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GP Week : Issue 220
20 GPWEEK.com // 20 GPWEEK.com // F1 >>> SPAIN PARTNERS: We saw him in practice. We saw him in qualifying. We saw him in the race. The real Nico Rosberg has finally stood up. Heading into Bahrain we were promised a new Nico Rosberg, and there were glimpses of that in the race but the result failed to demonstrate any real change. From the moment he rolled out of the garage in Barcelona the German had the bit between his teeth. His job in the race was made easier by the fact Lewis Hamilton was slow off the line and fell behind Sebastian Vettel for the first half of the race. The Ferrari simply didn't have the pace of the Mercedes throughout the weekend, perhaps one of the 16 updates it brought wasn't working, but with overtaking so difficult around the Catalunya circuit Hamilton was stuck in the wake of the red car until his team manufactured a way through. There was a chance for Vettel to hold on to second place. Perhaps it was arrogance, perhaps it was ignorance, or perhaps it was the realisation it was not really in the race with Mercedes anyway that meant Ferrari ultimately offered no contest. Hamilton would have been through at the first stop had he not been delayed by a stubborn left rear, but as it stood Vettel was able to keep track position which saw Mercedes switch strategies mid-race. It was the stint following Hamilton's second stop that earned him the second step on the podium. After his stop he re-joined behind Kimi Raikkonen but made short work on his fresh tyres of the sluggish Ferrari to reel off a string of quick laps and close the gap to Vettel. To make his strategy work Hamilton needed to close more than twenty seconds and it was only when Vettel stopped for a final time that it paid dividends. All the while Rosberg edged away at the front to hold a pit stop advantage late in the race. He'd opened a small margin in the first stint and extended it in the second, but with no pace in the middle phase of the race Vettel may as well have raised the white flag. Toro Rosso may as well have fitted a while flag to the top of their cars. An impressive qualifying performance was entirely undone when it proved to be carrying far too much drag, making both Carlos Sainz and Max Verstappen sitting ducks down the front straight. They could offer no resistance, and while driving on their mirrors gave them good practice at braking on the inside for turn one, they were absolutely defenceless with the speed rivals were able to cruise by. Even Red Bull was able to ease by, suggesting it was not an engine problem but a setup decision which had backfired. There were only two retirements throughout the race; Fernando Alonso the first when his McLaren ran out of brakes before Pastor Maldonado was called in late in the race with his Lotus featuring rather less bits than it had started with. That was a result of contact with teammate Romain Grosjean, the two touching in the opening laps damaging Maldonado's rear wing end plate. The team elected to remove the damaged part and send Maldonado on his way, the time lost in the pits dropping the Venezuelan well down the order. It was another wasted opportunity then; another day where points were on offer only to end in disappointment. Having Grosjean in eighth was a strong result given the Frenchman struggled without fourth gear from early in the race, his team pleading with him to lift when using the damaged cog for fear of blowing the Mercedes engine in the back of his car. Raikkonen's recovery to fifth place was about all that could have been