BARCELONA, Spain -- If you'd predicted five consecutive Mercedes 1-2 finishes the last time the Formula One circus was at the Circuit de Catalunya, you'd have been laughed out of the paddock. But that's exactly what the team achieved at the Spanish Grand Prix on Sunday.
Mercedes has gone from strength to strength since winter testing, while Ferrari has stuttered and stumbled at key points. The fifth race of the year was another poor display from the Italian team, so we must start out review of the good, the bad and the ugly of this race with the team we all hoped would be locked in a championship battle this season.
Ferrari on the ropes: Ferrari's so-called resurgence will have to wait at least another race to materialise, if it is going to materialise at all. This was the team's worst performance since the opening round in Australia -- the big difference being that it claimed to have understood and overcome those issues at the following round in Bahrain. Hopes were high before the Spanish Grand Prix after the team made one of its three precious engine upgrades ahead of the weekend. But while the car was by far and away the fastest on the straights, it was lacking significantly in the corners, and that will be a big concern so early in the season.
To compound the lack of pace, its drivers became embroiled in another team orders mess, with Vettel and Leclerc twice fighting wheel-to-wheel on track before the team stepped in and shuffled their order. On both occasions it would have been understandable if the team had told its drivers immediately to swap position, yet on both occasions precious time was lost allowing the drivers to race before the call came. It may not have had an impact on the team's overall result, but even if the car was performing at the front there are still serious doubts over whether the team would be race-sharp enough to capitalise.
Seb stays grounded: Ferrari might be up against it at the moment, but Vettel at least showed he has a sense of perspective around the team's troubles this year.
After finishing the race, the four-time world champion opened up his radio channel and told the team: "I know it hurts being so far behind this weekend, but let's remember we do something that we love. Grazie tutti. Forza Ferrari. Sempre."
Hamilton rebounds: As soon as Lewis Hamilton got the better start off the line, it looked like his race to lose. Sebastian Vettel also made the first moments interesting, helping Hamilton create something of a Bottas sandwich into Turn 1, but the three avoided contact at the opening corner. Hamilton held his line and that was the job half done. He might have qualified second, but Bottas' performance on Saturday to claim pole had been very impressive.
As we wrote yesterday, the key to beating Hamilton over a season is to chip away at his confidence, but dominant displays like Sunday's help him strengthen even further. Bottas sounded confused about what happened off the line, saying the behavior of his clutch had felt odd when the lights went out.
Poor starts are nothing new at Mercedes -- Hamilton has struggled with them in previous seasons, for example -- and Bottas was frustrated to see all his good work undone in a matter of seconds.
"It was kind of biting and releasing in very quick frequency," he said after the race. "That's really annoying, all the hard work this weekend went down with that. But I'm obviously not blaming any individual in the team, and we will work as a team to make sure we avoid it happening again."
Bottas can take some comfort from this weekend, however. This time last year he was already 38 points adrift of his teammate, and right now he is just seven behind him. Hamilton is a man who you don't want to give too much of an advantage to, given his tendency to find his stride at mid- to late-season, so the longer Bottas can keep in striking distance of Hamilton, the better his chances of making a real fight of 2019.
Mercedes' fight stays respectful: Mercedes boss Toto Wolff sat his drivers down to watch footage of old race starts before this one -- top of the list was probably Spain 2016, where Hamilton and Nico Rosberg collided at the start of the race. The heart rates in the Mercedes garage must have been high as the silver cars when into Turn 1 in close proximity, but both managed to stay away from each other.
Hamilton has frequently talked about the good level of respect between himself and Bottas, often with veiled references to his partnership with Rosberg and hints that the same state didn't exist. He was singing from the same hymn sheet after his latest win.
"I think today was just trying to come back from a poor performance yesterday and back into a strong battle that we've had for years now," Hamilton said afterwards. "It was respectful and balanced, as they always are. The team have spoken a bit and Valtteri and I have spoken a bit, I think we have the best pairing on the grid in terms of the respect we have."
A lot of people are assuming the fight will turn ugly as some point if they are the only people fighting for the title, but at this rate that doesn't look like it will happen any time soon.
Max proves his worth again: It's getting rather tedious seeing Max Verstappen drive a car that isn't capable of winning every weekend. The Dutchman turned in the move of the race, sweeping around the outside of a struggling Vettel at Turn 3, and was voted the driver of the day by F1's fans. He's been comfortably better than Pierre Gasly since the Frenchman arrived as his new teammate, but at the moment the best he seems capable of fighting for is the occasional victory.
After the race, Max was asked which races he felt were realistic victory targets, and he replied: "Monaco, Singapore, Mexico."
That's been the story of Red Bull's past few seasons, and although there is clear progress being made with Honda, it's a terrible state of affairs for Formula One to be in that this is the same story every single season.
Haas makes life difficult: Haas recorded its first double-points finish of the season so far, but it will have been a bittersweet afternoon of racing given how its drivers fared in the final moments. Kevin Magnussen forced Romain Grosjean wide at Turn 1 at the safety car restart, and the pair had an identical moment two laps later. The second one appeared to hamper Grosjean badly and he soon dropped behind Carlos Sainz and Daniil Kvyat in the closing laps, although he managed to hold off Toro Rosso rookie Alexander Albon for 10th position.
Haas did not tell its drivers to stop racing until the second incident between its drivers, when team boss Guenther Steiner intervened. Although frustrated afterwards, Steiner downplayed the severity of the incident.
"It looked worse than it was, the whole scenario," Steiner said. "I spoke to both drivers straight after the race, I wanted to clear the air -- and we cleared the air. We need to learn out of this and move forward, we got away quite luckily even if we lost two points.
"We had two cars in the points which is always good. They have a good relationship between them, they had that before and I wanted to make sure there wasn't something said between one of them that upset the other one."
Famous friends: When you've already won 75 races, you probably don't believe much in good luck charms or lucky omens -- but who wouldn't want a good luck message from a famous football star before a race just in case? That's exactly what Hamilton got ahead of the start, getting a hug from Brazilian icon and friend Neymar.
It's not exactly rare to see a famous face on an F1 grid, especially at a race as busy as this one, but the familiarity of the two served as another reminder of the appeal Hamilton has beyond the confines of a motor racing fan. Whatever your opinion of the reigning world champion, he is the most valuable asset the championship series has ever had.
A racing incident: Lando Norris has been stellar so far in his rookie career, but he suffered his first major setback in Barcelona, colliding with Lance Stroll on Lap 45. It was hard to apportion blame either way, although Norris must carry some for keeping his nose in when the Racing Point car had clearly got ahead on exit, but he was also entitled to think Stroll would leave him some space.
The drivers both hinted that they felt the other man was to blame.
Stroll said: "There was not much room there. I had to make the corner, so I turned in. There wasn't much I could do. I braked on the inside and went deep into the first corner, and then I had to turn in for the next corner and unfortunately there was not enough space for both cars."
Norris said: "It was pretty simple to be honest. I was on the outside into Turn 1, he knew I was there, he defended into Turn 1. After that, I don't know if he saw me going into Turn 2 but I was still on the inside then for Turn 2, and he just turned in and didn't leave me enough space basically.
"He cut across the front of my car and he put himself out of the race and me out of the race. So a bit annoyed I didn't get to finish my fifth grand prix, but at the end of the day we weren't in the points so it didn't cost us as much as it could have done in another race or anything. I didn't think it was my fault, but I was the guy driving the car so I effectively lost the race for the team. It wasn't for points, so it wasn't as annoying as it could have been if we were in the points."
The stewards opted against blaming one over the other, saying neither man was "wholly or predominantly to blame".