It's true to say that until Sunday afternoon, the Spanish Grand Prix weekend had not gone too well for us, but when it mattered, Carlos Sainz was seventh and Daniil Kvyat was ninth at the end of the race. A raft of new updates on our STR12 to evaluate and complicated track conditions with wind and high temperatures meant that we and nearly all the other teams found ourselves running slower than in winter testing at the Catalunya track.
Plenty of overnight head-scratching meant that the situation had improved during Saturday morning's final hour of free practice, but not enough to make us too optimistic as the light went green for the start of Q1. A fortnight ago, it was Daniil who had the grandstand crowd on its feet in Sochi whenever he left the garage and here in Spain, naturally it was Carlos' turn to feel the love of the home crowd. In fact, it had been a hectic week for our local boy, with much more press work and events to attend. On Saturday afternoon, it was another Spaniard who really got the crowd roaring and contributed to a larger than expected crowd on Sunday, as Fernando Alonso secured an amazing seventh spot on the grid. Carlos was embroiled in an extremely close midfield battle, securing 12th place on row 6. As for Daniil, the Russian could not understand what was happening with his car, saying that "I had absolutely no grip and I just can't handle the car well here" It was an unfortunate "first" for him as we reckon he has never before started a race from the back of the grid.
The Spanish Grand Prix marks the first appearance this year of the team trucks and hospitality units, after working out of locally provided facilities at the flyaway races and, along with our colleagues at Red Bull Racing, we hosted a tapas event for everyone in the paddock in our Energy Station on Saturday night. But there was no sign of our engineers and drivers, who were locked away in the "tree house" office above our trucks, pouring over the data, working out how to make the most of a difficult situation after qualifying.
The first F1 weekend in Europe also saw significant signs of the sport's new owners' desire to improve the "show," with several initiatives, such as some lucky fans getting to ride around the track on a flatbed truck at the same time as the Drivers Parade, there was a bar in the paddock itself organised by one of F1's main sponsors and some fans got to ride round the track in a two-seater F1 car. We were also entertained pre-race by a giant robot stamping his way down the paddock!
Bringing the drivers closer to the fans is a top priority and in Spain, the two local boys, Carlos and Fernando delighted the crowds by getting up close to them, signing autographs on caps held over the safety fencing around the track and even "shooting" t-shirts into the crowd with special compressed air canisters.
We are told more fan-facing initiatives are on the way, which can only be a good thing for our sport. The most talked about off-track event of the weekend also reflected this desire to engage with the fans: a young Ferrari fan in the grandstand was spotted in floods of tears as Kimi Raikkonen's race ended on the opening lap with broken suspension. The tale had a happy ending, as the little boy and his parents were track down and brought to the F1 paddock, where they met his idol... how a dream comes true!!!
The race strategy for Daniil became clear almost immediately after the start as the Russian made an immediate visit to the pits to shed the Medium tyres in exchange for Softs – of the thee compounds Pirelli provided in Spain, the Medium was the one that had to be used at some point, as mandated in the rules, but it definitely wasn't the best one in terms of performance. This clever early switch then set up Daniil's fantastic climb up the order in a race where he got involved in plenty of exciting scraps. To go from the back of the grid to ninth was a great reward for all the effort we put in to turning the situation round. Carlos ended up P7, after a very strong and combative drive which saw him move five places higher than he started and the noisy and partisan crowd certainly appreciated his efforts. So did we, as our double points finish hoists us back up to fifth in the Constructors' classification. Next up it's the most famous race on the calendar and, on the tricky streets of Monaco in a fortnight's time we will be trying to ensure we are back in the points, but without making life too difficult for ourselves during practice!