After three races the Mercedes duo headed the standings, however Bottas enjoyed a 14-point lead over Hamilton, having won the last two races, whilst Verstappen headed Red Bull’s charge and was level on points with Hamilton. I was a lowly 12th and wanted to improve.
Spain was up next, and this fast, twisty-turny track is well known to most F1 drivers, as testing usually takes place here. I found the back end of my car slid around a lot at turns 11/12, but beyond that my chief problem was an overall lack of pace. I qualified 8th, but in Q3 ended up nearly a second slower than pole-sitter Hamilton. Hamilton was only 0.101 seconds quicker than a seemingly very determined Bottas.
Patience, practice, and judicial use of the flashback option produced an unexciting but successful race in terms of points, though my gap to the leaders was horrendous – in fact it was an entire lap . The story of the race was a slightly better start than usual, followed by getting my elbows out to fend off first Carlos Sainz then Daniel Ricciardo. I started on yellow-walled medium tyres whereas Ricciardo was on the softs, and in both theory and reality he was quicker than me, but I defended stubbornly and he ended up taking too much life out of his tyres to stay with me. His McLaren teammate Lando Norris proved too quick for me, so at this point I ended up solidifying P7. I’d remain there for the rest of an uneventful race (from my perspective), ending up some 30 seconds adrift of Norris but maintaining a comfortable gap of between 10-13 seconds on Fernando Alonso. My one-stop strategy put me onto hard tyres for the majority of the race, but I didn’t mind and found their performance to be quite good.
My only real excitement came when I briefly held up a couple of faster cars as they came out of the pits, but I didn’t fight either one in any meaningful way. Perez was stuck behind me for a lap, then Leclerc. I doubt I seriously impacted their races.
Whilst I was milling about, collecting six more points for myself and the team, the title race continued to evolve. As mentioned before, Hamilton qualified on pole but at the start he lost the lead to Bottas and he would remain stuck behind his teammate for the remainder of proceedings. The standings, after four races:
I confess to being surprised. Bottas now leads with almost a win’s worth of an advantage. This is definitely not panning out like the real 2021 season!