Tired of tyres?
Almost as soon as the race was over, Pirelli's Paul Hembery tweeted that the tyre manufacturer had "got it wrong" and that its current tyres were "too aggressive". It transpired that Jean-Eric Vergne's tyre failure was caused by contact with a Sauber, so the only issue for the drivers was high degradation, and when all is said and done it made for an entertaining grand prix. Races at the Circuit de Catalunya have notoriously been boring, so the overtaking and lead changes seen this year were more than welcome, but 82 pit stops and an average of four stops per car was excessive. Pirelli has acknowledged that and should be congratulated for trying to quickly respond, not castigated for getting things slightly wrong. As Lotus team principal Eric Boullier pointed out later; whatever Pirelli does, the tyres are the same for everyone.
The Story of the Weekend
- Shock: Esteban Gutierrez - It's been a tough start for Sauber's new rookie but he made no mistakes, set the fastest lap of the race and even led on one occasion in a competitive car, though ultimately failed to snatch his first point
- Shocker: Mercedes - Despite locking out the front-row its tyre woes appeared worse than ever and Hamilton slipped from second place to 12th while Rosberg clung on to sixth
- Best overtake: Felipe Massa - The struggling Hamilton had the potential to hold him up early on, but Massa dispatched him around the outside of Turn 10 to boost his podium chances
- Best lap: Fernando Alonso - The first lap saw him up from fifth to third - passing Raikkonen and Hamilton in the process - which set up his victory
- Worst lap: Nico Rosberg - Following the first round of pit stops, Rosberg went from first to fourth on lap 13 as Alonso, Vettel and Massa all dispatched him with separate moves
- Drive of the day: Fernando Alonso - Nobody had won from outside the front row since 1996, and nobody ever from outside the first two rows at the Circuit de Catalunya. Alonso changed all that
After struggling from 14th on the grid to eighth, Jenson Button said he felt embarrassed to be so slow in front of loyal fans that had made the journey from the UK to Spain to watch him compete. Ahead of the race the team was already playing down its updates, and we should have taken that as a hint that all was not well. Even if improvements were found, the McLaren is still a long way off the pace of the front runners and the extent of the mistakes made in the MP4-28's design appear to be fundamental. It's become clear there will be no quick fix and now the team's thoughts must be drifting towards 2014. The hope is that the problems with correlation between the wind tunnel and track are now in the past, because without confidence in the factory there will be serious concerns for next year too.
A mess at Mercedes
The Mercedes W04 is a quick car, but on these tyres it is also a flawed car. In previous years on previous tyres it might have been a championship contender, but on heavy fuel the car destroys its tyres and in 2013 that is the cardinal sin. The reasons appear to be as much a mystery to the team as everybody else, but it is more likely an issue with the mechanical side than the aerodynamics. How a team with so many great technical minds - not to mention ex-tyre company employees - can be so far off the pace is also a mystery and one the team must solve before next year. Mercedes will be hoping that the races at Monaco and Canada, where the load through the tyre is not as severe, will give it a breather while it tries to find a solution.
Can Lotus last the distance?
The big news heading into the weekend was that James Allison had left Lotus, but after the team's third consecutive podium on Sunday you wouldn't have guessed. The knock-on effect - if there is one - will likely come later in the season and next year when Allison is no longer there to take the lead on future developments. On the plus side, Lotus is a well-organised, tightly-knit and efficient outfit that should be able to take the hit and carry on at the front. Perhaps the bigger concern is that the team could lose its tyre advantage due to changes made by Pirelli to the tyres at Silverstone, which could mean its lack of ultimate pace is laid bare. That's when an inspirational technical director will be needed most and that may be when Lotus starts to really miss Allison.
Paying the penalty
A frequent topic in press briefings this weekend was that of driver penalty points. A proposal that would see drivers accruing points on their licence up to a certain number - which would then result in a one-race ban - was not supported by all the teams but could go before the FIA anyway in the absence of a Concorde Agreement. The drivers first discussed it in their driver briefing on Friday night and it soon became clear that they are sceptical of the idea for fear of getting points for incidents that are not their fault. And it's easy to understand their concerns, as stewards provided a stark example of their inconsistencies in the GP2 sprint race. While the likes of Rio Haryanto, Jolyon Palmer and Sam Bird were all penalised for collisions which were either honest mistakes or difficult to apportion blame, Jonny Cecotto Jr's decision to swerve in to the side of Sergio Canamasas to prevent the Caterham passing was dismissed as a racing incident, to the amazement of everyone watching at the circuit.