Much to the contrary of the popular belief and expectation, the 2021 Spanish Grand Prix was actually really exciting! We were actually at the edges of our seats, wondering who will win the race! Will it be Lewis Hamilton or Max Verstappen? Will Charles Leclerc get Ferrari back on the podium again? And of course, there was the battle for the last couple of points positions. We watched an exciting battle as drivers strived to bring home vital points. It was a Spanish Grand Prix that will mostly be memorable for being so much more engaging than the dull 2020 Spanish Grand Prix. Even more than that, we’ll remember the 2021 Spanish Grand Prix as the GP where Lewis Hamilton achieved his 100th pole position.
We’ll also remember this race for being the 2nd time that Red Bull made the same mistake of not responding to Hamilton pitting for fresh tires. That’s how Mercedes and Hamilton won this race; they nailed the strategy. But of course, they couldn’t have won the race if Hamilton hadn’t driven so well to make the strategy work. He had only 23 laps to make up a 23-second deficit to Verstappen while having to overtake Bottas on the way. In the end, Hamilton pulled it off, and the whole unpredictability of Mercedes’ strategy made this race really exciting.
Verstappen earned 19 points in this race since he made a 2nd stop in the last couple of laps. He went onto the soft tires and pushed to earn that extra championship point. The F1 world saw that pitstop as Red Bull accepting defeat, accepting that they lost the win. Behind Hamilton and Verstappen were Bottas and Charles Leclerc, as the Ferrari team put in a fantastic performance. After a disappointing qualifying, Sergio Perez made a recovery drive to finish in 5th. However, many thought that Perez’s struggles in Spain were quite costly for the Red Bull team, because they didn’t have a 2nd driver in the fight with Mercedes.
Ricciardo and Norris were both on the pace, with both of the McLarens finishing a position higher than they qualified. However, McLaren’s gap to Ferrari has gone down to just 5 points. This is because Carlos Sainz, one of the home heroes, finished in between the McLarens, while Leclerc finished in 4th. Esteban Ocon had a great race in the Alpine, while Gasly emerged victorious in a FANTASTIC battle for P10. He started the race in P12, fell to P15 after a 5-second penalty, and then climbed his way back into the points.
Lance Stroll was at the brink of the points, with Vettel in P13, making a fairly promising race for Aston Martin. Raikkonen finished 12th, while his teammate finished 15th. Both the Williams cars were outside the points, making a disappointing weekend for both Alfa Romeo and Williams.
Despite both Haas boys being in 18th and 19th, Mick Schumacher was still making good progress. He had a great start to the race and gained a couple of positions, but he couldn’t keep them. Ahead of him in P17 was the disappointed home hero of Fernando Alonso. He couldn’t maintain his points position, and just had no race pace. It was quite clear that his rivals were faster than him when they overtook him.
And finally, Yuki Tsunoda had engine woes that forced him to retire from the race. Overall, not a great weekend for the hot-headed rookie. The car was stranded at the edge of the track at Turn 10 and brought out the Safety Car only 6 laps into the race, which didn’t make much difference in the strategy.
In this 2021 Spanish Grand Prix Race Review, we’re going to look at multiple aspects of this thrilling race. First of all, we’ll take a look at how Red Bull lost this race win, while Mercedes did the complete opposite and nailed it. And then we’ll be looking at the midfield battle. We’ll look at how Ferrari and McLaren are locked in battle, and how the rest of the midfield is getting even closer. The latter was proven by the intense battles between around 5 or 6 drivers, all fighting for 10th place to get a World Championship point. Without further ado, let’s get into it!
Red Bull Completely Threw Away This Race Win – And Mercedes Caught It
Max Verstappen had an excellent start to the race. Although he got an equally good getaway off the start line as Hamilton, Verstappen used the slipstream into Turn 1 to dash down the inside and overtake Hamilton. Verstappen had just made a crucial move that gave him the lead of the race and possibly the race win. Given the difficulty to overtake at Spain, it looked like Verstappen would surely win this race. We also didn’t think that there would be much variation in the pitstop strategy in this race. However, the Mercedes definitely looked stronger than the Red Bull.
But as the race progressed, things changed. Mercedes’ strategy took a turn, and this race just got MUCH more exciting. When Mercedes hit us with the unexpected strategy, I thought Red Bull would react to it differently. I honestly thought Red Bull would learn from their costly mistake at the 2019 Hungarian Grand Prix. However, they didn’t, and Mercedes and Hamilton won the 2021 Spanish Grand Prix the EXACT same way they won in Hungary in 2019.
In this Spanish GP, it looked like Max Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton were both going to go for the simple one-stop strategy. Both of them started the race on the soft tires, which are the fastest, yet least durable tires. Verstappen pitted on Lap 24 and got a set of medium tires. These are the tires that have decent pace and decent durability at the same time. The strategy was a little vague in the beginning because Verstappen pitted 4 laps before Hamilton did. We didn’t exactly know whether he was doing a one-stop or a 2-stop strategy.
But then, we were certain that Verstappen wouldn’t pit twice, because he would lose a couple of positions that might lose him the race win. What we didn’t see coming was Hamilton going for the 2-stop. On Lap 43, after just 15 laps on the mediums, Hamilton pit onto another fresh set of medium tires. It all made sense now because Mercedes had saved an extra set of medium tires for Hamilton to use in the race
Red Bull, however, had no fresh tires for Verstappen to use. Hamilton had already caught up to Verstappen before he pitted, but Mercedes decided to play it smart. They delayed Hamilton’s overtake on Verstappen so that they could seal the win, and so that Verstappen couldn’t re-overtake Hamilton.
When Hamilton did a surprise pitstop many were conflicted about whether Verstappen would pit a lap after Hamilton or not. We knew that if Verstappen didn’t pit, Hamilton would catch up to him and overtake him easily with MUCH fresher tires. We also knew that if Verstappen did pit, he would lose time to Hamilton. Hamilton might’ve even overtaken Verstappen if he pitted.
Then Verstappen would’ve had to overtake both Hamilton and Bottas or maybe even more cars to win the race. And he would’ve had to do it on worn tires. So Red Bull decided to keep Verstappen out. And on Lap 60, Hamilton sped around the outside and overtook Verstappen.
It seems that Red Bull had to make a tough decision, and you may say that they just made a simple mistake. But the thing is, they’ve made this mistake before. This same situation happened at the 2019 Hungarian GP, and Red Bull kept Verstappen out. Verstappen put up a fight, but Hamilton still pulled through and won the race. At the 2021 Spanish Grand Prix, Hamilton didn’t even have to fight Verstappen. He just overtook the Dutchman down into Turn 1. HE MADE IT LOOK EASY! So it’s clear that Red Bull have seen this scenario before, and lost out in it.
I personally think that Red Bull should definitely have pit Verstappen because Verstappen would have much better of a fighting chance. Hamilton did some fantastic driving to pull off the strategy that he did. He had to deal with his teammate holding him up, along with managing the tires so well while pushing hard. It wasn’t easy, and Red Bull could definitely have made it much harder for Hamilton by pitting Verstappen again.
The Midfield Is Just Getting Tighter and Tighter!
As if the battle for the lead wasn’t exciting enough, the midfield battle at the 2021 Spanish Grand Prix was INCREDIBLE. There was non-stop action, loads of on-track battles and overtaking. It was a great show for the fans, and I think it definitely changed some people’s opinions about the Spanish Grand Prix. For those who didn’t watch the race, the Alpine cars, the Aston Martins, Pierre Gasly in the AlphaTauri, and Antonio Giovinazzi were battling all race long. They were battling for P9 and P10, the final points positions. P9 awards 2 points, P10 awards just 1 point.
These 6 or so drivers were battling REALLY hard. They were making moves through the first 3 corners of the track, sometimes even at Turn 4. There was a battle between Gasly and Giovinazzi at Turns 10 and 11 as well. Most of the time, it’s really hard to overtake and battle at corners like Turn 3 and 4, and we definitely didn’t expect battles at the new Turn 10. Yet at the 2021 Spanish Grand Prix, we clearly saw the cars going side-by-side and battling it out. It was fantastic, and it’s made us look forward to the 2022 Spanish Grand Prix even more.
At the top of the midfield, there were the Ferraris and the McLarens. The Ferraris were DEFINITELY on the pace in Spain. Charles Leclerc was absolutely flying. He had an exciting battle for P3 with the Mercedes of Valtteri Bottas. Leclerc overtook Bottas through Turn 3 on the first lap of the race, with a fantastic move around the outside. It was just like Fernando Alonso’s overtake on one of the Mercedes cars at that very same corner at the 2013 Spanish Grand Prix.
What would’ve put the cherry on top is if Leclerc could’ve kept P3. Bottas’s Mercedes was clearly superior, which is why Bottas could do an undercut on Leclerc and overtake him in the pitstops. An undercut is when a driver pits earlier than his rival, and then uses those extra laps on fresher tires to get ahead of his rival when they pit. That’s exactly what Bottas did in this race.
Ferrari admitted that they didn’t expect Leclerc to be up on that podium and that Leclerc was running his own race. The Monegasque was trying to keep the flying Red Bull of Sergio Perez behind him, so it was important that Ferrari focused on keeping Leclerc ahead of Perez instead of Bottas.
After starting the race in 6th, Leclerc’s teammate Carlos Sainz was instantly pushing hard. Unlike Leclerc, Ferrari opted to pit Sainz twice, so that Sainz could go as aggressive as possible and push hard to get the highest position possible. It was looking to be a good strategy for Sainz. However, his rivals had other plans. The Charging Bull of Sergio Perez finished the race in 5th after starting in 8th. McLaren’s Daniel Ricciardo gained a position; he finished in 6th after starting in 7th. If Alpine’s Esteban Ocon hadn’t fallen to 9th, Sainz would’ve finished in a disappointing 8th. Not great for the home hero, but it still wasn’t a bad performance from Ferrari.
As I mentioned earlier, McLaren’s Daniel Ricciardo made some good gains in this race. He qualified in 7th and overtook Alpine’s Esteban Ocon and Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz to take P6 in the race. He would’ve finished 5th if it wasn’t for Sergio Perez. But still, Ricciardo’s pace was a great indication of how he’s finally settling into his new team. Ricciardo even finished ahead of his teammate, Lando Norris. Norris started the race in 9th after a disappointing qualifying, before finishing the race in 8th. Norris really set the pace by finishing in the Top 5 in the first 3 races of 2021.
P6 and P8 are not the finishing positions McLaren expected. McLaren is supposed to be right at the edge of the podium positions. However, they didn’t have enough pace in qualifying. Their race pace was definitely not bad, but qualifying is where they really missed out. Since the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya is known to be a circuit where overtaking is difficult, qualifying is really crucial. And since McLaren couldn’t nail quali, they pretty much did the most they could in the race. In the constructors’ standings, McLaren is still 5 points ahead of Ferrari. They’re going to need a stellar weekend in Monaco to stay ahead of Ferrari.
This is the end of a race review that has a lot more analysis than I expected it would! I also expected the 2021 Spanish Grand Prix to be boring and dull like the 2020 Spanish Grand Prix, so I expected to be able to unpack a lot less than I actually could. When we come back to Spain in 2022, I genuinely think that we’re going to be a lot more interested and attentive in the race. With the 2022 cars being even more closer because of the regulation changes, the Spanish GP may be even more exciting than it was this year. Let me know in the comments below, which team do you think will shine the most in Monaco? Stay safe, stay on the lookout for new posts, and enjoy F1ntastic!