Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes, Circuit de Catalunya, 2021

Can Verstappen use Hamilton’s Bahrain strategy to end his winning streak in Spain?

2021 Spanish Grand Prix pre-race analysis

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Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen are perfectly poised for their fourth consecutive battle for supremacy of the 2021 F1 season.

The Mercedes driver holds the upper hand in the championship fight, where he is eight points to the good, and on the grid. A fifth straight Spanish Grand Prix win surely beckons?

But we’re yet to see a driver win a race from pole position this year. Will Verstappen or Valtteri Bottas keep that streak running?

The start

Having secured pole position by three hundredths of a second, Hamilton will line up eight metres ahead of his rival. Facing a long, 579-metre sprint to the first corner, none of the drivers who qualified in the top 10 wanted to risk starting on the medium tyres.

Starting on the harder rubber would instantly lose them around six metres to their soft-shod rivals. Not wanting to contemplate carrying that disadvantage down to turn one, the front five rows will all line up on softs.

Start, Circuit de Catalunya, 2020
The long run to turn one makes a good start vital
If Verstappen gets away from the line well enough, he may have a chance to throw one down the inside of Hamilton at turn one. But the Mercedes have strength in numbers up front, with Sergio Perez’s Red Bull back in eighth, and will no doubt choreograph their possible moves down to the first corner.

All teams will be anxious to optimise their launches, especially Alpine, as executive director Marcin Budkowski explains. “We had average starts and first laps in the last couple of races. We lost positions in the last couple of races and it would be painful to get a decent qualifying position and not to make the most of it. That’s another thing we’re very focussed on for Sunday.”

Once the drivers funnel through the quick first and second corners, opportunities for overtaking become limited for much of the rest of the afternoon.

The strategy

Red Bull, Circuit de Catalunya, 2021
Red Bull’s regularly rapid pit stops could prove decisive
As was the case last year, a straight two-stop strategy race is expected. “The strategy last year was focussed mainly on two stops with the soft and the medium the two compounds used during the race,” explained Pirelli’s head of motor racing Mario Isola. “I’m not expecting anything different compared to last year.”

The hard tyre is around a second per lap slower than the medium, and as a result is unlikely to figure in the team’s calculations.

The race is therefore set up much like the season-opening Bahrain Grand Prix, albeit with the title contenders reversed on the grid. There Hamilton used an early first pit stop to prise the lead from Verstappen’s hands and score a victory against a clearly quicker car.

Will Verstappen have the pace to stay with Hamilton? “I think we were quite decent in the long runs but they also of course looked strong,” he said after qualifying. Assuming he is quick enough – and Friday practice indicated he should be – Red Bull would no doubt love to return the favour from Bahrain with an early pit stop of their own.

This is where Perez could come into play – if he can make his way forward quickly enough, he could be in position to play a spoiler to Mercedes’ hopes of getting Hamilton out in clear air, while Red Bull can rely on him making way for Verstappen immediately if needed.

Mercedes will be expecting this, of course. “We’ll see in the first stint if we have the pace to break away but there are a few options for strategy on the table,” said their head of trackside operations Andrew Shovlin.

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The variables

The vast gravel trap at new turn 10 awaits the unwary
Dry weather is expected throughout the race. The risk of rain during the race has fallen from 40% to 20%. Conditions will be slightly cooler than they were on Saturday, which has tended to favour Mercedes so far this year.

Drivers largely expect the reconfigured turn 10 will be harder to overtake at than the old version because of the higher apex speed and shorter braking zone. But its effect on the race may be more nuanced than that.

It appears to offer a great potential for multiple lines through the bend, which may allow cars to follow more closely through it and overtake later in the lap. The awkward turn 14/15 chicane remains, however, a considerable impediment to passing.

On Friday Robert Kubica demonstrated a potentially more significant property of the new corner: Its ample gravel trap on the exit. Anyone who heads backwards into that – for example, due to contact with another car or because their Haas is a bit of a handful – is likely to trigger a Safety Car period of one kind or another, and provoke a dash to the pits.

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Quotes: Dieter Rencken

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Qualifying times in full

DriverCarQ1

Q2 (vs Q1)

Q3 (vs Q2)
1Lewis HamiltonMercedes1’18.2451’17.166 (-1.079)1’16.741 (-0.425)
2Max VerstappenRed Bull1’18.0901’16.922 (-1.168)1’16.777 (-0.145)
3Valtteri BottasMercedes1’18.0051’17.142 (-0.863)1’16.873 (-0.269)
4Charles LeclercFerrari1’18.0411’17.717 (-0.324)1’17.510 (-0.207)
5Esteban OconAlpine1’18.2811’17.743 (-0.538)1’17.580 (-0.163)
6Carlos Sainz JnrFerrari1’18.2051’17.656 (-0.549)1’17.620 (-0.036)
7Daniel RicciardoMcLaren1’18.2641’17.719 (-0.545)1’17.622 (-0.097)
8Sergio PerezRed Bull1’18.2031’17.669 (-0.534)1’17.701 (+0.032)
9Lando NorrisMcLaren1’17.8211’17.696 (-0.125)1’18.010 (+0.314)
10Fernando AlonsoAlpine1’18.2811’17.966 (-0.315)1’18.147 (+0.181)
11Lance StrollAston Martin1’18.2411’17.974 (-0.267)
12Pierre GaslyAlphaTauri1’18.1901’17.982 (-0.208)
13Sebastian VettelAston Martin1’18.2891’18.079 (-0.210)
14Antonio GiovinazziAlfa Romeo1’18.5491’18.356 (-0.193)
15George RussellWilliams1’18.4451’19.154 (+0.709)
16Yuki TsunodaAlphaTauri1’18.556
17Kimi RaikkonenAlfa Romeo1’18.917
18Mick SchumacherHaas1’19.117
19Nicholas LatifiWilliams1’19.219
20Nikita MazepinHaas1’19.807

Sector times

DriverSector 1Sector 2Sector 3
Lewis Hamilton21.788 (4)28.543 (1)26.400 (2)
Max Verstappen21.759 (3)28.723 (3)26.295 (1)
Valtteri Bottas21.757 (2)28.612 (2)26.429 (3)
Charles Leclerc21.880 (11)28.822 (4)26.580 (4)
Esteban Ocon21.856 (9)29.076 (10)26.632 (6)
Carlos Sainz Jnr21.910 (14)28.908 (5)26.628 (5)
Daniel Ricciardo21.724 (1)29.067 (9)26.782 (8)
Sergio Perez21.883 (13)28.976 (6)26.695 (7)
Lando Norris21.806 (6)29.021 (8)26.845 (10)
Fernando Alonso21.875 (10)29.124 (12)26.903 (11)
Lance Stroll21.881 (12)29.081 (11)26.968 (13)
Pierre Gasly22.037 (17)29.002 (7)26.827 (9)
Sebastian Vettel21.800 (5)29.269 (13)26.923 (12)
Antonio Giovinazzi21.843 (7)29.349 (14)27.164 (16)
George Russell21.913 (15)29.401 (16)27.131 (15)
Yuki Tsunoda22.094 (18)29.369 (15)27.093 (14)
Kimi Raikkonen21.853 (8)29.670 (18)27.394 (19)
Mick Schumacher21.984 (16)29.604 (17)27.311 (17)
Nicholas Latifi22.094 (18)29.759 (19)27.366 (18)
Nikita Mazepin22.232 (20)30.036 (20)27.539 (20)

Speed trap

PosDriverCarEngineSpeed (kph/mph)Gap
1Nikita MazepinHaasFerrari324.2 (201.4)
2Kimi RaikkonenAlfa RomeoFerrari324.2 (201.4)-0.0
3Mick SchumacherHaasFerrari324.0 (201.3)-0.2
4Antonio GiovinazziAlfa RomeoFerrari323.1 (200.8)-1.1
5Sebastian VettelAston MartinMercedes319.9 (198.8)-4.3
6Esteban OconAlpineRenault318.8 (198.1)-5.4
7Charles LeclercFerrariFerrari318.3 (197.8)-5.9
8Nicholas LatifiWilliamsMercedes318.1 (197.7)-6.1
9Carlos Sainz JnrFerrariFerrari317.9 (197.5)-6.3
10Lance StrollAston MartinMercedes317.9 (197.5)-6.3
11Daniel RicciardoMcLarenMercedes317.7 (197.4)-6.5
12Lewis HamiltonMercedesMercedes317.2 (197.1)-7.0
13Fernando AlonsoAlpineRenault317.0 (197.0)-7.2
14George RussellWilliamsMercedes316.6 (196.7)-7.6
15Lando NorrisMcLarenMercedes316.6 (196.7)-7.6
16Valtteri BottasMercedesMercedes315.3 (195.9)-8.9
17Sergio PerezRed BullHonda314.5 (195.4)-9.7
18Max VerstappenRed BullHonda313.0 (194.5)-11.2
19Pierre GaslyAlphaTauriHonda312.5 (194.2)-11.7
20Yuki TsunodaAlphaTauriHonda310.6 (193.0)-13.6

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Over to you

Which of the title contenders will come out on top on Sunday? Will they both keep it clean again? And who will come out on top in the midfield with Ferrari, Alpine and McLaren in the mix?

Share your views on the Spanish Grand Prix in the comments.

Quotes: Dieter Rencken

2021 Spanish Grand Prix

Browse all 2021 Spanish Grand Prix articles

Author information

Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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20 comments on “Can Verstappen use Hamilton’s Bahrain strategy to end his winning streak in Spain?”

    1. No, since he doesnt drive a Mercedes

  1. If Hamilton wins his 8th Championship he will be crowned the Fangio of his generation.

  2. About 700 meters actually. Still an understandable choice. Good for a change to only have the softest compound option within the top ten.

    I wouldn’t be surprised if most attempted a one-stop strategy because of overtaking difficulty.

    I reckon Ferrari this time in the midfield battle.

    1. I wouldn’t be surprised if most attempted a one-stop strategy because of overtaking difficulty.

      True. Last year the most successful strategy in the midfield was doing just 1 stop. The leaders usually have more options, but they might consider 1-stop strategies as well. It probably depends on how fast they pull away from the midfield. If they pull away quickly enough, they can go for 2 stops, otherwise they’ll have to do just 1.

      1. Yeah I think most will try and go for a 1 stop, unless there is a mid-race safety car or VSC, as there was in 2017, 2018 and 2019 (and would have been last year if Leclerc hadn’t managed to jump start his car from the battery).

  3. Its ample gravel trap on the exit. Anyone who heads backwards into that – for example, due to contact with another car or because their Haas is a bit of a handful

    Savage. Keith for autoCOTD

  4. No, because in Bahrain Hamilton had his wingman in p3 for tactical options.

    Max’ wingman is in p8 today fighting some Alpines.

    Max might be in an equal car but it’s 2 against 1 sadly.

    1. Never underestimate Bottas’ supreme starts at tracks where it’s difficult to overtake. See Imola this year, or Monza last year.

      1. (Sarcasm if you couldn’t tell)

  5. I feel like if Hamilton beats Max to the first corner, he’ll drive off into the sunset, and vice versa, bar the occasional surprises, which are rare in this circuit.

    1. Or just jump him with pit stops. Racefans trying to spice up things while we all know what is going to happen. Lewis 1, Bottas 2. Cruisin’ to victory… again and again and again and again and again. What a driver line-up they have!

      1. It’s not the line-up, it’s the car (I realise you’re sarcastic at 95%), hamilton at least is likely the joint best driver of the grid with an equal car, bottas is probably halfway down.

  6. Can Verstappen use Hamilton’s Bahrain strategy to end his winning streak in Spain?

    Of course Verstappen only has a chance of success if he copies Hamilton. And as pointed out, all that needs to happen is for Perez to come up and join the frontrunners in order for the undercut strategy to work, but that should be no problem on this track. Clearly an opportunity missed if Red Bull doesn’t win this one, especially now that they have the fastest car.

    1. You really seem to be unnecessarily sensitive and incredibly easily triggered by even the slightest reference to Hamilton now – it seems that you can’t even use the example of him using that strategy without you getting so offended that you start ranting.

  7. That picture of turn 10 is exactly how tarmac run offs should be designed. Ample room directly ahead of the straight, but narrower and narrower on corner exit.

    I mean why is Parabolica tarmac all around, when the critical “i’ve lost brakes” phase is directly ahead of the run from Ascari? halfway through they should eliminate all of the tarmac they laid…

    1. I can only really agree with you here. I really like what they’ve done with the gravel here. And with Parabolica, that could prevent some of the awful accidents we’ve seen there recently, such as Alex Peroni in F3 hitting the sausage kerb, getting launched several metres into the air before landing upside down on top of the barrier, or Leclerc’s incident last year, as gravel would have likely slowed him down significantly before hitting the barrier (either that or he may have been flipped sideways as the tires dig in, like Hartley at Silverstone in 2018)

  8. I did note with interest Bottas saying that Mercedes expects ‘some’ to consider a 1-stopper as a possibility. Without confirmation he’s one of them, but it might be a workaround for them against Perez if Verstappen goes for the undercut.

  9. I was giving a look at the sector times which I think are an interesting feature, and noticed the first sector is very close, ricciardo got the best time there and only had about 60 thousandths on the 4th fastest driver, hamilton, as in the slowest driver in the first sector who was in contention for winning, then mercedes held a general advantage in the 2nd sector, about 1,5 tenths on average on verstappen, and then red bull had about 1 tenth on the mercedes in the last sector, so was pretty close, at least if you take verstappen’s pace as normal for red bull, because it looks like bottas can perform decently in qualifying compared to hamilton, and perez doesn’t seem to be able to, and unless they go for 2 alphas (say russel) I don’t think perez’s choice looked silly on paper.

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