Up to about half distance, the Spanish Grand Prix of last weekend, at the Circuit de Catalunya in Montmelo, Spain, had threatened for quite some time to turn into full-blown protracted torture. This was because absolutely nothing was happening. The Mercedes pair were long gone up front, Hamilton having exerted his natural dominance over Rosberg; nobody was drastically out of position except for Seb Vettel, and he didn’t look motivated to charge through the field (why would you?); even the noise of the cars were more akin to a flatulent pooch than the thrilling whine of old. F1 2014 has flirted with boredom before, we thought – and now Catalunya has done its usual somnolent job.
But suddenly, it came alive. Hamilton started to sound irascible as his oversteer began to destabilise the car and his strategy looked vulnerable. Alonso, despite being behind Raikkonen, got called in to the pits first ahead of his team mate. Vettel decided that he was not going to tootle round looking at the sights, and made hay with the improved performance of his Red Bull. His team mate Daniel Ricciardo was making short work of Valtteri Bottas. Meanwhile, Romain Grosjean was hanging on like grim death to each position he descended in an heroic and ultimately successful attempt to remain in the points.
What made this exciting? Well, it wasn’t the racing itself, to be honest, for there is precious little of that to be had at this most neutered of tracks. It wasn’t the DRS or the ERS, or the lowered noses, or the combative brilliance of many (hat tip exception: S. Vettel). No, it was the frisson of conflict; the piquancy of battle; the delectability of intra-team strife.
At the front, Nico Rosberg reeled Lewis Hamilton in with a cold inevitability whose chill Hamilton would have distinctly noted even in his warm cockpit. It spoke of the latent speed that the German can conjure from that most nimble of machines, and of his arguably superior tyre management skills. Hamilton was eventually and commendably to hold him off, but boy, Rosberg isn’t done yet.
Behind them, Ricciardo finished another race ahead of Vettel. Granted, the German was phenomenal at driving through the field from 15th to fourth place at the end, but it goes down as another win for the Australian. Vettel will be stung.
Behind them, Alonso did a good job, as ever – but Kimi will feel that that is all he did. The Finn also will be silently (for that is how Kimi does) questioning why on earth Ferrari rejigged their normal modus operandi and allowed Alonso to come in first ahead of him. Alonso stopped three times, which turned out to be the faster strategy – and passed his team mate for good measure, to rub salt in the wound.
This, and other similar battles up and down the grid, are what will make this season spicy. Keep watching.