Formula 1

Mika Häkkinen: A perfect display from Hamilton but Verstappen again proved what a threat to Mercedes he can be

August 17, 2020January 6th, 2022

FOLLOWING Max Verstappen’s win at the 70th Anniversary Grand Prix we saw normality return in Spain yesterday with a dominant win by Lewis Hamilton. This was a perfect day for the World Championship leader – starting from pole position, controlling the race from the front, expertly managing his tyres and supported by good pit stops by the team. I know what that’s like, and you wish every weekend could be the same!

It is not so exciting for fans, of course, but then Barcelona is not famous for the quality of racing. Personally I always liked the circuit as it is a technically satisfying track to drive, but there is really only one overtaking place, at Turn 1. With the layout of the final corners it is very difficult to stay close to the car in front, so even with the DRS overtaking system it’s not easy.

Add in the need to manage tyre degradation and you cannot afford to attack too strongly, as the nature of the circuit will punish you. That was the story of this race.

So this was not a classic Grand Prix to watch, but still it was very interesting to see that Max was able to split the Mercedes drivers and give them something to worry about. It’s clear that he is on a different level in the Red Bull from his team mate Alex Albon, particularly in qualifying. Lying second in the World Championship, Max is ready to punish Mercedes if the team or its drivers make any mistakes.

It is easy to understand why Valtteri Bottas was disappointed after the race. Starting from the front row he did not make a good start and was then challenged by Lance Stroll’s Racing Point into Turn 1. Dropping places at the start is always frustrating, but the difficulty with overtaking in Barcelona meant that Valtteri had to work hard to recover that position and close on Max for second.

Although Valtteri was faster than Max, the overtake was not going to be possible unless the team used the right pit stop strategy, but Red Bull reacted to this and defended perfectly. Mercedes’ decision to give Valtteri a set of soft tyres to try and attack turned out to be the wrong way to go, as Lewis showed when he elected to use a set of mediums for his final stint. 

Lance Stroll’s drive into fourth place, with team mate Sergio Perez fifth, was a really strong result for the team which – next year – will become Aston Martin. The Racing Point is clearly a quick car, as Nico Hulkenberg showed when he qualified third at the second Silverstone race. With Sergio returning to the team after his two weeks of Covid-19 isolation I think both he and Lance wanted to show what they could do. Lance’s start was excellent and he drove a mature, controlled race.

Racing Point is now third in the World Championship for Constructors, one point ahead of McLaren which is one point ahead of Ferrari. It’s incredibly close, and with Carlos Sainz scoring a sixth place in his home Grand Prix – and Lando Norris finishing 10th – this was another good result for my former team at McLaren.

Ferrari’s struggles are clear. Normally they should not be running in the midfield and hoping to score points, but yesterday we could see both Charles Leclerc and Sebastian Vettel having to fight hard just to get into the top 10. With Charles retiring from the race, it was at least good to see Sebastian climb back to 7th – but we all have to hope that the Italian team finds some additional performance soon, especially with three ‘home’ races coming up in Monza, Mugello and Imola! 

There were a few records broken on Sunday – Lewis taking his 156th podium, beating the previous total set by my old rival Michael Schumacher. Many of us thought that Michael’s records would never be touched, but with so many races each year and the best cars achieving near-perfect reliability we will continue to see new records being set – something for the next generation to try and beat.

Valtteri’s podium was his 50th – a really great result which puts him only one behind me, so I expect to see him overtake that sometime in September. 

Alfa Romeo Racing announced that this weekend Kimi Raikkonen broke the highest mileage record in Formula 1, breaking the previous career record of 83,846kms. Apparently this means he has driven the equivalent of two laps of the Equator, which makes it quite appropriate that he has won a World Championship during his long and successful career.

Due to the reduced power of the Ferrari engines we have seen a much quieter Kimi and Antonio Giovanazzi this year, the Alfa Romeo team struggling to be competitive. The same issue is also one of the reasons Haas are not in the middle of top 10 battles.

Back in February the FIA and Ferrari reached a private agreement over the engine technology that was being used, and the result of that has been a clear reduction in performance for all of the Ferrari teams – a result that has really affected this year’s World Championship fight. Considering that Ferrari’s performances in 2019 really motivated Mercedes to move onto a new level in 2020, Sunday’s Grand Prix really showed us how much the gap has opened up – Mercedes has moved ahead, Ferrari has taken a big step back. The fact that Lewis, Max and Valtteri lapped everyone else says a lot.

The next race is in Belgium in two weeks, and will mark the 20th anniversary of my victory there, on a day when I had a big battle with Michael Schumacher and managed to overtake him by using Ricardo Zonta’s BAR as a 300kph chicane. That remains a good memory, and I hope that we see a similarly good battle this year. It’s what we want to see!