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Formula 1

Does Verstappen have a chance in Spain? Mark Hughes’ analysis

by Mark Hughes
4 min read

Formula 1 has arrived in Spain with hopes that the Mercedes dominance is going to be challenged.

That’s based upon what happened five days ago at Silverstone – and upon changes set to come on engine modes 16 days hence at Spa. But is that hope realistic?

A glance at the headline times would suggest not, with Mercedes almost one second clear of the field in both Friday practice sessions, Valtteri Bottas marginally ahead of Lewis Hamilton in the morning, the positions reversed in the afternoon.

“I don’t know yet how much further we could go on the tyres compared to how long Red Bull could go” :: Lewis Hamilton

Other familiar features are Max Verstappen’s Red Bull being best of the rest, clear of a squabbling midfield comprising Renault, Ferrari, Racing Point and McLaren.

But Silverstone-based hope for Barcelona is of course focused on tyre usage, not single lap pace.

If the Mercedes were blistering their rears at Silverstone, might that be the case around an even hotter track at Barcelona with a comparably high energy demand?

Offset against that is the fact that we are back to the C1/2/3 combination of compounds rather than the more adventurous C2/3/4 of last week.

“Well, we’re not blistering,” said Hamilton. “But we weren’t blistering at this stage at Silverstone, either.

“The long runs we look OK and very close on pace with Red Bull so I think it’s going to be a very close race.

“It’s so hot out there and that’s really tough on the tyres, so you’re just sliding around.

Lewis Hamilton Mercedes Spanish Grand Prix Barcelona 2020

“The low speed section in the last sector quite tricky. But generally it felt OK.

“I don’t know yet how much further we could go on the tyres compared to how long Red Bull could go – and that will determine whether it’s one or two stops.”

“We’re not going to be able to challenge them in qualifying. But in the race, who knows? I actually felt pretty good out there” :: Max Verstappen

Over 66 laps, the race would seem to demand an opening stint of mid-20s if it’s to be completed on a one-stop. Which in turn suggests starting on the mediums.

Over a lap the medium gives around 0.7s away to the soft here – so the part of the one-stop equation that demands you get through Q2 on that tyre looks perfectly feasible. The rest will be whether that medium has the necessary range. Pirelli’s chief Mario Isola believes that will be marginal.

Lewis Hamilton Mercedes Spanish Grand Prix 2020 Barcelona

Unlike last week, the soft looks a perfectly acceptable race tyre, which at least made it easier to spread the practice running between the compounds and get a better feel for the medium and hard.

Between Hamilton and Bottas, Mercedes did long runs on all three compounds. Their advantage over Verstappen was much slimmer on these than over a single lap, as shown below:



Bottas 1m22.842s (10 laps)
Hamilton 1m23.174s (10 laps)
Verstappen 1m23.323s (7 laps)
Stroll 1m23.727s (9 laps)
Vettel 1m23.736s (5 laps)
Leclerc 1m23.923s (7 laps)
Perez 1m23.926s (12 laps)
Ricciardo 1m23.943s (6 laps)
Albon 1m24.082s (6 laps)


Hamilton 1m22.828s (7 laps)
Verstappen 1m22.831s (6 laps)
Albon 1m23.480s (6 laps)
Vettel 1m24.230s (6 laps)

(Bottas also did a 10-lap run on the hards, averaging 1m23.508s)

Bear in mind the usual provisos. We don’t know how the Mercedes and Red Bull fuel loads compared and the averages do not reveal how much tyre was left.

Certainly, in terms of degradation the Mercedes did not look significantly worse than the Red Bull, with Bottas perhaps slightly worse in this respect than either Hamilton or Verstappen. But wear may be the limiting factor.

“How we can keep the tyres in good condition is going to decide everything,” said Bottas. “The tyres are wearing rather than blistering and we’ve learned a lot since Silverstone. If we were back in Silverstone again, I’m sure we’d do a better job.”

Mercedes tyre change

“We’re not going to be able to challenge them in qualifying,” said Verstappen of how he stacked up to the Mercedes. “But in the race, who knows? I actually felt pretty good out there.”

Just behind the leaders, there are encouraging signs for Renault that its improved underlying performance at Silverstone was not just track-specific to the low-drag demands of that circuit.

Daniel Ricciardo was very close to Verstappen on single-lap pace, significantly clear of Renault’s usual rivals Racing Point, Ferrari and McLaren. On the long runs he looked less competitive, but still in the mix.

Practice 2 Results

Pos Name Car Best Time Gap Leader
1 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1m16.883s
2 Valtteri Bottas Mercedes 1m17.17s +0.287s
3 Max Verstappen Red Bull-Honda 1m17.704s +0.821s
4 Daniel Ricciardo Renault 1m17.868s +0.985s
5 Romain Grosjean Haas-Ferrari 1m18.133s +1.25s
6 Charles Leclerc Ferrari 1m18.147s +1.264s
7 Carlos Sainz McLaren-Renault 1m18.214s +1.331s
8 Sergio Pérez Racing Point-Mercedes 1m18.293s +1.41s
9 Esteban Ocon Renault 1m18.303s +1.42s
10 Pierre Gasly AlphaTauri-Honda 1m18.312s +1.429s
11 Lance Stroll Racing Point-Mercedes 1m18.357s +1.474s
12 Sebastian Vettel Ferrari 1m18.404s +1.521s
13 Alex Albon Red Bull-Honda 1m18.491s +1.608s
14 Lando Norris McLaren-Renault 1m18.506s +1.623s
15 Daniil Kvyat AlphaTauri-Honda 1m18.642s +1.759s
16 Kevin Magnussen Haas-Ferrari 1m18.761s +1.878s
17 Kimi Räikkönen Alfa Romeo-Ferrari 1m18.9s +2.017s
18 Antonio Giovinazzi Alfa Romeo-Ferrari 1m18.964s +2.081s
19 Nicholas Latifi Williams-Mercedes 1m19.155s +2.272s
20 George Russell Williams-Mercedes 1m19.391s +2.508s
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