Can Mercedes avoid a repeat of its tyre struggles at this weekend’s Spanish Grand Prix, or will Max Verstappen once again take advantage to thrust himself into Formula 1 title contention?

Both Lewis Hamilton and polesitter Valtteri Bottas were hampered by tyre wear and blistering problems throughout the 70th Anniversary Grand Prix at Silverstone, which paved the way for Verstappen to score a sensational surprise victory for Red Bull.

The reigning world championship-winning squad has turned its attention to resolving its tyre issues in the short turnaround between races at Silverstone and Barcelona in a bid to overcome the problem.

Temperatures are forecast to hit highs of around 30 degrees Celsius at the Spanish Grand Prix’s Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya venue this weekend, which like Silverstone, is renowned for being another demanding circuit on tyres.

After discovering it is at the “very worst end” of the blistering problem, Mercedes chief race engineer Andrew Sholvin admitted his team is in a race against time to try and get on top of the issue.

“There’s an element of urgency here because we’re flying out [to Spain] on Tuesday, running on Friday,” he said. “It’s forecast to be 30C, the track will be a bit like this, it’s a high-energy circuit.

“So we’re well aware that if we don’t get on top of it we’ve got another Sunday looking silly.”

World championship leader Hamilton is bracing himself for another difficult challenge in Barcelona, with the Briton predicting a repeat of the tyre blistering problems that hampered Mercedes at Silverstone.

“I expect that track, we will probably have similar problems to what we had here, especially if it’s hot conditions,” Hamilton explained.

“Maybe it won’t be as bad as today but it’s still going to be a challenge. It’s (the tyre selection) going to be the same as last week? So still going to be a serious challenge for us.”

Barcelona was the scene of a tyre meltdown for Mercedes in 2013, when Hamilton and then-teammate Nico Rosberg dramatically fell from the front-row in the race amid sweltering conditions. 

Is Verstappen a real title contender?

Following his brilliant win in the 70th Anniversary Grand Prix, Verstappen has lifted himself ahead of Bottas and up to second place in the championship standings, 30 points behind Hamilton.

Despite retiring from the season-opening Austrian Grand Prix, a remarkable run of consistency has kept Verstappen within touching distance of Hamilton with his victory at Silverstone marking his fourth straight podium finish.

Ahead of last weekend’s race, Mercedes boss Toto Wolff had stressed the need for caution in thinking his side were going to be runaway winners this season, and he now fully believes that Verstappen is a genuine threat in the title race.

Speaking about Mercedes’ first defeat of the season, Wolff said: “I kind of enjoy the situation because everyone was saying, 'OK, this is going to be a walk in the park for Mercedes,' and here we go.

"That wasn't at all a walk in the park. We were certainly not the quickest car, maybe not even the second quickest car. We have seen in the past that the hot conditions somehow don't suit our car but it's much more complex than that.

"I'm really curious to see and interested to see how we're going to do in Barcelona. We have a handful of days to understand, and there is nothing better than a great challenge.

"We embrace the challenge, we love the fight, and they're a strong competitor and Max is a very good driver.

"If you consider they had a full DNF at the beginning of the season, that gap is not large. It would only be five points behind and not 30.

"There are maybe 10 more races to go. DNFs can quickly make the points swing, and yeah, it could be much more interesting than many people were afraid of two weeks ago.”

But Verstappen is refusing to get carried away after becoming the first non-Mercedes victor this season and feels the gap to Hamilton will still be difficult to overhaul.

“I think that to fully close that gap will be very hard,” he conceded.

“When we go back to conservative tyres everywhere – because basically most of the tracks we go to we are just doing a one stop – I think it will be a bit harder for us because then nobody really has blistering that severe, and you don’t need to manage as much as we did [at Silverstone]. We will see.”

Tensions ramp up off-track

The controversy surrounding the FIA’s decision to dock Racing Point 15 constructors’ championship points and hand the team a €400,000 fine in the brake duct ‘copying’ saga shows little sign of let-up heading to Spain.

Ferrari and Renault have opted to lodge an official appeal against the verdict, while McLaren and Williams have opted against appealing.

Racing Point themselves wish to appeal, believing that the penalty handed to them was too extreme. It came after team owner Lawrence Stroll made a rare public statement saying he is “appalled” by the situation.

Meanwhile, following Mercedes’ reluctance to sign the new Concorde Agreement, F1 has pushed back the deadline to sign from August 12 to August 18.

The new agreement will formally define the direction of the future of the sport, committing teams to F1 for 2021-2025. Ferrari, McLaren and Williams have already stated they are willing to sign the terms, but objections raised by Mercedes have resulted in a delay.

When is the Spanish GP on TV?

Friday August 14

Free Practice 1: 10:00am-11:30am BST (11:00am-12:30pm local)
Free Practice 2: 2.00pm-3.30pm BST (3.00pm-4.30pm local)

Saturday August 15

Free Practice 3: 11:00am-12:00pm BST (12:00pm-1.00pm local)
Qualifying: 2:00pm-3:00pm BST (3:00pm-4:00pm local)

Sunday August 16

Race: 2.10pm BST (3:10pm local)

Spanish GP Pirelli tyre allocation

For the Spanish Grand Prix at Barcelona, Pirelli is bringing the C1 (Hard), C2 (Medium) and C3 (Soft) compounds, the same selections as used during the British Grand Prix weekend.

For at least the first eight races of 2020, each driver will have an allocation of eight sets of the red-walled Softs, three sets of the yellow-walled Mediums, and two sets of the white-walled Hards.

Recent Spanish GP Winners:

2019: Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes)
2018: Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes)
2017: Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes)
2016: Max Verstappen (Red Bull)
2015: Nico Rosberg (Mercedes)
2014: Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes)
2013: Fernando Alonso (Ferrari)
2012: Pastor Maldonado (Williams)
2011: Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull)
2010: Mark Webber (Red Bull)

 

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