Livescore Sunday, April 21

The Spanish Grand Prix marked yet another race with no yellow flags, no red flags, and no retirements as Max Verstappen cruised to his fifth victory of the season.

The Dutchman put on a masterclass as he created a 24-second gap between himself and Lewis Hamilton in second, recording his 40th win at the track where his Red Bull journey started (which also happened to be his first F1 victory).

While Spain only strengthened Red Bull’s hold on the driver and constructor standings, there was more movement further down the grid. Mercedes’ double podium finish launched it past Aston Martin for second in the standings — 18 points clear to be exact. Alfa Romeo is tied with Haas after Zhou Guanyu’s two points, and McLaren dropped further behind Alpine after an opening lap to forget.

Here’s the seven things that the Spanish Grand Prix taught us.

Against a perfect Verstappen, Pérez’s damage limitation isn’t enough

The return to F1’s more traditional tracks, like Barcelona, was always expected to suit Verstappen, taking away a key edge that street-specialist Sergio Pérez has in their intra-team title battle.

But while Pérez could only recover to fourth following his Q2 exit on Saturday, Verstappen crushed the field. He never looked close to losing the race, capping it off with the fastest lap at the very end despite the threat of a five-second penalty should he exceed track limits one more time. In fact, he was so far clear, he could have got four penalties for that offense and still won the race. The only time Verstappen wasn’t P1 all weekend was in Q1, when Pierre Gasly impeded his last lap of the session. FP1, FP2, FP3, Q2, Q3 and the race all belonged to him.

It was a weekend that reminded us yet again why Verstappen will be so hard to beat in the fight for this year’s championship. He’s arguably got through the roughest part of the season in terms of tracks that aren’t to his liking — we only have two proper street tracks left in Singapore and Las Vegas — and is now onto a run of tracks he knows well and has enjoyed great success at in the past. For him to not even need to set a time at the end of Q3, thanks to his banker lap being good enough for pole, signaled his dominance. He’s now got 170 points to Pérez’s 117.

Pérez did well to recover to fourth, admitting he needed to stay patient in the opening stages and focus on damage limitation. The Mercedes cars were just too quick for him to get all the way back to P2. But the loss of a further 14 points to Verstappen only compounds the damage that was done in Monaco. We’ve got 14 races still to go this year, but it already looks like a long way back for Pérez in the title fight.

Mercedes made a legitimate step forward

It may only be one race, but Mercedes’ double podium appeared to mark a significant step forward for the team in its bid to get back in the hunt for wins and championships.

This was the first proper run for the new upgrade package, visibly changing the W14 in the hope of opening up more development pathways that could rekindle its fight with Red Bull. On Sunday, Mercedes clearly had the second-fastest car as Lewis Hamilton took a comfortable P2 while George Russell battled his way — in fairly easy fashion — from 12th to third.

Is Mercedes back? Spain told a similar story last year, when the team encountered no porpoising and thought it had solved the issues with the car, only to dig deeper and find more trouble. This time around, there’s a slightly different feeling. Expectations are still being tempered, yet both Hamilton and Russell were upbeat post-race about the direction the team can now go in with this car design. Hamilton went as far as saying it was the best the car had felt in the last 18 months.

Yes, this was a bad weekend for Ferrari and Aston Martin, no doubt. And the upcoming races might see a closer fight for second. But Mercedes undoubtedly made a big step forward that could put it on a platform for even bigger and better things down the line.

Charles Leclerc faced more questions than answers

Sunday’s race leaves more questions than answers for Ferrari and particularly for Charles Leclerc, who started the race from pitlane.

He failed to make it out of Q1 on Saturday and reported something was wrong with the rear of his car. Following an investigation and with limited time, Ferrari opted to change a slew of parts, including the car’s rear end.

Leclerc started on the more durable hard tire, but ended up pitting around the same time as teammate Carlos Sainz.

“I mean, we had the hard, which we expected to be a good tire, but for some reason, it was so bad,” Leclerc said. “Like, no grip at all, especially from the front. I mean, the limitations were completely different to qualifying. So (Sunday), we were more expecting this, but then for some reason (on) the second hard, I just do exactly the same thing, and it feels really good. So yeah, for some reason, we seem to never really get into the right window of the tire, and when we do, it’s a bit of a surprise to us. So there’s a lot of work we need to do.”

The Ferrari driver walked away from the Spanish Grand Prix sounding puzzled. “I don’t understand what we are doing wrong,” he said. Race pace and high-speed corners are two of Ferrari’s weaknesses, Sainz noted, and Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya is known for high tire degradation.

It’s a time will tell scenario, particularly given Ferrari brought upgrades to a track that arguably doesn’t suit the car as well as others.

Others’ expectations for McLaren ‘were too high’

McLaren was one of the biggest shocks coming out of Saturday’s qualifying as Lando Norris snagged a P3 start behind Verstappen and Sainz. It’s a sharp contrast to him being eliminated from Miami’s Q1 session, and one of the main questions heading into Sunday’s race was what McLaren could do with the opportunity.

We may never know the full answer. During the opening lap, Norris hit Hamilton from behind, leaving him with front wing damage and the need to pit early. It soon became evident that points would be out of reach for Norris, and he began trying to help teammate Oscar Piastri. Norris reported over the radio how he struggled with dirty air while a few seconds behind Nyck de Vries and suggested avoiding pitting Piastri into a similar position.

Despite the incident with Hamilton, Norris still felt it would have been difficult to get a top 10 finish in Spain. He said during one of his TV interviews that the race went as expected. “We knew we were going to be slow and difficult to get into the points. Our target was to try to be in the points today, whether that was ninth or 10th or something.” He added, “I guess everyone’s expectations were too high after (Saturday), which you try to manage as much as we could but at the same time, (Sunday) was the pace that we’ve had all year.”

Norris reckoned McLaren is probably the seventh or eighth quickest car, but it’s worth noting the Woking-based team sits sixth in the constructor standings — 23 points behind Alpine and nine ahead of Haas and Alfa Romeo.

Zhou proved his quality and lifted Alfa Romeo’s season

Zhou Guanyu has been quietly impressing through his sophomore F1 season, but Sunday in Spain saw him finally deliver the kind of result and performance he’s been working toward. Ninth place may not seem like a huge result, yet at a time when Alfa Romeo has been struggling to snare points like fellow lower-midfield rivals Haas and AlphaTauri, it was significant.

Alfa Romeo brought updates to Spain that it hoped would lift its form, only for Valtteri Bottas to drop out in Q1, although he felt there was something wrong with the car that also explained his lack of race pace. Starting thirteenth seemed decent for Zhou, but he felt Q3 might have been possible. Surprising, given the Alfa Romeo hasn’t been a top-10 car this year, yet it indicated the confidence he had in the car that took him up the order in Sunday’s race.

Zhou started well and got into the thick of the points fight thanks to an early pit stop, setting up a late-race battle against Yuki Tsunoda for P9. Tsunoda got his elbows out a little too sharply into Turn 1, forcing Zhou to take evasive action and landing a five-second time penalty that would drop the AlphaTauri driver to 12th.

Zhou said post-race he thought it was one of his best drives in F1, if not the best, and it’s easy to see why. But the significance of the result cannot be understated after failing to score since Australia.

“That feels like a massive relief for us,” said Zhou. “It was a tricky start to the season for the team. We finally got some points that we deserved.”

Tires drew question marks once again

Throughout the weekend, tire degradation was higher than expected, and Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya is already known for its high deg, given the abrasive track surface. Part of that may be due to the change in the final sector, where the high-speed right-handers put more of a load on the left-hand side, specifically the left front tire.

On race day, tire performance drew mixed reviews among the drivers. As noted earlier, Leclerc stopped around the same time as Sainz despite starting on the hard compound, which is supposed to be more durable. Valtteri Bottas noted when he swapped for new tires, it helped for just a few laps before he began sliding. Logan Sargeant noticed his stints varied, noting “the tire just went away from me quickly” during the last leg.

Verstappen was the only driver in the top 10 to start on mediums, while those behind him opted for soft tires. But when he pitted for the hard compound, he noticed something was up. “I actually expected them to be a little bit better, but somehow they just didn’t have a lot of grip and I was actually sliding around quite a bit. I mean, of course the pace was still okay, but I couldn’t really create much more of a gap, not how I would’ve liked.”

The Red Bull driver pitted one more time for soft tires, which he said were better — and he wasn’t the only one who felt that way. Sainz noted, “If you look at what Lewis did on the soft, the soft was a pretty resilient tire. For us at the moment, it’s not. But for the others, it looked like they could push on it much harder and go longer.”

Even the track layout change couldn’t spice up Spain

For all of the hubbub and excitement about the layout change to the final sector at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya, there’s little to suggest it breathed much life into a tepid race.

There were some decent battles at points, but it was hardly a race jam-packed with overtaking. High tire degradation led to plenty of offset strategies, meaning many overtakes were pretty simple affairs. Few fights sustained more than a couple of corners as the quicker car with fresher tires swept past. Carlos Sainz made a self-effacing joke that overtaking “didn’t feel that difficult out there — for the others on me, it was pretty easy.” Again, slower car plus sub-optimal strategy equals not much of a contest.

We explored the topic of Spain’s F1 future ahead of the race weekend, and where the Barcelona track fits into the picture, particularly amid interest from Madrid in a possible street race. The on-track product did little to argue for this track being a mainstay on the calendar moving forward, while off-track, fans still struggled with heavy traffic. There is still massive room for improvement in the overall product.

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(Lead image: Burak Akbulut/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

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