Power Ranking the Formula 1 Teams After 2014 Spanish Grand Prix
The 2014 Formula One Spanish Grand Prix went largely as expected. The two Mercedes cars powered away at the start, and at the end only four of their rivals were on the same lap.
Lewis Hamilton crossed the line to win a massive 49 seconds clear of third-placed Daniel Ricciardo.
A brilliant recovery drive by Sebastian Vettel saw him come home fourth, but he was a further 27 seconds down the road.
Further down the field, Marussia appear to have the upper hand on Caterham, and McLaren's double podium in the opening race seems but a distant memory.
Looking at reliability, qualifying and race pace, here's how the teams currently rank.
Before the start of the season, Caterham owner Tony Fernandes said he was considering quitting the sport if his team did not improve. Speaking to staff at the team's base in January, he said (h/t The Guardian):
My message to the 250 people here [at the factory] is we have to go for it this year. This is it—the final chance. We've given you the best infrastructure, the best potential drivers but it is now down to all of you to go and do it.
If we're at the back I don't think I'm going to carry on. Nothing is set in stone but after five years with no points there is a limit to one's patience, money, motivation, etc, so it's an important year.
One can only wonder how he felt watching his team in Spain.
The Caterhams set the two slowest times in qualifying, but lined up on the second to last row due to a penalty for Jean-Eric Vergne and Pastor Maldonado's Q1 crash.
In the race, Kamui Kobayashi retired with a brake problem and Marcus Ericsson finished last—a full minute behind the quickest Marussia.
Improvements are needed, and fast. Caterham remain 11th.
Marussia are currently winning the battle of the backmarkers, and their car definitely seemed a little quicker in Spain.
But points are still a long way off. Jules Bianchi finished 18th, two laps down on the leaders. Max Chilton was 19th.
Bianchi was more than 45 seconds behind the quickest Sauber.
Reliability throughout the field appears to have hit 2013 levels already, so any hope of points this year have surely evaporated.
But every cloud has a silver lining—they're not as bad as Caterham.
The C33 could well be the least competitive car Sauber have ever produced. Even the new and improved version.
One of their cars has exited qualifying at the first hurdle at every grand prix so far, and it was the turn of Adrian Sutil in Spain. He never really got going in the race either, and finished 17th after a strategy gamble backfired.
Esteban Gutierrez managed the 14th-fastest time and brought a little cheer by running 11th early on, but he too fell back and ended up a long way from the points.
The one bright spot of the Mexican's race was passing Sutil on the final lap for 16th.
Sauber are in no man's land. The midfield are quicker and the backmarkers are slower. Without significant improvements, points are out of the question.
They stay ninth.
8. Toro Rosso
Toro Rosso shot themselves in the foot on Friday, when an unsafe release from the pits resulted in Jean-Eric Vergne's wheel coming off at Turn 1.
He was given a 10-place stop-go penalty for the incident, and after a no-show in Q2 he lined up last. A good start and strong opening stint saw him running 15th after the first round of stops, but misfortune once again struck in the form of an exhaust problem.
The Frenchman was forced to retire for the third time this year.
Teammate Daniil Kvyat also missed out on the points. Having started 12th, he struggled with tyre wear and couldn't make the most of his three-stop strategy.
Toro Rosso drop one place to eighth.
Has the Lotus worm finally turned?
Romain Grosjean's incredible qualifying lap saw him start fifth, and once the race got started he didn't look out of place. A top-six finish was on the cards, then a minor disaster struck.
Grosjean told Autosport's Ben Anderson what happened:
It was a sensor failure that brought other issues. I think we were running five or six cylinders depending on what it decided to do.
We lost it around lap 12. It was creating some other problems losing the quick shift on the gears. It was a bit shaky in the car and not very powerful in a straight-line, but generally we can be proud of our weekend and it's good to score the first points.
To his credit, Grosjean held on to finish eighth and score those all-important four points.
His teammate, Pastor Maldonado, had a typically chaotic weekend. A crash in qualifying saw him start last, then he hit Marcus Ericsson on the opening lap and picked up his fourth penalty point of the season.
He finished 15th.
They are almost certainly quicker than the team ranked sixth, but those niggling reliability gremlins mean Lotus rise just one place to seventh.
It's hard to believe McLaren achieved a double podium at the season's opening race. The Woking squad are going downhill faster than Hermann Maier.
Jenson Button did a great job hauling the MP4-29 into eighth place on the grid, but a dreadful opening lap dropped him to 15th and he was unable to fight back into the points.
Kevin Magnussen had an even more miserable weekend. A power unit issue put him out of qualifying early and he lined up 14th.
After a long race spent outside the points-paying positions, the Dane finished 12th—less than a second behind Button.
A third pointless race in a row keeps McLaren sixth.
5. Force India
Force India continued their run of points finishes with ninth for Sergio Perez and 10th for Nico Hulkenberg.
It was the fourth time in 2014 that both cars have scored—a feat they managed only six times in the whole of 2013.
But they were significantly further behind teams like Red Bull and Ferrari than they had been.
In a statement on the team website, Nico Hulkenberg explained why, saying:
It was a case of damage limitation today. We knew from the early practice sessions that this wasn't going to be our strongest track so to get two cars in the points is a positive result. The tyre degradation was high and the car was not so easy to drive, but I think everybody was struggling in the final part of the race.
His comments suggest the car lacks downforce (hugely important at Catalunya) relative to its main rivals, such as Ferrari and Williams.
This may prove problematic at certain circuits later in the year. Force India drop to fifth.
It was a story of contrasting fortunes for the two Williams drivers in Spain.
Valtteri Bottas put in a blistering qualifying lap to start fourth, and ran third in the early stages. He lost a place to Ricciardo in the first round of stops and was passed by Sebastian Vettel late on, but fifth equals his best-ever F1 finish.
Having managed just one points finish in 2014, the Finn has five from five races in 2014 and sits seventh in the drivers' championship table.
Felipe Massa won't be in quite such a good mood today. Though he qualified well and made up a place at the start, his three-stop gamble backfired.
Struggling with grip and unable to pull off the necessary overtakes, he trailed home in 13th.
Williams go up a spot to fourth.
Ferrari don't spend hundreds of millions of euros a year to be lapped, but that's what happened to Kimi Raikkonen in Spain.
Fernando Alonso escaped the indignity by a just few seconds.
Starting sixth and seventh, the two F14 Ts spent the entire race together, with Raikkonen leading and perhaps holding Alonso back. The Spaniard got by later on using much fresher tyres, but could make no inroads on the cars ahead.
Before the weekend, Ferrari president Luca di Montezemolo said of the team's struggles, per BBC's Andrew Benson:
I did not expect a team so much less competitive than my expectations at the beginning of the season.
I have to understand where are the problems, why we are not competitive and to improve the situation as soon as possible without losing calm. I expect improvement in the car in Canada, from the meetings I have had in the last few days.
But Ferrari don't have a great recent record of making substantial midseason improvements.
This year could already be a write-off for the Scuderia, who stay third.
2. Red Bull
Red Bull now seem quite safety settled in as the "best of the rest."
Daniel Ricciardo spent the opening laps behind Valtteri Bottas' fast-starting Williams, but got by at the first round of pit stops and was untroubled all the way to the flag.
By contrast, Sebastian Vettel had a hugely eventful race.
A gearbox change penalty dropped him to 15th on the grid, and in the opening laps it didn't look like he would make a lot of headway as his Renault engine struggled to match the Mercedes-powered cars ahead.
But the team switched him to a three-stop strategy, and the German brilliantly took advantage of better tyres to pass a string of rivals on his way to a fine fourth.
No one inside the team would consider the weekend a success; they were light-years behind the Mercedes runners.
But at least Vettel got the fastest lap.
Red Bull stay second.
The W05 could well be on its way to becoming the most dominant car in F1 history.
Lewis Hamilton took the chequered flag to extend his winning streak to four races. Nico Rosberg was less than a second behind.
Then we waited.
Almost 50 seconds ticked by as the two Mercedes men settled into their slowing down lap, then Daniel Ricciardo's Red Bull finally arrived to take third. He hadn't been held up by traffic, bad pit stops or reliability gremlins—he was just that much slower than the two Mercedes.
And this at a circuit which was supposed to suit the Red Bull.
According to Oddschecker, the Silver Arrows are now just 7-2 to win every single race in 2014.
Providing the drivers don't take each other out, they might just do it.
Mercedes remain on top of the pile.