The one-stop strategy was the most popular strategy on Sundays race, after 13 of the 17 finishers managed to complete the 70-lap race pitting just once in the first couple of opening laps.
This was largely due to the fact that the performance gap between the two tyres was around eight tenths of a second, which meant drivers could run 33 laps on the Super Soft [Massa] and 53 laps on the Soft tyre [Maldonado] comfortably till the end of the race.
“Given the specific characteristics of this circuit, tyre wear and degradation was extremely low on both compounds today, with an extremely stable product,” said Pirelli boss Paul Hembery. “This can lead to some criticism, as the goal is to have more than one pit stop per race. With only four tyre specifications available, sometimes it does become difficult to provide the perfect choice for every situation. Despite that, we did see some different thinking about strategy from many of the teams.”
Mercedes pitted both Hamilton and Rosberg once 31 laps into the race, however they were combatting issues with both cars which manifested since the five lights went out. Hamilton was being told to lift and coast [engineer speak for save fuel] gradually throughout the race, with the buffer needed to reach their target getting to 150 meters before the corner at one point. This was particularly noticeable in the first and last sectors, where Rosberg was able to gain most at stages of the race, notably with 15 laps to go where the pair hit traffic and the gap decreased to as low as 1.2 seconds.
Whilst that went on Rosberg was combatting the same issues that hit Hamilton last year with the brakes, where in the dirty air the rear brake temperatures started to run away from him, forcing him to switch bias settings throughout the race, which would’ve affected his braking performance. The result was a significant decrease in time at the chequered flag, with the Mercedes driver finishing 2.2 seconds behind Hamilton having kept within two seconds comfortably throughout the race.
Elsewhere we saw a number of cars out of position, including Ferrari’s Sebastien Vettel and Williams’ Felipe Massa. They started at the back of the grid after they were hit with ERS-related issues in Qualifying, along with a penalty for Vettel who overtook the Manor or Roberto Merhi under Red Flags in Practice 3. Whilst Massa went for the straight forward one-stop strategy to get him into P6, Vettel went for a two-stop after pitting on lap 8 to get himself into clean air.
This allowed him to put in lap times that were good enough to close the gap to those who had yet to stop on the Soft, and were losing time on their Super Softs to the tune of two seconds per lap. The result was him getting into P8 by the end of the first round of stops, before pitting again for another set to secure fifth position. After the race Vettel said that had it not been for the 10 second time penalty in the pits during his first stop it would’ve been third position, with him believing that Ferrari had the pace to challenge Mercedes had he not incurred issues in Qualifying.
His teammate Kimi Raikkonen by contrast gave away third place to Valterri Bottas, after spinning his Ferrari in exactly the same place he did 12 months ago on the exit of turn 10. According to Ferrari this was due to an engine mapping that was too aggressive, which caused the ERS to spike in power and tip the SF-15T around like a record. Never the less he was the highest-placed driver to adopt the two-stop strategy, and also the only driver to use the Soft tyre in the middle stint before running the Super Soft at the end to post some impressive lap times.
Elsewhere it looked like Lotus threw away a potential shot at a podium after Grosjean lost time colliding with Will Stevens. Add to that the five-second time penalty he incurred for the contact, and it is very much a case of lost cause for the Lotus driver.
For Red Bull it looked like a case of not being able to work heat into the tyres. They only got Kvyat into the points, with Riccardo seemingly struggling with tyre temperatures. Last years race winner was unable to explain the difference in pace between him and his teammate after the race, but conceded that the Mercedes-engined runners had the edge over them all weekend. The same really goes for Toro Rosso who just went backwards during the race, as did Sauber who were also having issues generating tyre temperatures.
Finally it was yet another race Alonso and Button recorded a double DNF for McLaren, with temperature issues seemingly playing havoc with what was an updated Power Unit coming into this weekend. With the engine penalties a number of drivers incurred this weekend, it looks like this may be a regular occurrence for the drivers for the rest of the season.