Watching the Spanish GP felt different. As if we were witnessing a Franchise Reboot. We see it all the time in movies. From DC to Marvel. We already know the characters, we’ve seen it all before, and yet this was different. This was a glimpse of what F1 would be like if Mercedes weren’t dominant and it was awesome!
First up was the coming together of two characters where we weren’t sure whose side to be on. No, not Batman V Superman. This was bigger. Hamilton came into this weekend on the wrong end of a 4-0 win comparison V Rosberg. With the German 39 points clear on 100 points Lewis was under pressure to start a comeback. Sure enough, in qualifying he took an impressive pole position. That was as good as it got. Lewis and Nico both made impressive starts but it was Nico who stormed around the outside to take the lead of the race.
Advantage Rosberg, but as they raced out of turn 3 it was clear he had an issue. A wrong engine mode meant that Nico found himself 160bhp down on power. Worst still, the flashing light on the back of the Mercedes alerted Hamilton to the issue and Lewis pounced. Simultaneously Nico was adjusting the rotary to where it should have been while attempting to dive to the inside and cover off the charging Brit. Both were very aggressive. Lewis had to make the move yet as the leader surely Nico was entitled to defend his position. There is clear regulation on this:
20.4 Any driver defending his position on a straight, and before any braking area, may use the full width of the track during his first move, provided no significant portion of the car attempting to pass is alongside his. Whilst defending in this way the driver may not leave the track without justifiable reason.
For the avoidance of doubt, if any part of the front wing of the car attempting to pass is alongside the rear wheel of the car in front this will be deemed to be a ‘significant portion’.
20.5 Manoeuvres liable to hinder other drivers, such as deliberate crowding of a car beyond the edge of the track or any other abnormal change of direction, are not permitted.
The latter parts of this section could probably be called “The Anti Schumacher Manoeuvre” Rules.
Yes Nico was well within his rights to use the full width of the track during his first move, but the crucial wording on all of this is “Provided no significant portion of the car attempting to pass is alongside his.
Maybe before Nico would have left the space. We know Alonso says you have to leave it. Thing is though this isn’t the same Nico, we’ve just seen him before. This is 2016 Nico. The reboot. He’s leading the title and was leading the race. He’s previously been burned by Lewis when trying to hang it on the outside around his teammate. Last season, in Japan & in the US, when Nico went to the outside he lost out. This time Nico was going to make sure that didn’t happen. We’ve seen the likes of Sky try to make a Senna V Prost comparison a lot of times when it’s come to Lewis V Nico but if you genuinely wanted to have a moment where this actually factored it was here and it wasn’t Suzuka 1990. It was Prost slamming the door in 1989 to seal the title. The gloves are off. Nice guy Nico is no more and Formula 1’s title fight is all the better for it.
Getting back to the fault at the core of the incident then. As much as I think Lewis was overly optimistic in how he committed to the inside despite it being a gap that look inevitably like it was going to close and close fast, if you read the wording on 20.4 and 20.5 you’d have to conclude that had Nico not been taken out in the crash along with Lewis then he would have found the Stewards less forgiving.
Now Alternative Formula 1 was in full effect. Forget what you knew. Forget the norm.
This was F1: The Marvel Edition. The twist that linked to the previous race being the three Red Bull drivers running in 1st, 2nd & 3rd, none of whom were called Daniil Kvyat. It’s almost like Alonso’s joke in the driver’s press conference was a foreshadowing of this. Nah, it couldn’t be. The Ferrari’s soon took the fight to the Senior Red Bull’s and then the only question was whether you were Team Ferrari or Team Red Bull. Hell no, it’s Spidey Max FTW. All we knew was this was a breath of fresh air. Formula 1 as it should be, fun and unpredictable. I loved every lap of it.
Ricciardo led early on but it was strategy that would decide his fate. Vettel was pushing for a three stop strategy as, in theory at least, it was the quicker of the two options. When the German pitted the Honey Badger matched him and, as Ricci bitterly admitted later on, not only did it cost him the win it cost him a podium.
Alternative was the theme for the race and so it was the alternative two stopping Max and Kimi cleared off as Ricciardo attempted to see if he could set off the bleeping machine that seems to be located inside Seb’s cockpit. Only one this time and we don’t think Sainz Jr will be making his way up the pit lane for Monaco.
What a story. Fairytale stuff. Max Verstappen, on his debut for Red Bull Racing leading from what seemed to be the faster Ferrari of Kimi Raikkonen. Max said it was like driving on ice. Yet when he needed to gap the Ferrari before the DRS activation point he seemed to manage it perfectly, every lap. Hard to believe the kid is only 18. It was a wonderfully accomplished drive and to top it off, to give us the end credits scene, we had Jos in tears of joy.
No you stop crying.
This was the Formula 1 we know and love.
Any one of four drivers could have won, but somehow it all fell into place to give a dream debut to Mighty Max on the day the Mad Mercs tore up the script.
I can’t wait for the sequel.