Lap 9/66: Verstappen hits the gravel! He was all on his own going into turn four – just like Sainz minutes before – and Russell and Perez scoot past him while he navigates a way back to the track like a disorientated holidaymaker.
Lap 8/66: Ocon has clambered up to seventh, both Alpines enjoying themselves so far with Alonso picking off Vettel for P13. Perez is hunting down Russell for P3
Lap 6/66: Carlos Sainz spins out, no one near him, and hits the gravel! A nightmare start for him as he plummets down the order into P11.
Lap 4/66: “Lewis knew what he was doing. He rammed me,” rasps Magnussen over the radio. The stewards’ verdict: racing incident. Further back, Alonso marches past Stroll for P14.
Lap 3/66: Hamilton and Magnussen touched wheels when the Dane tried to nip around the outside of his rival but didn’t do enough – the stewards will take a look but it amounts to a terrible start for Hamilton, though a better one for his teammate: Russell is up to third, past Perez. Sainz’s poor start was down to him going into anti-stall almost immediately. Leclerc is sitting pretty up top, 1.3secs clear.
Lap 2/66: Perez and Russel both crept past Sainz in a frantic first lap, leaving the Spaniard back in fifth. Hamilton pits with a puncture and switches to softs. So much for the mediums.
Lap 1/66: And we’re off! It’s a long old way to turn one – Leclerc cuts off Verstappen en route and when he gets there holds his lead around the corner. Hamilton and Magnussen collide on turn five and Magnussen veers into the gravel. Hamilton survives but has his car been damaged?
The cars head off on the formation lap, almost every driver starting on the soft compound tyre as you’d expect. Every driver bar one: Hamilton is on mediums.
The starting grid:
1) Charles Leclerc, Ferrari
2) Max Verstappen, Red Bull
3) Carlos Sainz, Ferrari
4) George Russell, Mercedes
5) Sergio Perez, Red Bull
6) Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes
7) Valtteri Bottas, Alfa Romeo
8) Kevin Magnussen, Haas
9) Daniel Ricciardo, McLaren
10) Mick Schumacher, Haas
11) Lando Norris, McLaren
12) Esteban Ocon, Alpine
13) Yuki Tsunoda, AlphaTauri
14) Pierre Gasly, AlphaTauri
15) Guanyu Zhou, AlphaRomeo
16) Sebastian Vettel, Aston Martin
17) Lance Stroll, Aston Martin
18) Alexander Albon, Williams
19) Nicholas Latifi, Williams
20) Fernando Alonso, Alpine
Toto Wolff is not underestimating the effects of the heat: “I think whoever is going to melt the tyres the least is going to win the race – every plan we have will go in the bin anyway because whether it is a two-stop, three-stop or four-stop, we’re going to find out.” As if to prove his point, Sergio Perez is given an impromptu shower-by-hosepipe trackside.
… and the week’s semi-hilarious drama:
Not long now. Here’s some pre-race reading, on yesterday’s qualifying…
Newcastle United legend Patrick Kluivert is among the celebs watching on today. “I love Lewis, he stands for good things,” he says having been collared by Sky. He’s tipping City for the league, and Sergio Aguero is also among today’s spectators. Coincidence? Surely not.
Here’s Fernando Alonso, who has triumphed on this circuit – albeit nine years ago: “I have nothing to lose, and it can only get better starting last so we will be aggressive and see the outcome. Hopefully Carlos can give something extra starting from the front, and from my side, I’ll try and give a good show today.”
Sainz says tyre management will be key and he’s not wrong: the track is a blazing 48 degrees today and we’re expecting a two-stop race. Here’s what’s on offer:
What about the home drivers? Carlos Sainz starts in a great spot, third in the grid, and he has never failed to finish in the points here. “It’s a decent position,” he says. “I think the key will be the start, the tyre management.”
As for Fernando Alonso, he starts from the very back after an engine penalty and 17th-placed qualifying finish. It hardly augurs well, nor does the fact his five races this season have yielded two retirements and just one points finish: he may well be content with the latter here.
It’s a scorcher in Catalonia – well over 30 degrees – so all eyes will be on the drivers’ tyre strategy this afternoon. All the top three teams have equipped both their drivers with two new sets of mediums and one hard.
Meanwhile, here’s what Verstappen had to say about his loss of power in yesterday’s last qualifying lap: “It’s always difficult to tell but I couldn’t do my final run, either the DRS didn’t open or I just lost power. It’s a bit of a shame but I think overall, to be on the front row for us here, looking at the whole weekend so far, I think it was a good achievement.”
After the pomp and showbiz of Miami, it’s game-face time at the Circuit de Catalunya, where Max Verstappen is looking to hunt down Charles Leclerc in the standings and on the asphalt with a third successive GP win. The Dutchman, coolly triumphant in Miami and Emilia-Romagna, looks to have found his feet following a disastrous start to the season but his task today is a formidable one.
His Monégasque rival, 19 points ahead in the standings, blitzed round the circuit with an almighty lap yesterday to beat Verstappen to pole. The way he spun out on his first run – and the fact he has never done better than fourth at this circuit – will give his competitors cause for hope, though the fact Verstappen’s car lost power in the final lap will bring unwelcome flashbacks of the early-season breakdowns that left him playing catch-up.
Both the drivers’ and constructors’ championships are beginning to take the shape of a two-horse race, with Ferrari and Red Bull accelerating away from the chasing pack in the latter. Desperate to quash any league-of-their-own vibes are the Mercedes team, who have floundered thus far this season, finding no answer to the problem of porpoising caused by the new regulatory constraints.
Yesterday, though, offered hints that they may be readying themselves to show up to the party, George Russell and Lewis Hamilton putting in their best combined qualifying of the season. “We’ve definitely moved forward, which is great,” ventured Hamilton after qualifying two places behind his teammate in sixth.
The week’s other fun has come thanks to Aston Martin, whose upgraded car bears a design strikingly similar to Red Bull. The fact that two senior aerodynamicists left Red Bull for Aston Martin last year led Christian Horner to bemoan the suspicious emergence of “a very close-looking clone”, which has since been dubbed the “green Red Bull” and Horner’s pit-wall team spent Friday’s practice pointedly sipping on green cans of Red Bull in gloriously petty protest. Watch this space.