The 2016 F1 Spanish Grand Prix is one particular race that the Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team would not want to remember in the team’s highly decorated profile. This was an era where two team-mates in a dominant F1 car could not barely talk to each other, their rivalry had reached boiling point and yet these highly gifted drivers were given the freedom to race each. Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg went into the 2016 Spanish GP with Rosberg leading the driver standings from Hamilton by a massive 43 points. The German driver was the defending Spanish Grand Prix race winner having won it in the previous year. The race was the fifth round of the FIA Formula One World Championship and also marked the forty-six running of the Spanish Grand Prix
Count down to the event
Hot around the Formula One paddocks was the swapping of drivers between Red Bull Racing and Scuderia Ferrari Toro Rosso. Max Verstappen joined Red Bull Racing while Daiil Kvyat returned to Toro Rosso, a decision which did not go well to the latter. Red Bull Racing Pricipal Christian Horner echoed Verstappen’s talent stressing that the then 18-year old has the potential to become a future Formula One world champion.
The Spanish Grand Prix was the fifth race in the 2016 Formula One calendar and many teams were looking at introducing new upgrades to their cars prior to the season mid break. The upgrades would hopefully enhance and cement the teams positions in the championship standings and eliminate the troubles experienced in the previous races. Mercedes AMG Petronas red-designed Lewis Hamilton’s power unit and introduced it in his car for the race event. The team had also introduced a new “pointy” front wing to be ran in both cars for the Spanish GP. McLaren had made significant changes to their MP4-31 race car, most notably the front wing design. Force India upgraded their VJM09 to improve airflow and driveability while Renault introduced a new chassis for Jolyon Palmer. All other teams made significant power unit changes except for the Sauber Team, their financial troubles continued throughout the season.
Leading into the 2016 Spanish Grand Prix, Nico Rosberg led the drivers standings with 100 points having scooped all the maximum points for the first four races. Lewis Hamilton was second with 57 points while Kimi Räikkönen occupied the third spot with 43 points, Daniel Ricciardo was fourth and Sebastian Vettel concluded the top five driver standings. On the 2016 Constructors Championship, Mercedes AMG Petronas occupied the top spot with 157 points after four races into the season, second-placed Scuderia Ferrari was 81 points behind and Red Bull Racing occupied the third spot while Williams was fourth. The log standings, especially on the driver’s championship, suggested that a two-way horse race was rapidly evolving looking at the dominance of the car that Mercedes has developed during that season. This mounted a lot of pressure on Mercedes drivers who were both eyeing the championship title, so the stakes were very high and a lot was underway including the intermittent involvement of the Ferrari drivers.
As per the 2016 FIA Formula One regulations, the qualifying sessions consisted of three sessions, Q1, Q2, Q3; each 18, 15, 12 minutes in length respectively. In the first stage of qualifying (Q1), Nico Rosberg set the fastest lap of 1:23.002, the fastest at that point of the day with Hamilton two-tenths of second down. Felipe Massa was the surprise elimination in Q1, having dropped out of the first 15 in Q1 after a late improvement by Jenson Button in the Mclaren. The other back markers included both Manor and Sauber concluding the back grid spots. Q2 saw Hamilton coming on top of the standings with a lap that was sixth-tenths of a second ahead of Rosberg while Verstappen was third fastest. Eliminated in Q2 were Daniil Kvyat, Jenson Button, Nico Hülkenberg Romain Grosjean, Kevin Magnussen and Esteban Gutiérrez. The top ten drivers advanced to Q3.
In Q3, which normally marks the top ten shoot out session, Rosberg once again put his mercedes on provisional pole position while Hamilton incurred a lock up while on his first flying lap. Max Verstappen managed to split the mercedes while the Ferrari drivers struggled with pace on their first attempt. On the second attempt after putting on new rubber, Hamilton managed to put together a flying lap which was enough to put his mercedes on pole position, three-tenths of second faster than Rosberg. The mercedes cars locked the front row of the grid, the two Red Bull cars of Ricciardo and Verstappen occupied third and fourth respectively while the Ferrari cars of Räikkönen and Vettel claimed fifth and sixth position respectively. This was Hamilton’s 52nd career pole position at the Circuit de Catelunya, Spain.
The race event
For Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team, the 2016 Spanish Grand Prix was supposed to be a thriller and added into the teams ever-increasing trophy cabinet, but their race lasted only up to turn 4. Here is what happened to the Brackley based Silver Arrows. At the start of the race, Rosberg manged to get around Hamilton at turn one, but after coming out of turn 3 Hamilton tried to retake the lead on the inside. The German defended his position rigorously which forced Hamilton onto the grass. The Brit spun and collided with his teammate ending the race for both drivers just into turn 4, a scene that was difficult to contend with at the Mercedes garage. Technically this was the end of the 2016 Spanish GP for the Mercedes Team. This immediately called for a safety car deployment which picked up the race in this order; Ricciardo, Verstappen, Sainz, Vettel and Räikkönen. Putting aside what happened to Mercedes Team, Verstappen went on to win the 2016 Spanish Grand Prix, making him the youngest and first Dutch race winner at 18 years, 228 days. Daniel Ricciardo was forced to pit after suffering a puncture with two laps remaining and finished the race on fourth position. Räikkönen and Vettel occupied the second and third spot on the podium.
Having recorded a DNF (Did Not Finish) for both drivers, Mercedes summoned the drivers for a debrief. This was the first DNF for Mercedes since 2012 United States Grand Prix. The stewards looked at the incident between Rosberg and Hamilton but they classified it as a racing incident with no driver at fault. Both drivers denied any wrong doing but Hamilton apologized to the team and insisted that he was not to be blamed. The Mercedes head of motorsport Toto Wolf, emphasized that the drivers would continue to race each other freely, with no team orders. Meanwhile, Rosberg went on and beat Hamilton to the 2016 driver’s championship and retired immediately from the sport after being crowned champion. A reflection of the 2016 Spanish Grand Prix is still fresh on the Mercedes F1 Team so a repeat is the last thing that the team would want at the upcoming 2020 Spanish Grand Prix. There is a saying that says “once beaten twice shy“, so who will come out victorious at the 2020 Spanish Grand Prix?