Uncovered: How Mercedes beat Ferrari at the Spanish Grand Prix with upgraded W15

Pablo Hidalgo

Lewis Hamilton: Claims his first podium of the season in Spain

Mercedes beat Ferrari in the fight for the podium at the Spanish Grand Prix with Lewis Hamilton and George Russell once again confirming their upward trend at a key circuit on the calendar.

But are Mercedes back and here to stay? Well, firstly, here is how they beat Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz in Barcelona.

Mercedes v Ferrari: A fascinating battle at the Spanish Grand Prix

After a very positive qualifying session where they pipped Ferrari by just 30 thousandths of a second, the differences were minimal. The Ferrari performed better in the slower corners, but the W15 made the difference at the fast Turn 9 and at the final Turn 14 where Hamilton had better grip and acceleration heading down the main straight.Lewis Hamilton v Charles Leclerc speed comparision

Then on Sunday, Mercedes surprised again with their competitive race pace to achieve a podium with Hamilton and a P4 for Russell.

And truly, this result was not conditioned by a notable strategic difference or any major mistake by Ferrari.

In fact, Hamilton and Leclerc played with the same race strategy, and Russell and Sainz had the same strategy. Mercedes were simply quicker and this was evident on track. Especially, with a very solid Lewis Hamilton performance throughout the race and a spectacular start from Russell.

Spanish GP race pace

Russell took the lead with a superb start, taking advantage of the fight between Max Verstappen and Lando Norris. He held the lead for just under three laps until the Red Bull driver overtook him. But, he managed to keep Norris’ McLaren behind for the entire first stint.

Hamilton, on the other hand, stayed close to the rear of Norris and although he was out of the DRS zone, he was able to keep the two Ferraris behind him.

The pit war started on lap 15 when Russell stopped for the medium tyre. The degradation of the Mercedes’ soft tyre had not been the best as the Silver Arrows needed to push hard to stay on the pace in these early laps.

Spanish GP race strategy

Spanish GP race strategy

This early stop conditioned Carlos Sainz, who had managed to overtake his teammate on track, but this move by Russell made it easier for Ferrari to attempt an undercut on Hamilton, who was forced to stop a lap later to take cover from this attack.

The Spaniard stopped at the same time as Russell and almost overtook him in the pit lane due to a very slow Mercedes pit stop of 5.3 seconds.

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Hamilton’s stop on lap 17 was smoother, although the Brit came out behind Fernando Alonso, which cost him some time. But he quickly joined the fight with Sainz and Russell on a slightly fresher tyre. Hamilton found some terrific pace in his W15 to pass Sainz’s Ferrari at the start of lap 19 with a great manoeuvre.

From then on, he stayed close to Russell for the entire second stint on this tyre. On his side, Sainz could not keep up with the pace of Hamilton and Russell, who opened a four second gap to the Spanish driver.

And what about Leclerc? Ferrari decided to copy Norris’ strategy to have a very aggressive end of the race with the soft tyre. Something that, as we will see later, conditioned Mercedes and Russell. Leclerc made his first stop on lap 25 and came out 11 seconds behind Carlos Sainz, but with a tyre nine laps fresher.

In fact, after just 11 laps he was already less than 1.5 seconds behind his team-mate on track and with a clear strategic advantage for the end of the race.

Hamilton v Leclerc v Sainz v Russell speed comparison

On lap 37, Russell and Sainz stopped for the hard tyre. With this move, Mercedes wanted to counteract Leclerc’s tyre advantage at the end of the race by forcing him to bring forward his stop on the medium tyre.

However, in doing so, Hamilton was given the option of stretching the life of his medium tyre and had a strategic advantage over Russell, who until then had always been ahead of Lewis on track.

Hamilton stopped on lap 44 and put on the soft tyre. In other words, he had a much softer tyre to attack and seven laps fresher. Best of all, he came out of the pits just two seconds ahead of Sainz and just over 4.5 seconds ahead of Russell.

It was a matter of overtaking on track and Lewis did so, and on lap 52 he had already secured the podium and also became a small, but dangerous threat to Lando Norris’ P2.

The McLaren driver actually had to anticipate his last stop in his fight with Max Verstappen in order to avoid leaving the pits behind Russell on the hard, but especially behind Hamilton on the soft.

Leclerc, faced with this move, had to sacrifice some of the tyre advantage he had gained with the soft tyre at the start to anticipate his last stop with the medium tyre if he wanted to catch Mercedes.

He copied Norris’ strategy to the millimetre, stopping at exactly the same laps. The Monegasque came in for his last stop on lap 47 and came out just under eight seconds behind Sainz. It was time for his ‘attack mode’.

Russell v Hamilton v Sainz v Leclerc race pace data

Sainz let Leclerc through on lap 55. He had 11 laps to go to cut 6.5 seconds off Russell on the hard. It seemed a seemingly simple mission with a tyre that was also 11 laps fresher and much softer. But it wasn’t enough for Ferrari to stop the W15’s strength. A disappointing result for the Italians after a very promising start to the weekend.

Russell’s pace on the hard tyre at the end of the race was also very surprising to prevent Leclerc from catching up with him, in fact, he was two tenths a lap on average quicker than Sainz with the same tyre. He was also three tenths and a half faster per lap than Sainz with the medium tyre during the second stint.

Mercedes are definitely back and at the next races in Austria and Silverstone they will have the opportunity to reassert themselves as the third force. They can be really proud with the progress made in the last races since they introduced their new front wing amongst a raft of other upgrades.

All in all, we can say that Mercedes benefited Lewis Hamilton in this particular race context with the strategy for the common good of the team.

Surely, if they had decided to keep the same conservative strategy as Russell and Sainz as they did in the first stop and pitting Lewis one lap after them, Leclerc would have easily reached P4 and could have seriously endangered a podium that already seemed almost certain for the Silver Arrows.

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