Max Verstappen slips into title lead as Mercedes show signs of revival at Spanish GP

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·33 min read
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Race winner Max Verstappen of the Netherlands and Oracle Red Bull Racing celebrates in parc ferme during the F1 Grand Prix of Spain at Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya on May 22, 2022 in Barcelona, Spain - Mark Thompson/Getty Images
Race winner Max Verstappen of the Netherlands and Oracle Red Bull Racing celebrates in parc ferme during the F1 Grand Prix of Spain at Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya on May 22, 2022 in Barcelona, Spain - Mark Thompson/Getty Images

One month is a long time in Formula 1 but even by the sport’s turbo-charged standards this has been some turnaround.

After arguably the worst performance of his career at Imola last month, a race in which he was lapped by Red Bull rival Max Verstappen, Lewis Hamilton and his Mercedes team publicly ruled themselves out of championship contention for this season. After an extraordinary Spanish Grand Prix on Sunday, a race in which Hamilton recovered from a first-lap puncture to finish fifth thanks to what team principal Toto Wolff described as “the fastest car in the race”, the Brackley team had ruled themselves right back in. What a day. And what a season we may now in prospect.

Verstappen actually won the race comfortably in the end, leading home a Red Bull one-two and replacing Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc at the top of the drivers’ standings after he was forced to retire with a power failure. But the big talking point was undoubtedly the continued resurgence of Mercedes, whose encouraging pace in practice and qualifying on Friday and Saturday translated into race pace.

George Russell finished third, battling valiantly with the Red Bulls for half the grand prix before their superior pace told, and keeping up his record of being the only driver to finish in the top five at every race this season. That consistency means the 24 year-old finds himself just 36pts behind Verstappen in the championship. Hamilton, meanwhile, drove an absolutely stonking race following a first-lap collision with Haas’s Kevin Magnussen. At 64pts, his deficit is a lot bigger than Russell’s. But Mercedes are starting to believe now, that is the point. Their porpoising problems look to be behind them and they can now focus on unlocking the car’s potential.

Red Bull's Dutch driver Max Verstappen, Red Bull's Mexican driver Sergio Perez and Mercedes' British driver George Russell compete during the Spanish Formula One Grand Prix at the Circuit de Catalunya on May 21, 2022 in Montmelo, on the outskirts of Barcelona. - GABRIEL BOUYS/AFP via Getty Images
Red Bull's Dutch driver Max Verstappen, Red Bull's Mexican driver Sergio Perez and Mercedes' British driver George Russell compete during the Spanish Formula One Grand Prix at the Circuit de Catalunya on May 21, 2022 in Montmelo, on the outskirts of Barcelona. - GABRIEL BOUYS/AFP via Getty Images

"Can we fight for a world championship? We bet we can,” Wolff said. “We have reasons to believe we can get there. If you look at the standings it is very hard to [imagine] but motor racing is a different ball game.

“We've seen today that Ferrari didn't score a lot of points when they should have. We will absolutely push flat out to bring us back into the game."

Hamilton’s recovery was all the more remarkable for the fact that he told his team to retire him after five laps. "I would save this engine guys if I were you,” said the seven-time world champion forlornly. “I am sorry."

After his romp through the field, even Hamilton looked a bit sheepish about that bit of advice. “I wasn’t being defeatist,” he insisted. “I was 30 seconds behind [the rest of the field] and I thought if I was going to use a whole engine to drive around out of the top 15, I thought we might as well save the engine and live to fight another day. I’m glad we didn’t. It just shows that you never stop, never give up.”

After Miami’s celeb-fest, this was an altogether less star-studded affair. But there were still a smattering of Beautiful People on the grid. And with the ambient temperature hovering around 36C at the start of the race, and track temperatures up around 50C, their plastic surgery was in serious danger of melting. It was ferociously hot, with tyre degradation the main topic of conversation pre-race.

Race winner Max Verstappen of the Netherlands driving the (1) Oracle Red Bull Racing RB18 and Second placed Sergio Perez of Mexico driving the (11) Oracle Red Bull Racing RB18 - Clive Mason/Getty Images
Race winner Max Verstappen of the Netherlands driving the (1) Oracle Red Bull Racing RB18 and Second placed Sergio Perez of Mexico driving the (11) Oracle Red Bull Racing RB18 - Clive Mason/Getty Images

The on-track action was similarly hot, at least in the first half of the race. Russell, starting fourth, was immediately past Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz, who got away sluggishly from third. And after surviving a minor scare when he was clipped by the Red Bull of Sergio Perez, who had in turn been clipped by Sainz, the Briton was on his way.

Behind him, Hamilton suffered a disaster on his opening lap, hit by the Haas of Kevin Magnussen as the Dane tried to pass him around the outside of Turn 4.

The collision deservedly sent Magnussen flying into the gravel trap, but Hamilton was left with a puncture and a long, lonely drive back to the pits. His race looked to be over, but he was thankful the team convinced him to stay out there. Hamilton might even have finished fourth had his Mercedes not limped home with a water leak on the power unit, forcing Hamilton to give back the position to Sainz having just taken it with a supreme move around the outside of Turn 1.

Ahead of Hamilton, the race hinged on Leclerc’s retirement. He had completed his first stop without issue and was in relative cruise control when his power unit failed on lap 27.

 Charles Leclerc of Monaco driving the (16) Ferrari F1-75 retires from the race during the F1 Grand Prix of Spain at Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya on May 22, 2022  - Dan Istitene/Formula 1 via Getty Images
Charles Leclerc of Monaco driving the (16) Ferrari F1-75 retires from the race during the F1 Grand Prix of Spain at Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya on May 22, 2022 - Dan Istitene/Formula 1 via Getty Images

It triggered an intriguing battle between Russell and the Red Bulls, which Verstappen and Perez eventually won thanks to their superior pace, although not before Verstappen got himself very hot and bothered about problems with his DRS flap, which would not open. And not before a bit of intra-team intrigue, with Perez unhappy about having to give way to Verstappen, who was on a different strategy. "That's very unfair, but OK," replied the Mexican when asked to do so by his pitwall. “Thank you, mate,” Verstappen said on his radio as he passed.

In the end Verstappen secured his fourth victory in six races this year, giving him the championship lead for the first time in 2022. The Dutch driver heads to Monaco next weekend with a six-point advantage over Leclerc. Mercedes, though, will travel with renewed confidence. "In Lewis we had probably the fastest race car today,” Wolff reflected. “It was so important for his morale and our morale. That looked like a championship winning race car he was driving. It reminded me of last year and the years before, the race car and the driver.”

Wolff cautioned that Monaco might not be the track to challenge for a first win this season, saying the team’s record there was not great and the car had not performed brilliantly through slow-speed corners in Barcelona. And he added that Mercedes had only “halved” the one-lap deficit to Red Bull and Ferrari. But with 16 races remaining, Mercedes still have plenty of time to get back in this.

Spanish Grand Prix, as it happened:

03:25 PM

Plenty of frustrating moments for Verstappen before he took the win

03:18 PM

Some encouragement from Wolff for Hamilton

You were 50 seconds behind Verstappen at the start and 40 behind him at the end, was the gist.

Lewis we were sorry with the temperatures at the end. That was an amazing race. You were the quickest car out there. Amazing. Lewis you were 50 seconds at the start, you're 40 behind him now.

Hamilton replies: "Great work guys, really happy with that result. These improvements really worked this weekend. let's keep pushing. "

03:05 PM

Frustrating afternoon for Haas, too

Both cars in Q3 but no points. Schumacher 14th after falling back from 10th and Magnussen never really recovered from that incident with Hamilton on the opening lap.

03:04 PM

28 points now the gap between Russell and Hamilton

Red Bull were quicker than them today, but they were much closer in the mix with Ferrari. Errors and crashes from a few drivers makes it hard to get a full read on how it would have played out, though. Hamilton crashing with Magnussen cost him, Verstappen and Sainz spinning and then Leclerc retiring when extremely comfortable in the lead.

02:57 PM

Apologies, those constructor and driver standings are not showing correctly

Not our fault. Hopefully they will update soon. Either way, Max Verstappen now leads the championship by six points from Charles Leclerc.

02:55 PM

Updated constructor standings after six rounds

Not a good afternoon for Ferrari, as I have said many times before. Could have been worse  were it not for Hamilton's issue.

02:54 PM

Excellent fightback from Hamilton

Reckon he will be very encouraged by the pace of his car once he got into some clean air.

Russell just drove a generally excellent race, holding Verstappen behind for several laps. Verstappen didn't have DRS for most of it, but still.

02:51 PM

Updated driver standings: Top 10

We have a new leader...

02:50 PM

Perez reacts to second

I've been feeling a lot of support this weekend, so I am extremely happy to be on the podium for the first time at the Spanish GP. I think it was close [to winning], but in the end it was a good team result.

02:48 PM

Verstappen reacts to his fourth win of the year

At first I went off, I suddenly had a lot of tail wind. I was in the train and then I tried to pass but my DRS was not always working. We managed to do a good strategy to get ahead... and eventually win the race.

He has still won every race he has finished this season.

02:47 PM

Russell reacts to an excellent podium

Are Mercedes back?

I gave it everything I could to hold Max off. The guys have worked so hard, so this is for everyone back in Brackley and Brixworth. When I had the Red Bulls in the mirrors... it was an enjoyable good couple of laps. Pleased to be able to bring it home in P3. Well done to Max, he did a great job.

It was a survival race when we knew we had the gap [in the last few laps].

02:45 PM

Sergio Perez gets the fastest lap point

A decent weekend for him, though he seemed annoyed at having to let Verstappen through... twice. There you go, though. Sort of what he's signed up for. But did they need to do it?

02:43 PM

SPANISH GP - CLASSIFICATION, TOP 10

  1. VER

  2. PER

  3. RUS

  4. SAI

  5. HAM

  6. BOT

  7. OCO

  8. NOR

  9. ALO

  10. TSU

02:42 PM

"Wow, sometimes you'e got to do it the hard way," says Verstappen's race engineer

"Not an easy start to the race," he is said. Christian Horner apologises for the DRS issue.

02:41 PM

MAX VERSTAPPEN WINS THE 2022 SPANIISH GRAND PRIX!

What a turbulent weekend! But he managed it in the end.

Perez second, it should be third for Russell and fourth for Sainz.

02:40 PM

FINAL LAP

Verstappen is cruising to another win here. Perez second, 13.8s behind. He will take the championship lead from harles Leclerc. Hamilton lost four seconds in the last lap. He should be okay from Bottas.

02:39 PM

Lap 65 of 66 - Two laps to go

Sainz gets Hamilton with ease at turn one. Not sure what their issue is...

Can both cars get to the end?

02:38 PM

Lap 64 of 66 - Sainz is back up on Hamilton

It's a DNF risk for Lewis Hamilton, he's told to lift and coast. Russell is told the same as well.  Russell might be okay but Hamilton is a sitting duck for Sainz.

02:37 PM

Lap 63 of 66 - Verstappen cruising home now

It has hardly been a smooth weekend, but that trip into the gravel and the DRS issues seem like a long way away now. Not sure what has happened to Daniel Ricciardo - another poor afternoon. Magnussen has never recovered from that opening lap clash with Hamilton. He's in 17th after four stops and is two laps down.

02:35 PM

Lap 62 of 66 - This is a disastrous day for Ferrari

Well, in championship terms.  Plenty to play for still and a long way to go but it's looking like another missed opportunity. It would have been an easy win for Leclerc were it not for his power unit issue.

02:33 PM

Lap 61 of 66 - Perez currently holds the fastest lap point

Wonder if Verstappen will attempt a late steal of that? Surely.

02:32 PM

Lap 60 of 66 - Hamilton within DRS range of Sainz

Can he get through? He goes around the outside and is later on the brakes and makes the move stick at turn one!

That is really encouraging for Mercedes. Overtaking a Ferrari on a similar strategy. Red Bull 1-2, Mercedes 3-4. Ferrari fifth and DNF. Another poor race for the team who have showed so much promise but a variety of errors, mistakes and mechanical issues are costing them.

02:30 PM

Lap 59 of 66 - Top 10 and gaps

  1. VER

  2. PER+20.9

  3. RUS +27.4

  4. SAI +39.5

  5. HAM +39.9

  6. BOT +43.6

  7. OCO +72.7

  8. NOR +75.8

  9. ALO +1L

  10. TSU +1L

02:29 PM

Lap 58 of 66 - Can Hamilton get fourth here?

Sainz moves out in turn one to get Bottas and then Hamilton swings through the outside at the start of turn three. A couple of nice moves there. Hamilton's probably marginally the nicer . Bottas seemed like a sitting duck a bit there.

Hamilton vs Sainz now. Could be fun.

02:27 PM

Lap 57 of 66 - Verstappen leads Perez by 22.4s

Sainz closing up on Bottas, with Hamilton also within a second of the Ferrari. This could be fun.

02:27 PM

Lap 56 of 66 - Alonso gets Schumacher for ninth

Hamilton with decent pace, can he get Sainz and Bottas? They aren't that far up the road. This is encouraging for Mercedes. Very encouraging.

02:25 PM

Lap 55 of 66 - Hamilton wanted to retire the car earlier on...

Not sure sixth is exactly going to leave him jumping for joy but it's a decent recovery. Perez has just taken the fastest lap bonus point for now.

02:24 PM

Lap 54 of 66 - Top 10

  1. VER

  2. PER

  3. RUS

  4. BOT

  5. SAI

  6. HAM

  7. OCO

  8. NOR

  9. MSC

  10. ALO

02:23 PM

Lap 53 of 66 - Bottas loses out to Russell

That happened quickly. Third and sixth for Mercedes now. They will close the gap up on Ferrari, anyway.

02:19 PM

Lap 52 of 66 - In comes George Russell

He will lose third to Bottas... will Bottas need to stop again? Russell is out but 4.7s behind him, so should have the lap time to get the man he replaced at Mercedes.

02:18 PM

Lap 51 of 66 - Hamilton closing up on Ocon

He's within DRS range, gets the assistance and takes the inside line into turn one, getting the move done before the braking zone.

02:16 PM

Lap 50 of 66 - Top 15

  1. VER

  2. PER

  3. RUS

  4. BOT

  5. SAI

  6. OCO

  7. HAM

  8. NOR

  9. ALO

  10. TSU

  11. MSC

  12. VET

  13. RIC

  14. GAS

  15. LAT

02:15 PM

Lap 49 of 66 - Perez lets Verstappen through at turn four

Cleanly done. Think he would have got him anyway. Or maybe not. He didn't have DRS on the pit straight.

Hamilton pits for the third time and comes out in seventh, behind Ocon and ahead of Norris, but only just...

02:14 PM

Lap 48 of 66 - Russell having a bit of a lonely race here now

Nine seconds behind Verstappen and 15 ahead of Bottas.

Looks like Verstappen is going to be taking the championship lead here... and it all looked so good for Ferrari.

02:13 PM

Lap 47 of 66 - Verstappen with superb pace now on fresh medium tyres

He has just set the fastest lap. Hamilton up into fifth. He's had three track limits warnings so far.

Perez is told to move over for his team-mate on the radio, if he's quicker.

"That's very unfair, but okay," he says. The gap between them is under two seconds.

02:11 PM

Lap 46 of 66 - Top 10 and gaps

It has all rather shaken out a bit now. Sainz still closing in on Bottas. Hamilton in the mix.

  1. PER

  2. VER +4.7

  3. RUS +8.5

  4. BOT +21.6

  5. SAI +22.2

  6. HAM +29.8

  7. OCO +427

  8. NOR +48.8

  9. ALO +56.2

  10. TSU +59.8

02:10 PM

Lap 45 of 66 - Verstappen does get out ahead of Russell!

Not a great deal in it but it works out for him in the end. Perez is just five seconds up the road. That worked out nicely for Red Bull. What can go wrong here?!

02:08 PM

Lap 44 of 66 - In comes Verstappen

So he will have to pass Perez for the lead (easy enough), but will he get out ahead of Russell now?

02:08 PM

Lap 43 of 66 - Almost identical lap times from the top three

I wonder if Red Bull now just want Verstappen to nurse his tyres until the end. Perez has the pace ahead of Russell and is on the same strategy. Could he be a blocker? But will the tyres be able to last at this pace?

02:05 PM

Lap 42 of 66 - A bit better from Russell

Still losing half a second to Perez, though was a tenth quicker than leader Verstappen, which is the crucial thing. Or it could be.

02:04 PM

Lap 41 of 66 - Now it's time to analyse the lap times between the top three

Verstappen might stop again, or he might not. Comparable times between the top two Red Bulls, but a slow lap from Russell who was a second off last time around.

02:03 PM

Lap 40 of 66 - Verstappen leads Perez and Russell

Bottas having another fine race but he has Carlos Sainz to contend with. I think, quick maths here, that Ferrari are almost certain to surrender their championship lead today. Well, quite possibly both of them: drivers and constructors.

02:01 PM

Lap 39 of 66 - Top 10 and gaps

Ferrari have confirmed that the problem with Leclerc was power-unit related.

  1. VER

  2. PER +17.1

  3. RUS +21.5

  4. BOT +32.2

  5. SAI +33.7

  6. HAM +43.6

  7. OCO +55.2

  8. NOR +61.1

  9. VET +62.4

  10. ALO +65.7

02:00 PM

Lap 38 of 66 - Hamilton update...

He's in sixth after two stops. Decent, I think, from where he was.

02:00 PM

Lap 37 of 66 - Verstappen now needs to build a lead

He's nine laps into his stint on these soft tyres. Verstappen on a different strategy to those in second and third.

01:58 PM

Lap 36 of 66 - Perez leads Russell by 5.8s

He was about six-tenths quicker the last time around.

In comes Russell for his second stop, going onto the medium tyres. Now it's a Red Bull 1-2. Verstappen has stopped twice and may need to stop again.

I think Perez will let him through when he closes up. He was 1.2s quicker than his team-mate the last time around.

Perez pits, which sorts that one out... no one-stop for him.

01:56 PM

Lap 35 of 66 - A fair mix of strategies here

How will it all pan out? Who knows? Think one of the Red Bulls is favourite. Can't see that they would let Perez win if it was 1-2 with a few laps to go. It might not even come to that.

Verstappen within 1.6s of Russell now. Again.

01:54 PM

Lap 34 of 66 - Top 12

  1. PER

  2. RUS

  3. VER

  4. BOT

  5. OCO

  6. SAI

  7. HAM

  8. VER

  9. NOR

  10. ALO

  11. TSU

  12. MSC

01:52 PM

Lap 33 of 66 - How are we only at the half-way point?

Not sure how is favourite for this race? Perez? Hmmm. Could see divergent strategies here and who knows about reliability?

01:51 PM

Lap 32 of 66 - Perez leads Russell by 2.2s

Sainz makes his second pit stop. Verstappen has made up a fair amount of time on Russell since his stop. About three seconds quicker the last time around.

01:49 PM

Lap 31 of 66 - Perez takes the lead!

His DRS is fine and he goes to the outside before the braking zone and takes the lead! Great move from a long way back. Verstappen now the fastest man on track, though.

Perez apparently on a one-stopper.

Verstappen now battling Bottas for  third and he gets the spot! Not without a little difficulty.

01:48 PM

Lap 30 of 66 - Russell leads Perez now by 0.8s

Perez has not had the same DRS issues, that we know about...

01:47 PM

Lap 29 of 66 - Verstappen moves onto the soft tyres

Does that lock him into a three-stop strategy? Perhaps, but I think track position is the crucial bit, because they probably have the pace to do it. But then if they have to stop again they will lose track position...

Interesting...

01:45 PM

Lap 28 of 66 - LECLERC IS OUT

Here's the top 10.

  1. RUS

  2. VER

  3. PER

  4. BOT

  5. SAI

  6. OCO

  7. NOR

  8. TSU

  9. ALO

  10. MSC

In comes Verstappen for the undercut?

01:44 PM

Lap 27 of 66 - Leclerc is slowing!

There's a problem here... oh no! This has livened this race up a little. No, a lit! A space is being cleared in the pit lane and Russell will assume the race lead... but he has Verstappen to contend with. 

01:42 PM

Lap 26 of 66 - Leclerc extending his lead over Russell, now 12s

Verstappen gets DRS on the back straight again but it's not really a clear passing point. Perez has now caught up with Verstappen and wants to be let by as he has fresher tyres.

Verstappen gets DRS this time on the pit straight.

01:41 PM

Lap 25 of 66 - Leclerc leads Russell by 9.9s

Verstappen does not get full DRS this time, either. It opened and then shut. Russell keps the place. The incident on the previous lap has been noted. Can't see that will be a penalty but we will see.

"Not sure he left you a car's width," Verstappen is told on the radio.

01:39 PM

Lap 24 of 66 - Verstappen makes his move!

But Russell drives the widest Mercedes in the world to hold him behind! Superb defensive driving. Verstappen tried the inside and took the place but Russell didn't give up. Russell squeezed him to the edge of the track - and off it - in turn three.

Brilliant!

01:37 PM

Lap 23 of 66 - Verstappen told to press the DRS button after the final kerb

He gets it on the back straight but not on the pit straight. Is told to press it once. Seems he opened it and then closed it on the pit straight... only needs to press it times. Sounds like he's button mashing...

01:35 PM

Lap 22 of 66 - Leclerc finally pits

He comes out about five seconds ahead of Russell. Hamilton not really making much progress, he's 1.7s behind Zhou and not making an impression.

01:34 PM

Lap 21 of 66 - Full order

  1. LEC

  2. RUS

  3. VER

  4. PER

  5. BOT

  6. OCO

  7. SAI

  8. VET

  9. NOR

  10. TSU

  11. ALO

  12. MSC

  13. RIC

  14. GAS

  15. ZHO

  16. HAM

  17. STR

  18. ALB

  19. LAT

  20. MAG

01:33 PM

Lap 20 of 66 - Verstappen close to Russell but again does not have DRS

This was a problem for a few of the teams yesterday. Perez has just done the fastest lap.

Verstappen told to look out for Russell because he was moving in the braking zone.

01:31 PM

Lap 19 of 66 - Russell driving well here

Verstappen has not reliably got DRS and it's annoying him immensely. Really, if he had it he would be ahead of Russell by now. Leclerc and Vettel the only drivers not to stop. Perez has now jumped into the pits. hamilton now in 16th.

Verstappen leads Russell by 29 seconds, or a pit stop and then some.

Still Verstappen harries Russell. Perez on a one-stopper apparently.

01:28 PM

Lap 18 of 66 - Verstappen does get DRS this time

Russell takes the inside line at turn one and Verstappen jinks out but he's not really close enough - or brave enough - to try a move. Wisely.

01:27 PM

Lap 17 of 66 - Again Verstappen is close

But he doesn't get DRs this time, even though he was within range. He's not very happy about that. Understandably. Meanwhile, Leclerc is running away with the race.

01:25 PM

Lap 16 of 66 - Verstappen did have DRS last time

But it seems intermittent.

01:24 PM

Lap 15 of 66 - Russell and Verstappen both on the medium tyres

Sainz has overtaken Norris for ninth. Bottas pits from third, Leclerc leads Perez by 14.6 seconds. Almost everyone has stopped now but Leclerc, Perez and the two Aston Martins... and as I say that Stroll comes in.

Hamilton in 17th. 

01:23 PM

Lap 14 of 66 - In comes Verstappen to change for fresh tyres

He follows Russell in. Meanwhile, watch the lap one incident between Magnussen and Hamilton.

Strange that Verstappen followed Russell in, when he hasn't got DRS and was struggling to get past.

01:22 PM

Lap 13 of 66 - Verstappen having problems with DRS again

It didn't open for him, but was he in DRS range of Russell? He's roughly there now.

01:20 PM

Lap 12 of 66 - Russell has heat warnings in his car

Bit of a problem as he's not exactly running in dirty air.

01:19 PM

Lap 11 of 66 - Top 10 updated

  1. LEC

  2. RUS

  3. VER

  4. PER

  5. BOT

  6. OCO

  7. NOR

  8. MSC

  9. TSU

  10. TIC

10 seconds the gap between Leclerc and Russell. Verstappen now ahead of Perez, the Mexican letting him through.

01:17 PM

Lap 10 of 66 - Perez again all over the back of Russell

Verstappen told it was a large gust on the entry to turn four there... did that catch him out?

01:16 PM

Lap 9 of 66 - Verstappen runs wide!

He does similar to Sainz! At turn four and into the gravel. He's back down to fourth now... Russell into second.

01:14 PM

Lap 8 of 66 - Top 10 and gaps

  1. LEC

  2. VER +2.0

  3. RUS +7.2

  4. PER +7.9

  5. BOT +14.9

  6. OCO +18.2

  7. MSC +20.3

  8. RIC +22.2

  9. NOR +22.9

  10. TSU +24.2

01:14 PM

Lap 7 of 66 - Leclerc leads Verstappen by 1.8s

But Sainz is in the gravel! Not sure what happened there but he has dropped down to 11th? He just lost the rear at turn four... a very odd one. And he nearly hit Tsunoda as he rejoined the track.

Perez is also now all over the back of Russell.

01:11 PM

Lap 6 of 66 - "I would save this engine if I were you," Hamilton says

He's told that they can possibly get eighth. Hmmm. Maybe, but that is a little defeatist from Hamilton. Probably just wants to go home right now.

01:10 PM

Lap 5 of 66 - Hamilton now a whopping 55 seconds behind Leclerc

Leclerc is 1.1s ahead of Verstappen behind. Russell not quite keeping up with their pace and he has Perez within DRS range behind him. Bottas has overtaken Schumacher for sixth.

01:09 PM

Lap 4 of 66 - Hamilton hit Magnussen at turn four

Or one hit another. Hamilton was on the inside and Magnussen was on the outside, the result being that Magnussen went off the circuit and Hamilton got a puncture.

01:07 PM

Lap 3 of 66 - Top 10

  1. LEC

  2. VER

  3. RUS

  4. PER

  5. SAI

  6. MSC

  7. BOT

  8. RIC

  9. OCO

  10. NOR

01:06 PM

Lap 2 of 66 - Leclerc leads Verstappen by one second

Another nightmare start for Hamilton, who started on the medium tyres. He's back out and on the soft tyres but with only Magnussen behind him. Sums up his season.

01:05 PM

THE SPANISH GRAND PRIX IS GO!

It's a fine start for Leclerc who moves across to the inside line and keeps the lead but Verstappen is right on his tail. Magnussen has gone off, Sainz is dropping back and back to fifth. Looks like Hamilton has damage and a possible puncture and he's down in 19th!

Russell into third now. Not sure what happened to Hamilton. Did he hit Magnussen? Or Sainz? Or Perez?

01:02 PM

The cars are lining up for the start

Leclerc on pole, Verstappen in second. Them Sainz, Russell and Perez.

01:01 PM

Here we go

The formation lap is go! Everyone away cleanly as is so usually the case.

Turns out I was dead wrong about the tyres. Everyone on the softs but Hamilton, who is on the mediums.

12:58 PM

A home podium for Carlos Sainz?

Or more?

Just a few moments until cars begin the formation lap.

12:53 PM

Will be interesting to see the starting tyre types today

I predict an array. Can't see anyone starting on the softs? But you never know. At least they are the hardest three compounds available in the range...

12:44 PM

The sun is relentless today

Staying in the shade as much as you can is wise. Not much of it on track, though.

12:38 PM

This bodes well (if true)

12:26 PM

"Very hot on the inside of the cockpit," Russell says

Does he mean he's very hot, or there's a hot section in the cockpit? Probably just that it is sweltering. Track temperature is creeping up towards 50 degrees now. 48.8.

12:23 PM

The pit lane has opened and the cars are on their way to the grid

Just under 40 minutes to go until lights out.

12:20 PM

Will George Russell have a podium to smile about this afternoon?

Potentially a race of high attrition... if Mercedes are kinder on their tyres than their rivals it could be doable. And it would be a huge step forward if they could finish ahead, on merit, of a Red Bull or a Ferrari.

Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya, Barcelona, Spain - May 22, 2022 Mercedes' George Russell and girlfriend Carmen Montero Mundt arrive at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya REUTERS/ - REUTERS
Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya, Barcelona, Spain - May 22, 2022 Mercedes' George Russell and girlfriend Carmen Montero Mundt arrive at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya REUTERS/ - REUTERS

12:16 PM

Some action on the Red Bull Rear wing via Sky Sports F1

Another mechanical issue is not what Red Bull need. Of course, a DRS malfunction isn't necessarily race-ending for Verstappen, but it could be a bit of an impediment.

12:13 PM

A few footballers knocking about this weekend

Not sure it's really an observation worth sharing but Thibaut Courtois is a tall man.

12:10 PM

Current team-mate head-to-head in qualifying after six rounds

12:06 PM

It's hot in Barcelona

36.1 air temperature and 48.4 track temperature, which is as hot as it has been all weekend.

11:31 AM

Final starting grid

11:30 AM

Verstappen has spoken on the drivers' parade

It's a nice and warm day so hopefully we can have a great race. Hopefully the DRS will be fixed. I think our car, normally in the race will be a bit better. I think we have a good shot.

Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya, Barcelona, Spain - May 22, 2022 Red Bull's Max Verstappen arrives at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya - REUTERS
Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya, Barcelona, Spain - May 22, 2022 Red Bull's Max Verstappen arrives at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya - REUTERS

Reminder that his DRS failed yesterday in final qualifying, denying him a shot at pole. His first lap in Q3 was still good enough for second, though. Contrasting sessions for both him and Leclerc, there. Leclerc spun in the first part of Q3 but then pulled the pole lap out of the bag.

11:24 AM

Raw pace ranking of each team after six rounds

This is, in essence, how quick each team is - on average this season - over their best qualifying lap.

11:22 AM

Current constructor standings

11:21 AM

Alonso has taken an unscheduled power unit change

So will incur a grid penalty and start from the back. He was 17th anyway, so may as well introduce another PU into the pool.

11:20 AM

Current driver standings: Top 10

Verstappen eating into Leclerc's lead quite healthily - or threateningly - in the last couple of rounds.

11:16 AM

Times after qualifying

  1. Charles Leclerc (Mon) Ferrari 1min 18.750secs

  2. Max Verstappen (Ned) Red Bull 1:19.073

  3. Carlos Sainz Jr (Spa) Ferrari. 1:19.166

  4. George Russell (Gbr) Mercedes GP 1:19.393

  5. Sergio Perez (Mex) Red Bull 1:19.420

  6. Lewis Hamilton (Gbr) Mercedes GP 1:19.512

  7. Valtteri Bottas (Fin) Alfa Romeo Racing 1:19.608

  8. Kevin Magnussen (Den) Haas F1 1:19.682

  9. Daniel Ricciardo (Aus) McLaren 1:20.297

  10. Mick Schumacher (Ger) Haas F1 1:20.368

  11. Lando Norris (Gbr) McLaren 1:20.471

  12. Esteban Ocon (Fra) Alpine 1:20.638

  13. Yuki Tsunoda (Jpn) Scuderia AlphaTauri 1:20.639

  14. Pierre Gasly (Fra) Scuderia AlphaTauri 1:20.861

  15. Guanyu Zhou (Chn) Alfa Romeo Racing 1:21.094

  16. Sebastian Vettel (Ger) Aston Martin 1:20.954

  17. Fernando Alonso (Spa) Alpine 1:21.043

  18. Lance Stroll (Can) Aston Martin 1:21.418

  19. Alexander Albon (Tha) Williams 1:21.645

  20. Nicholas Latifi (Can) Williams 1:21.915

10:45 AM

Good afternoon F1 fans

And welcome to our coverage for the 2022 Spanish Grand Prix from the Circuit de Catalunya-Barcelona which is not really in Barcelona as much as Silverstone is in Milton Keynes. But there you go. It's the sixth race of a (now confirmed) 22-race season and we're faced with the familiar situation of a front row of Charles Leclerc and Max Verstappen. It has happened four times this season. In fact, Leclerc has never been off the front row.

It's a cliche to say it's well set up for the championship, but it is. Leclerc leads Verstappen by 19 points, with the Dutchman resurgent, winning the last two grands prix. In fact, he has won every race he has finished so far this year. Will that run come to an end this afternoon in Spain? The two battled last time out in Miami but it was the Red Bull's stronger race pace that led to Verstappen's third victory of the year.

Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya, Barcelona, Spain - May 21, 2022 Ferrari's Charles Leclerc celebrates after qualifying in pole position with second place Red Bull's Max Verstappen - REUTERS
Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya, Barcelona, Spain - May 21, 2022 Ferrari's Charles Leclerc celebrates after qualifying in pole position with second place Red Bull's Max Verstappen - REUTERS

Still, that has been the main plot of the weekend but has it been the most interesting one? Maybe not. The story of a Mercedes resurgence has been a major talking point, with their upgrades for this weekend. And, though there is still a long way to go, they have at least seemed to make progress  throughout the weekend. It resulted in a second-row start for George Russell, which is the first time that has happened in 2022, out-qualifying the Red Bull of Sergio Perez.

Is the progress all it seems? Looking at it in percentage terms, relative to the quickest lap overall, the quickest Mercedes is actually further away from the ultimate pace than they were in Bahrain. But that is perhaps a little misleading. They seem to be getting somewhere, though the real test will be if Russell can hold his fourth place or even make it further up.

And what can Lewis Hamilton do? He starts sixth, but admitted he was still struggling with the car, in particularly the rear end. He sounded downbeat about it all yesterday. It's another occasion where Russell has had the better of him. There has been some bad luck in his season so far that worsens the gap (and they are 3-3 in qualifying, after all) but Russell has performed exceptionally.

The race gets under way at 2pm BST and we will be here, live from Barcelona, with all the build-up, latest updates and reaction.

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