The 2022 Spanish GP was proof that the 2022 Regulation Changes worked. The Spanish Grand Prix built a reputation for being a mundane race. But in the last 2 years, F1 fans have been treated to surprisingly interesting Spanish Grands Prix. Last year, we saw an exciting battle for the lead involving strategy games and on-track action. This year, we saw that and much more! Unlike last year, Max Verstappen prevailed in Spain this year and won the 2022 Spanish GP. He clinched his very first F1 race win in Spain back in 2016. Little did he know was that the next time he would win in Spain, he would be a World Champion.
But in the first third of the race, it didn’t look like Verstappen would be taking the top step of the podium. That’s because Charles Leclerc was the man in control of the race. At the end of Lap 26, Leclerc was 12.6 seconds in the lead and was dominating the race. However, on Lap 27, disaster struck. His engine lost power, forcing him to retire from the race. I will analyse that later in this post, along with looking at Guanyu Zhou’s retirement. It was seriously worrying when 2 Ferrari-powered cars broke down. Thankfully, there were no more retirements after those 2 engine failures.
When Leclerc retired, the rapid George Russell was thrust into the lead of the 2022 Spanish GP. His dazzling defence was causing both Red Bull drivers throughout the race. However, one man can’t defend from BOTH Red Bulls, and Red Bull used both drivers to get past Russell. His defending was fantastic nevertheless, and lasted longer than any of us could’ve anticipated it would. Russell’s teammate also had a great race. He fell to 2nd-last after an incident on Lap 1 with Magnussen. Hamilton managed to recover back to P5, which would’ve been P4 if it hadn’t been for cooling issues at the end of the race.
Another driver that managed a recovery was Fernando Alonso. The home hero qualified P17 and then took a grid penalty for replacing an engine component, which saw him start last. His comeback CANNOT be understated. He finished the race in P9, with that achievement being amplified because he did it in front of his home fans. Alonso wasn’t the only home hero in Spain. The other home hero, however, didn’t have the best home race. Carlos Sainz started the race in P3, but his car stalled at the grid, meaning he dropped to P5 into Turn 1. On Lap 7 he had a half spin and went off into the gravel at Turn 4, meaning he dropped down to P11. However, he did manage to make some sort of recovery.
In this post, we’ll look at the engine failures. We’ll analyse the recovery drives. We will look at Russell’s defending, and how that battle caused tension within the Red Bull team. And lastly, we’ll also look at why Sainz and Verstappen spun at the same corner. Yes, 3 laps after Sainz, Verstappen had a carbon copy incident at the same corner. However, it wasn’t as bad, because he only fell to P4.
What Caused Leclerc and Zhou’s Heartbreak?
On Lap 27, Leclerc suddenly slowed down. His engine lost power, ruining a dominant performance. He started on pole position and led for the entirety of the race up until that point. “I don’t know anything more than what happened basically,” said Leclerc. “I had no indications before and then it just broke, lost the power completely. So it’s a shame. In those moments I believe that there’s nothing else I can do but look at the positives and there are plenty this weekend. There’s the qualifying pace, the race pace and most importantly, the tyre management that has been a weakness in the last two races.
Ferrari’s analysis of the incident is that it wasn’t a reliability issue or a design fault. They confirmed it was a one-off where the MGU-H and the Turbo failed. The team found irreparable damage to those components, meaning Leclerc’s Power Unit will have a new MGU-H and a new Turbo in Monaco. One of the Ferrari customer teams didn’t do well either because Guanyu Zhou retired from the race as well.
He was racing in an Alfa Romeo, which also uses a Ferrari Power Unit. It’s suspected that high temperatures forced Zhou to retire the car. This issue is more linked to the Alfa Romeo car because Zhou retired from the 2022 Miami GP as well because of issues with the cooling system. And in Barcelona, with the searing heat, he didn’t last even half of the race. Thankfully for Ferrari, these were 2 unlinked incidents. Leclerc’s retirement was a one-off but it lost Leclerc and the team 26 points. It allowed Red Bull and Verstappen to take the lead in the constructors’ and drivers’ championships.
The Reason Behind Sainz and Verstappen’s Spins
At the 2022 Spanish GP, two of the top runners ran off the track at the very same corner. One driver’s race was compromised more than the other’s, as shown by the results of the race. First, Sainz went off at Turn 4. He was approaching the corner and as he turned in, the rear end of the car went out. Sainz couldn’t catch the spin. Luckily, his car did a bit of a 360 and didn’t get beached in the gravel, so Sainz could keep going.
But Sainz had to be very slow and careful when rotating the car and then rejoining the track. Since Turn 4 is a long hairpin and Sainz was pretty far into the gravel trap, he lost over 15 seconds because of the spin. He fell down to P11, since his spin happened on Lap 7. It was really early in the race and the field had not spread out yet, meaning a spin like that would heavily affect him.
Exactly 2 laps later, when Verstappen was approaching Turn 4, he had an incident that was almost a carbon copy of Sainz’s. Into Turn 4, he lost the rear end. But for Verstappen, the incident wasn’t as compromising. He caught the spin, because it was more of a slide. He slid off into the gravel, and swiftly rejoined the track, albeit after bouncing on the gravel aggressively. Verstappen was definitely more aggressive in rejoining the track. Overall, he lost only 7-8 seconds because of the incident. Since he was in P2 and was already over 5 seconds ahead of Russell in P3, he only fell to P4.
But what caused these spins? When Sainz spun, most people thought that he doesn’t have enough self-confidence and he isn’t able to get grips with the car. That’s why he retired in Imola and Australia – he spun off into the gravel and got beached and couldn’t move. And at the Spanish GP, he found himself in the gravel again. But when Verstappen slid onto the gravel too, there was definitely some external factor causing these spins. And the external factor is the wind. The drivers described the race as being unpredictably gusty.
If the rear end went like that, it’s likely that the drivers were experiencing gusts of a tailwind into Turn 4. That especially made sense because there was a headwind down into Turn 1. And the run down to Turn 4 is the opposite direction of the run down to Turn 1. A combination of the wind and dirty air from the car ahead caused Sainz to spin. Verstappen was in completely clean air, which explains why his slide wasn’t as bad as Sainz’s spin.
Another factor affecting the stability of the cars is weight. Excluding fuel, the 2022 F1 cars are 43kg heavier than they were in 2021. They now weigh 795 kilograms. With the fuel load being around 110 kg at the beginning of the race, the F1 cars lose around 1.5-2 kg per lap on average around Spain. When Sainz spun, he would’ve had just under 100kg of fuel in the tank, meaning his car would be weighing nearly 900kg. If these cars are so heavy, it would be difficult to avoid or recover from a slide or a spin, because the cars aren’t nimble and light. The 2022 Spanish GP was a perfect showcase to show how the added weight can affect F1 cars.
Russell’s Exemplary Defence
George Russell’s defending was absolutely fantastic at the 2022 Spanish GP. The battle between him and both Red Bulls told us a lot about how Russell and Mercedes are performing at this point. It also proved something about the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya and the characteristics of the circuit. First of all, we need to understand what happened with Russell and the Red Bulls. Russell was running in P3, with Sergio Perez right behind him. Verstappen was 5 seconds ahead of Russell, and Leclerc was 2 seconds ahead of Verstappen. This was at the end of Lap 8. On Lap 9, Verstappen went off into the gravel at Turn 4 and dropped back to P4, since Russell and Perez overtook him.
But Verstappen was right behind Perez. Until Lap 9, Perez wasn’t really in striking distance to overtake Russell. And Lap 9 is when Verstappen joined Russell and Perez to form a small pack. It became a 3-way fight for P2, with Russel having to defend from both Red Bulls. Red Bull gave Perez 2 chances to try and overtake Russell. Perez tried at the beginning of Lap 10 and at the beginning of Lap 11. Both times, Russell defended perfectly. Perez would catch up to Russell down into Turn 1 using DRS, but Russell would move either to the inside or to the middle of the track towards the end of the straight. That didn’t allow Perez to make a move.
When Perez couldn’t get past Russell, Red Bull used team orders to allow Verstappen to go ahead of Perez. Verstappen had picked up the pace again and looked like the stronger driver. It was surprising that Red Bull were using team orders this early in the season. The 2022 Spanish GP is only Round 6 of 22.
But that’s something that we can somewhat expect from Red Bull. They’ll favour Verstappen even more now that he’s a World Champion. But it’s actually incredible how Russell managed to defend so well that Verstappen never actually overtook Russell. The man in the Mercedes used the same defence that he did when Perez was trying to overtake him. Russell used the characteristics of the circuit to make it difficult for Verstappen to overtake him.
First of all, into Turn 1, he would go in the middle of the circuit or on the inside. It’s incredibly difficult to make a move around the outside, and the Red Bull just wasn’t close enough and didn’t have the overspeed to make the move. On top of that, if Verstappen tried to optimise his run out of Turn 3 to try and make a move into Turn 4, Russell would use some fairly aggressive wheel-to-wheel defending to stop Verstappen from overtaking him into Turn 4. A great example of this was their battle at the beginning of Lap 24. Verstappen finally had the speed he needed down the main straight. Russell went to the middle of the track, but Verstappen went even further to the inside.
Verstappen once again showed his brilliant racecraft. However, Russell knew what to do. Verstappen had to suddenly slow down for Turn 1, allowing Russell to swoop around the outside. Verstappen switchbacked Russell out of Turn 2, and as the drivers went through Turn 3, they were side-by-side. Russell handles this perfectly. At the outside of Turn 3, he left just enough space so that Verstappen was still on the track. But the left side of Verstappen’s car was on the astroturf.
He lost grip and couldn’t get the position into Turn 4. It was legal because Russell was ever so slightly ahead. Turn 3 being a long corner where it is easy to lose grip or almost run wide made it easier for Russell to defend the position. On top of that, Turn 4 is a long corner where you are turning into the corner while braking. That makes it difficult to overtake there.
Red Bull had to switch Verstappen from a 2-stop to a 3-stop strategy. Verstappen pitted onto a set of worn softs at the end of Lap 27. He pushed his car to the max, and was on fire during that stint. He fell to P4, but then overtook Bottas with a beautiful move around the outside of Turn 12. Verstappen then caught back up to Russell, who pitted before Verstappen could attack him. Verstappen went ahead of Perez because of team orders.
During Verstappen’s stint on the softs, Perez finally overtook Russell. He was right behind the Merc down the main straight, and he made a brave move around the outside into Turn 1. When Verstappen completed his 3rd stop, he came out of the pits behind Perez. But we never saw a battle between the Red Bull drivers. And why was that? It’s because Red Bull used their good old team orders.
Tensions Rise At Red Bull
I’m not surprised that the tensions rose between Red Bull and Sergio Perez. I would probably feel the same way if I was in Perez’s position. As I mentioned earlier, team orders came in the way during the 2022 Spanish GP. On Lap 28, when Verstappen pitted for the 2nd time and was on a set of softs, Perez was in the lead. When Perez and Russell pitted, Verstappen went back into the lead of the race. However, he needed to make another stop. And when he pitted on Lap 44 for a set of medium tires, he came out of the pits in P2. He was around 4.5 – 5 seconds behind Perez, who was back in the lead. Verstappen was rapid on the fresh tires and was gaining by over a second per lap.
Checo Perez, the “Mexican Minister of Defence” himself, might’ve had to defend from his own teammate. It was a battle that I was certainly looking forward to seeing. I didn’t expect Red Bull to use team orders in a situation where they were clearly far ahead of Russell. I would’ve understood if they decided to ensure that the drivers kept it fair and clean. However, as early as Lap 47, Perez’s engineer was on the radio telling him that he would have to let Max through if Max was faster! We would never get to see an interesting battle. And Perez wouldn’t even have a chance to win the race, because the team were forcing him to make way for Verstappen.
Before the Spanish GP, Perez was only 19 points behind Verstappen in the standings. He still had the chance to perform well and to potentially fight for the championship. It wasn’t a big chance, but it wasn’t impossible either. Yet Red Bull came in the way of him winning. I know they wanted to capitalise on this opportunity. They wanted a 1-2 and the easy way was to put Max in front. But I don’t agree with Red Bull compromising Checo’s season before any championship battles have truly got underway. It’s not critical at this point for Verstappen to be ahead and in a prime position.
What makes this even worse is that Perez asked the team to let him go ahead on Lap 27. At this point, Verstappen had been trying to overtake Russell since Lap 11. Verstapen was obviously not able to overtake Russell, and Perez had very similar pace, so he asked the team to let him go back in front. This tweet shows how Bird, Perez’s engineer, responded. In my opinion that was completely unfair.
Going back to Lap 49, Perez said over the radio that it was unfair. He wasn’t happy that when he could’ve won, the team were putting him out of the way. However, he still obeyed the team’s orders. He left Verstappen by at Turn 4 on Lap 49. After the race Perez said that “There are a few things we’ll discuss internally, just to understand what went on, as when you are driving, you don’t understand much of the bigger picture you know, so I think it’s just a normal thing. The team momentum couldn’t be any better, so it’s a great team, we are very united and we just have to discuss a few things internally, that’s it.”
While I still think letting Verstappen by was unfair, Christian Horner did have valid reasoning for the team’s actions. “I think the problem that we had is, we could see, as I think with other cars, we’d got temperatures raging, water, oil, brakes and the last thing you want to risk is a DNF when you’ve got two cars that potentially nail a one-two,” Horner explained.
“They were on different strategies, so it wasn’t a straight fight. Max had such a tyre advantage and of course Checo’s tyres wouldn’t have made it, we don’t think, to the end. And that’s why he pitted towards the end of the race to get that valuable fastest lap as well. Our responsibility is to bring the cars home with as many points as we can,” added Horner. “And of course, what Checo couldn’t see at the time, and I think he will see perfectly well now, is that he had such a long stint to do on that medium tyre and Max such a tyre advantage from a team perspective, there is just no point in taking that risk with an intermittent DRS, with temperatures raging up and down. So it was absolutely the right thing to do.”
Since Perez’s relationship with Verstappen and Red Bull is really good and went really well last year. I don’t think that this would have any major effect on their performance and how they work together as a team. But later in the season, if Perez does find himself in a position where he’s doing well in the standings and is winning a race, but is then forced to let his teammate by, I don’t think he’s going to sit back and accept that.
Verstappen’s DRS Issue
Russell’s great defending and the characteristics of the circuit weren’t the only reason he successfully defended from Verstappen. The reigning World Champion faced issues with DRS throughout his battle with Russell. His issue was an intermittent problem where down the back straight it would work just fine, but down the main straight he would struggle with it. Sometimes, the flap would open and then close. Sometimes it would stay open. Once on the live broadcast, it showed the flap in the rear wing open and then close straight away. Verstappen’s engineer told him to press the button once after getting off the kerb. Verstappen did say he pressed the button multiple times, which could’ve caused the flap to keep closing. But that was not the root cause.
Verstappen faced these issues in qualifying too, and the RB mechanics made efforts to fix the issue. However, they weren’t successful. After the race, Helmut Marko confirmed that this mechanical issue saw the DRS failing to work when the car would go on the kerbs. Verstappen also faced issues with temperatures, but that was a problem that multiple teams faced in the searing heat. Overall, it was a technical issue that haunted the reigning champion but didn’t deter him and his team from winning.
Alonso’s Comeback At His Home Race
Apart from Verstappen winning the race despite his incident at Turn 4, there were 3 major comebacks during the 2022 Spanish GP. Firstly, we’ll look at Fernando Alonso’s comeback. Fernando Alonso had a terrible qualifying. He only managed to qualify in P17, and then took a grid penalty to replace an engine component. He started the race in P20, which is dead last. Through Turns 1 and 2, he gained 2 positions by overtaking Zhou and Latifi. He then gained 2 more positions when Hamilton and Magnussen collided. Alonso also got past Albon, meaning he was already in P15 by the end of Lap 1.
By Lap 10, he had overtaken both Aston Martins and Pierre Gasly to get up into P12. That’s the lap when he pitted. Alonso’s overtake on Sebastian Vettel on Lap 7 and that small battle was fantastic. It’s great to see two F1 legends going wheel-to-wheel. These 2 drivers used to be championship rivals in the early 2010s, meaning fans who witnessed that rivalry got a bit of nostalgia. Alonso overtook Vettel in a similar fashion to when Vettel overtook Bottas at the 2017 Spanish GP. After the first round of pitstops, Alonso was in P11. When Vettel pitted on Lap 21, Alonso went up to P10. After that, for the rest of the race, Alonso battles with the likes of Yuki Tsunoda, Sebastian Vettel, Lando Norris and Mick Schumacher. Alonso finished the race in P9 and gained that position because of Leclerc’s retirement.
It was a fantastic comeback drive, which was even more special because it was in front of his home fans. He made this comeback using a combination of a good strategy, consistent pace, and a strong car. His tactics were to push hard in the first few laps of the race and to capitalise on the field being bunched up. While his Alpine car didn’t seem good in qualifying, it was rapid during the race. And with a 2-time World Champion behind the wheel, that car finished 11 places ahead of where it started. Incredible.
The other Spanish home hero at the 2022 Spanish GP was Carlos Sainz. As I mentioned earlier, Sainz fell to P11 after his spin on Lap 7. Instead of giving up, he started his comeback to the top positions of the race. He stayed in P11 until Lap 10, when he lost a few positions by pitting. In the first round of pitstops, Sainz managed to overtake Magnussen, Stroll and Ricciardo. That indicates that Sainz had strong pace on the fresh mediums and was clearly lapping faster than the midfield cars.
Between Laps 15-25, Sainz caught up to and overtook Sebastian Vettel and Fernando Alonso. And on Lap 27, Charles Leclerc retired from the race. At this point, Sainz was in P5. He overtook Valtteri Bottas on Lap 58, but he’s then got overtaken by a fast-charging Hamilton on the next lap.
Sainz would’ve finished in P5, but then Hamilton faced an issue. He was told by the team to lift and coast for the last few laps in order to lower the car’s temperatures. He was told it was a DNF risk. The team told Russell the same. Because Hamilton had to go slower, Sainz could catch back up to Hamilton and overtake him. Sainz overtook Hamilton at the beginning of Lap 65 and secured P4 to cap off a fantastic comeback.
In my opinion, the best comeback of the 2022 Spanish GP was from Lewis Hamilton. He suffered a puncture on Lap 1 after making contact with Magnussen at Turn 4. He pitted onto a set of softs and was left in P19. At the end of Lap 2, Hamilton was around 40 seconds behind Latifi in P18. By Lap 15, Hamilton had gained 3 positions after Stroll, Latifi and Albon pit. The rest of the field also pitted, which allowed Hamilton to catch back up to the pack. He pitted once again on Lap 21 but didn’t lose any net positions when Albon, Latifi and Stroll pit.
The rest of the field made their 2nd stops during a pit window of Lap 28 – 38. During those laps, Lewis Hamilton was the 2nd fastest man on the track, with Max Verstappen being the fastest. And it was during those laps that Lewis gained a gargantuan 10 positions. He was consistently quick during that stint on the medium tires, which allowed him to gain a huge number of positions. He then used his strong pace on the last stint after his 3rd stop to overtake Bottas and Sainz. But of course, he lost a place to Sainz at the end. I think this is the perfect example of perseverance. On Lap 2 Hamilton was ready to give up and retire from the race. But he kept going and managed a Top 5 finish at the 2022 Spanish GP. It was a champion’s drive.